Last weekend I played in the Flight A Swiss of the sectional in Topsfield, Massachussetts. As usual the field was quite strong, and the competition was fierce. We started off well, with 43 VPs after 3 rounds, but then things fell apart and we ended up in the middle of the pack for most of the rest of the event. As many of the boards were flat, we tried to generate swings that didn't exist and ended up the day below average. Here is one interesting hand that probably was the turning point of our day. My partner was declarer in 6NT on the uncontested auction:
=2 KC w/o trump Q
The opening lead was the 9. My partner won the K on the board, playing the Q under it. He then ran the 9 and it held which was good news. On the next heart, West hopped up with the A but East showed out, playing the 9. A club was returned by West, my partner finessed the Q losing to the K, and when diamonds broke he was down 1. They did not bid the slam at the other table and so we lost 11 IMPs on the board.
When we were discussing the board later, he said that he had a feeling the club finesse was off, but there didn't seem to be any other choice. But there was another choice, and it would have been the winning choice. Playing for the J to drop doubleton! Then we would have 3 spades, 2 hearts, 6 diamonds and 1 club for 12 tricks and would have been plus 11 IMPs instead and who knows how the rest of the day would have turned out then.
Is it ridiculous to play for the J to drop? Not really. East led the 9, tending to deny the J, and East had only a singleton heart, leaving a lot of room for spade cards. I do not know what the percentages are for the club finesse in all the spade and club distributions (we assume the percentages are based on law of empty spaces) where East has 2 to 4 diamonds (otherwise you're never making the hand). Therefore I do not know whether the club finesse is still the percentage play, although my guess is that the finesse is superior to the drop by quite a bit. However, both my partner and I agreed that from table presence it felt almost certain that the K was off, making the drop a more likely play to succeed. But one cannot replay the hands at bridge and it is more important to put it behind and move on to the next board. There will always be other tournaments.
Remark: Readers have noted that partner should just win the first spade in hand, unblock the other spade honor, and use the diamond entry for the heart finesse(s). That is certainly a better line and would have been successful. The point of this story, however, is on how to recover by reconsidering the odds and allowing for table presence.