Love Potion No. 9

Players often don’t pay much attention to the 9 card. It’s not an honour card being even lower in the hierarchy than the 10. In defence it may be discarded for signalling purposes, either as a high card in standard signalling or as an odd card if you do it the Italian way.
Which is a pity because sometimes the 9 can be used to win tricks quite surprisingly. For example, imagine you are sitting South as declarer with the challenging task to make 3 tricks out of this weak suit:

Q 8 6 4
West East
A 9 5 2

Try playing a low card towards dummy’s .. 8! East is likely to win with 10 or the Jack. Later you enter dummy and run the Queen playing for East to hold the King. If West started with Jx or 10x then that honour will fall as well (also known as being “pinned” or even more graphically “smothered”).
The full hand might be something like this:

Q 8 6 4
10 3 K J 7
A 9 5 2


This technique was explained by the great Brazilian player Gabriel Chagas who termed it termed the “Intra-Finesse”.
The above example was when declarer and dummy had 8 cards in a suit. However the 9 card can also work wonders when they have just 7 cards, as in this hand:

A 8 2
J 3 Q 10 7 5
K 9 6 4

Again the best line is to lead low to the 8 and let East to win with the 10. Later playing the Ace will smother West’s Jack. Finally the lead to the 9 will finesse East’s King and collect 3 tricks.
This Intra-Finesse with the 9 appeared in the Swedish Team Championships earlier this month where the contract was 6NT and this suit had to be played for one loser:

A 9 8 x x
K 10 x J x
Q x x

The books say that the best chance is to lead low towards the Queen and later play low to the Ace hoping for Kx or Kxx to be in front of it. Actually that won’t work with this hand. Instead the winning line is to play for Jx or 10x to be front of the Queen and to run the 8 or 9 to the 10. Then later to play the Queen finessing against the King and smothering the Jack/Ten at the same time.
Only one declarer, a multiple European Champion, went against the odds to play the intra-finesse (maybe due to table feel?) and made his slam.
Alert readers will have observed by now that power of the 9 depends on having the 8 as well. A way to help one to remember the potential of this might be: “Nine and Eight, Investigate”
By the way it is not only declarers but defenders as well who can also make good use of the 9 card. For example there is the Surround Play you can do should you find yourself defending with this layout:

Declarer Dummy
10 x x
K J 9

Here you should lead the Jack hoping partner has the Ace. If so, then this is what will happen:
Either the Jack wins then the Ace and the King win the next two tricks.
Or the Jack is covered by the Queen and partner takes it with the Ace. Then his return of the suit ensures that your King and 9 will win since the 10 in dummy is surrounded by your hand.
So, given the power of the 9 described above, next time you find you need a little magic at the table to make your contract or to bring a declarer down, consider taking some Love Potion No 9.
References and Acknowledgements
1. Love Finesses, Bols Bridge Tip by Gabriel Chagas (BRZ) Part 1
2. Roland Wald, Danish grand master, commentator on Bridge Base Online Vu graph games, and Bridge teacher
3. „Love Potion No 9“, song by Leiber and Stoller written I 1959, and performed by The Clovers, The Searchers, the Tygers of Pan Tang and others.

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