Join Bridge Winners
A Bit of Fantasy
(Page of 10)

Board 12 from a recent Common Game posed lots of problems, and potential problems, in bidding, in declarer play, and in defense. Take my seat first, for a simple bidding problem:

With our side only, as North, I picked up a nice 17-count, with a 1 opening in front of me.

North
Q62
KQ874
AQ6
A6
W
N
E
S
1
?

Lots of options: 2 seems pretty normal, though the hand is a bit over-weight for the call, and the suit quality a bit lacking.

Obviously, if I deem this too strong for a simple overcall, I could double first.

Or, I could get the strength and relative nature of the hand through in one call, 1NT, despite the shaky spade stopper.

Your call?

Any of the choices could be right. Bidding your suit can never be too far off, so the overcall is a real option. Doubling first may prove useful if partner has a decent hand with no heart fit, but, for us, doubling, and then bidding hearts, implies a much better hand than this. Finally, trying 1NT is pretty good all around, except for the shaky spade holding. It will be hard to veer back to hearts when that is best, and, notrump might be much better from partner's side (picture the spade king over there).

I quickly rule out double, but the other choices? In practice, I have never had much success overcalling two of a suit with a holding like Qxx in their suit, and that superstition sways me to 1NT.

Lefty passes and partner thinks a bit. We play a version of two-way Stayman here - no transfers for us. Why are transfers so popular in this sequence? I don't get it. Why should we go out of our way to take the opening bidder off the lead?

Partner finally chooses 3. That is a signoff - invitational or forcing hands would start with some Stayman noise. Do you move anyway?

Of course not. 3 ends the auction, and I'll shift you over to the West seat to defend.

You lead the spade ace, and see my hand as dummy:

West
AKJ98
A62
1094
QJ
North
Q62
KQ874
AQ6
A6
East
South
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
2
10
7
0
0
1
1

Partner plays the 10 (standard carding). Plan the defense.

Four tricks are obvious - two spades, a spade ruff, and the heart ace. The fifth? Partner rates to have the diamond king on the auction, but, if we take our spade ruff, how do we get the diamond winner? Declarer has at least six clubs, and at least three spades, so the diamond loser will go away on the hearts.

Still, we are likely to score a trump trick anyway, what with Restricted Choice, so maybe we should get our ruff.

Or, maybe, we should shift to diamonds at trick two. What would happen then?

Declarer might fly ace, draw trumps, and make the spade ruff vanish, but that trick comes back in diamonds. That really won't happen: Picture declarer with a hand like xxx Jx Jx K1098xx. Seeing a likely trump loser, declarer isn't overly concerned with that ruff, which will often be from a natural trick anyway. The contract seems to hinge on the diamond finesse, and your shifting to a diamond might seem suspicious. Declarer might give you a few looks, but, declarer will finesse.

Then we can get our ruff, and the heart ace. It is clear to shift to diamonds at trick two. Which diamond?

The ten is the normal card here, in case South is 3-1-3-6, with no king or jack of diamonds. Still, the choice can't make any difference. Say you try the 4. Partner will win the queen with the king, get a ruff, as you suit preference for diamonds, and a further diamond will set the hand two tricks.

You try the 10, low from dummy. Partner wins the king, plays a spade back, and now you get your ruff. If declarer is, say, 3-1-2-7, the heart might go away, so, naturally, you return the spade jack on the third round of spades. Partner ruffs with the 4, and dutifully plays a heart to your ace.

West
AKJ98
A62
1094
QJ
North
Q62
KQ874
AQ6
A6
East
South
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
2
10
7
0
0
1
10
6
K
2
2
0
2
3
5
K
6
0
0
3
J
Q
4
4
2
0
4
3
5
A
4
0
0
5
5

This is the ending, with five tricks already in:

West
98
62
94
QJ
North
KQ87
AQ
A6

What now?

Well, if declarer started with something like K109xxx in clubs, you will likely score another trump winner, for a lovely two down, and +200. However, if partner holds the 10, the clubs are dropping, but you can force another trump winner with a fourth spade.

This one is tricky. Do we play partner for the 10, or not?

Assuming a 6-card club suit, declarer has five little clubs, to partner's three, so declarer is a 5-3 favorite to hold that 10. That suggests laying off spades. However ...

First off, partner needn't ruff if you play another spade. Partner will know that small trumps can't promote anything, and will simply discard. Declarer, too, can't draw any inferences from your play. You would do the same holding a singleton honor in clubs. The spade play couldn't cost then.

Partner will, unfortunately, think that the trump nine is an important card. You could hold, for instance, K10 in trumps. Playing a fourth spade gains a trick when partner started with 10xx in trumps, but loses a trick when partner started with 9xx. That looks like a wash.

