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All Four Suits
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In a semi-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you have to decide how high to bid with a long suit.

N-S vul, South deals. As East, you hold:

East
Q72
KQJ10763
4
K2
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
?

1NT: 14-16

2NT: Puppet Stayman

Your call?

East
Q72
KQJ10763
4
K2
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
?

Clearly you are going to bid some number of hearts. The question is whether you should bid 3 or 4.

North has announced game-going strength with his 2NT Puppet Stayman call. Of course that doesn't mean the opponents necessarily can make a game, but they will either be bidding a game or doubling you. You aren't going to buy the contract for 3 if you bid it.

You have 6 sure tricks in your own hand. That means that if partner has no help at all 4 will go for 800. If partner has nothing, you aren't going to defeat 3NT (or 4 if they have an 8-card spade fit). So, even if you go for 800 you won't lose too many IMPs. If partner has a trick for you or if the opponents have to give you a trick, -500 will be fine assuming they can make a game.

Is there a danger that you can defeat their best game? Possible, but not likely. You have 11 HCP, and might not even take a trick on defense. That doesn't leave much for partner since North has announced game-going values. If the opponents play 3NT, they will be able to hold up in hearts until your partner is out of hearts, and it will be difficult for you to gain the lead. If they have an 8-card spade fit, that figures to play fine for them. 4 doubled is unlikely to be a phantom save.

A 3 call will get you a heart lead against 3NT, but otherwise it won't do much damage to the opponents. If South has a 5-card spade suit he will bid it, and if that is what North was looking for they will have arrived. If South doesn't have 5 spades he will pass, and now North can bid 3 with a 4-card suit. South will know this is a 4-card suit, since if North had 5 spades he would have started with a transfer. Therefore, the opponents will be able to find out for sure whether or not they have a spade fit.

4 does a lot more damage. South might bid 4 with a 5-card spade suit, but that could be wrong. It will be very difficult for them to locate a 4-4 spade fit. They can no longer play 3NT, so they may have to double you whatever they have.

It looks like gobbling up the extra space with 4 is a good bet.

You choose to bid 3. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
?

Your call?

East
Q72
KQJ10763
4
K2
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
?

Clearly you must pass. 5 could easily go for too much, and you might be able to defeat 4. Worse, the opponents know exactly where they stand, so if you save they should be able to make the right decision. Last round was the time to put them under pressure. Now is too late.

You pass, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
P
P
P

Partner leads the 9:

North
J108
85
AK865
A73
East
Q72
KQJ10763
4
K2
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
P
P
P

You play suit-preference at trick 1. 10, 9, 8 (by priority) is suit-preference high. 2, 3, 4 (by priority) is suit-preference low. 6, 5, 7 (by priority) is encouraging.

Your play?

North
J108
85
AK865
A73
East
Q72
KQJ10763
4
K2
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
P
P
P

There isn't any need to signal partner anything. He has very little strength, and is unlikely to be in until possibly late in the hand. Any signal you give will probably be more helpful to declarer than partner.

It is probably better to simply overtake partner's 9. If nothing else, this doesn't give declarer the option of which opponent he prefers to win the heart trick if he has a doubleton.

You choose to play the 3. Declarer wins the ace. Declarer now leads the 3 to the 5, jack, and your queen. What do you lead back?

North
108
8
AK865
A73
East
72
KQJ1076
4
K2
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
P
P
P

This is a fascinating problem. Offhand, it appears that all four suits are potential candidates.

It might be right to return a spade. This could be effective if declarer has 3 hearts and needs to ruff a heart in dummy.

It might be right to cash a heart. If declarer has a doubleton heart, this will eliminate the danger of declarer discarding his heart loser.

It might be right to return a diamond. This could work if partner can get in and give you a diamond ruff.

It might be right to return a club. This could both set up a club trick for your side and knock out dummy's entry to the diamonds.

Partner doesn't have much. There are only 17 HCP you can't see, and declarer presumably has 14 of them for his 1NT opener. That leaves partner a maximum of 3 HCP.

In the unlikely event that partner has the king of spades, declarer has everything else. That means you aren't beating the contract, since dummy's diamonds will be good and the most you can expect to take is 2 spades and 1 heart. You have to assume that declarer has the king of spades.

What can you figure out from declarer's line of play? It looks like he is counting on the diamond suit coming home for a lot of tricks if he is willing to concede the queen of spades without a fight. That places the queen of diamonds in declarer's hand. If declarer also has the jack of diamonds you don't have much chance, so you can mentally give partner that card. You can also hope that partner has the queen of clubs, as otherwise it is hard to see how declarer won't have 10 tricks.

What about declarer's distribution? You can assume from the 1NT opening that declarer is 5-3-3-2 in some order. If declarer has a third heart, it seems like he would have led a heart at trick 2 in order to prepare to ruff a heart in dummy and then perhaps take a spade finesse. It looks like declarer's shape is 5-2-3-3. His hand may be something like AKxxx Ax Qxx Jxx.

If declarer has Qxx of diamonds, it will be necessary to knock out the ace of clubs entry to dummy, since otherwise declarer can establish the long diamond with a ruff. You might cash the king of hearts and then shift to the king of clubs. But this won't work. Declarer will duck the king of clubs, win your club continuation, and run his trumps. Partner will be caught in a minor-suit squeeze.