Still, declarer might have started with seven trumps, and then, it is always right to play spades. That is our only chance to set the hand two tricks, when declarer has K9 - seventh, and it sets the contract three tricks when declarer held 1098-seventh.

There is one further point - you knew that declarer was following to the third spade. Partner couldn't know that. Maybe, particularly with 10x in trumps, partner would have trumped the third spade high.

Does that inference sway the odds at all?

No. If you held six spades, and some holding needing an upper-cut, you would have cashed the heart ace yourself, before playing the third spade. Partner should never trump the third spade high on the actual defense. That inference is bogus. Playing a third spade gains a trick when partner started with 10xx in trumps, 109x in trumps, 10x, or Kx in trumps, but costs a trick when partner started with 9xx in trumps. It is the percentage play.

East did, in fact, hold that ten of trumps, and sharp defense nets 200:

West
AKJ98
A62
1094
QJ
North
Q62
KQ874
AQ6
A6
East
103
J1093
K873
1084
South
754
5
J52
K97532
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
2
10
7
0
0
1
10
6
K
2
2
0
2
3
5
K
6
0
0
3
J
Q
4
4
2
0
4
3
5
A
4
0
0
5
8
7
10
6

As I hinted in the title, this article is more fantasy than reality. At the table, my partner actually passed 1NT, and left me to play there. The interesting defense to 3 never happened.

So, let's now pretend that you don't know the full hand. You can take over for me declaring 1NT. I'll rotate the hand to make you, the declarer, South:

West
North
754
5
J52
K97532
East
South
Q62
KQ874
AQ6
A6
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
4
9
Q
3
1
0
1

Plan the play.

Six tricks are easy. The seventh is not so clear, but there are good chances if the diamond king is onside. On many layouts, we will be able to exert pressure on East, and score a third diamond trick in one way or the other.

We are in no hurry to do anything just yet, and maybe the opponents will help. I won the spade and returned the suit, trusting them to do some of my work.

East ran her spades, while West discarded, in order, the 8, the 3, and the 3, playing standard carding. I pitched two hearts from hand, and two clubs from the table.

West
North
754
5
J52
K97532
East
South
Q62
KQ874
AQ6
A6
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
4
9
Q
3
1
0
6
3
5
8
2
1
1
A
2
8
7
2
1
2
K
4
3
2
2
1
3
J
7
3
3
2
1
4
5

to leave:

North
5
J52
K975
South
KQ8
AQ6
A6

East, seeing partner's signals, shifts obediently to the 10. And you?

No chance now for three diamond tricks. There is one hope left - that East started with a doubleton heart ace. Still, things might get interesting if East was, say, 5-3-2-3. Suppose this were the full hand:

West
103
J963
K8743
Q8
North
754
5
J52
K97532
East
AKJ98
A102
109
J104
South
Q62
KQ874
AQ6
A6
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
4
9
Q
3
1
0
6
3
5
8
2
1
1
A
2
8
7
2
1
2
K
4
3
2
2
1
3
J
7
3
3
2
1
4
10
6

That would leave this ending:

West
J96
K74
Q8
North
5
J52
K975
East
A102
109
J104
South
KQ8
AQ6
A6
D

No luck in either diamonds or hearts, but ... What can East throw on the third diamond? Not a club, or the clubs run, and not a heart, or I can set up hearts!

The defense can prevail here, by attacking clubs, but, if East wins the diamond and plays a heart or a diamond, I am home.

Wanting to play an early heart from the table, I stuck in the diamond queen. West won the king, and played back a diamond. I took this on the table, to lead a heart, planning on trying for my squeeze next. East flew up with the heart ace, and that was that.

So, I figured, the heart ace was doubleton all along, and the hand didn't need any squeeze. Only later did I see that hearts had been 4-3, and East had apparently handed me the contract.

This was, as you likely recall, the full (rotated) hand:

West
103
J1093
K873
1084
North
754
5
J52
K97532
East
AKJ98
A62
1094
QJ
South
Q62
KQ874
AQ6
A6
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
4
9
Q
3
1
0
6
3
5
8
2
1
1
A
2
8
7
2
1
2
K
4
3
2
2
1
3
J
7
3
3
2
1
4
10
Q
K
2
0
1
5
7
J
4
6
1
2
5
7

We had reached this ending, with the lead on the table:

West
J109
1084
North
5
5
K975
East
A62
9
QJ
South
KQ8
A
A6
D

I had planned on leading a heart to my king, and cashing the diamond, to squeeze East guarding clubs and hearts. East would, however, turn up with the last diamond. But look at what that diamond does to the West hand!

It is strange, isn't it? I had decided that my heart suit lacked the texture for a two-level overcall, but, in fact, it had just enough texture for me to land my 1NT contract.

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