Perhaps the right idea is to shift to the king of clubs without cashing the heart, so the count for the squeeze won't be corrected. Declarer will duck the king of clubs, win the second round of clubs, draw trumps, and test the diamonds. When he finds that you have 3 spades and the diamonds are 4-1 he will have a count on the hand, and he will lead the second round of hearts himself. Dummy's 8 of hearts prevents partner from getting in, so you must win and return a heart which will lead to the same squeeze.

How about cashing a heart and shifting to a small club? Declarer won't duck this trick, as you may have a singleton club. He will win the ace, draw trumps, and try 2 rounds of diamonds ending in his hand. When he gets the bad news in diamonds he will have to decide what to do. On the actual layout he can exit with a club and have the count corrected for the squeeze, but he doesn't know that the clubs are blocked. Instead, he may play partner for the KQ of clubs and run a squeeze without the count. He runs all his trumps, forcing partner to come down to a stiff club in order to guard the diamonds. When that happens, he discards a diamond from dummy and leads a club, expecting partner to have to win and dummy will be good. Instead you will show up with the king of clubs and take the rest of the tricks.

Will declarer get the end position wrong? It is unfortunate that your small club is the 2, since it would be more natural for you to lead high from a small doubleton. Still, you aren't always going to be carding honestly, and declarer may think your 2 shift is from a small doubleton. This looks like your best chance.

You cash the jack of hearts. Partner discards the 4. What next?

North
108
AK865
A73
East
72
KQ1076
4
K2
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
P
P
P

This wasn't what you expected. It looks like declarer will be able to ruff a heart in dummy and have 10 tricks. Do you have any chance?

Clearly you need for declarer's doubleton to be in diamonds. This gives declarer AKxxx Axx Qx Jxx. A third round of hearts only does declarer's work for him.

A club shift isn't effective. This knocks out the entry to dummy, so declarer will be forced to play along the heart ruff line which you know will succeed.

Suppose you shift to a diamond. Declarer can win the queen, ruff a heart, and lead the 10 from dummy. When you follow declarer will know the spades are splitting, so it will be safe for him to overtake.

A trump shift is probably best. Declarer can and should work out at this point that the trumps are splitting 3-2, so he can win in his hand, ruff a heart, and the queen of diamonds is the entry to draw trumps. But declarer has to see the position at this point. If he mistakenly wins in dummy and crosses to the queen of diamonds to ruff his heart, he will go down since he can't get back to his hand.

You choose to continue hearts. Declarer ruffs in dummy, overtakes the 10, and runs all his trumps but one. Partner hangs onto all of his diamonds and the defense gets another trick. The full hand is:

West
65
9
J10973
Q9654
North
J108
85
AK865
A73
East
Q72
KQJ10763
4
K2
South
AK943
A42
Q2
J108
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
5
3
A
3
1
0
3
5
J
Q
2
1
1
J
2
4
8
2
1
2
Q
4
6
8
1
2
2
10
2
A
6
3
3
2
K
5
3
7
3
4
2
9
9
7
10
3
5
2
8
Q
A
2
1
6
2
5
4
Q
3
3
7
2
4
7
6
6
3
8
2
10

What do you think of declarer's line of play?

West
65
9
J10973
Q9654
North
J108
85
AK865
A73
East
Q72
KQJ10763
4
K2
South
AK943
A42
Q2
J108
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
5
3
A
3
1
0
3
5
J
Q
2
1
1
J
2
4
8
2
1
2
Q
4
6
8
1
2
2
10
2
A
6
3
3
2
K
5
3
7
3
4
2
9
9
7
10
3
5
2
8
Q
A
2
1
6
2
5
4
Q
3
3
7
2
4
7
6
6
3
8
2
10

It doesn't look right. Declarer was pretty much banking on the diamonds splitting no worse than 4-2. The defense couldn't knock out the ace of clubs due to declarer's club holding. Still, it seems better to play a heart at trick 2, planning on ruffing a heart in dummy for the tenth trick. It doesn't appear that much can go wrong.

On the actual hand, if East knew declarer had this shape he could have given declarer more problems with a spade or diamond shift. Declarer could still make due to his club holding since leading a small club from dummy would get a second club trick, but declarer might have gotten it wrong.

How was the N-S bidding?

West
65
9
J10973
Q9654
North
J108
85
AK865
A73
East
Q72
KQJ10763
4
K2
South
AK943
A42
Q2
J108
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
3
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
5
3
A
3
1
0
3
5
J
Q
2
1
1
J
2
4
8
2
1
2
Q
4
6
8
1
2
2
10
2
A
6
3
3
2
K
5
3
7
3
4
2
9
9
7
10
3
5
2
8
Q
A
2
1
6
2
5
4
Q
3
3
7
2
4
7
6
6
3
8
2
10

Opening 1NT on the South hand is reasonable, since South does have something in every suit. Still, the spade suit might get lost. Also, North may have a hand which is worth a game move only based on a good spade fit. Since South isn't looking at any major rebid problems, I think opening 1 is better.

North's use of puppet Stayman looks right, particularly with the variation which N-S were using. The opponents don't get a lead-directing double in, which makes the bid pretty much a free shot. If South does have 5 spades, 4 figures to be a better contract that 3NT. Otherwise North simply rebids 3NT, and the defense doesn't get much extra information.

At the other table, after a 1 opening bid 4 was also reached with the same opening lead. Here declarer did lead back a heart at trick 2, and easily made 10 tricks.

Some positions are just too complicated to work out completely. When you face such a problem, try to find some consistent layout where a play is necessary and sufficient. You might not get it right, but at least you have a decent chance.

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