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Diversionary Tactic
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In a round-robin match in the Bermuda Bowl, you have to decide how high to raise partner.

N-S vul, North deals. As North, you hold:

North
J1072
10975
A1085
4
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
?

Your call?

North
J1072
10975
A1085
4
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
?

Bidding 4 would be too much. You don't figure to make it, and you might get doubled. You don't have to worry too much about an enemy game. You have the spades under control, and you have a good heart lead against 3NT.

Bidding 2 would be nice if you could buy it there. That is possible. If the opponents get to 3, you can always compete to 3. There is risk to this approach. Letting East get a cheap bid in may help E-W find a good club fit or give them the information they need to double 3 if you are too high there.

Bidding 3 looks just about right. It might make. Furthermore, if you are overboard it will be very difficult for the opponents to punish you. You might shut them out of a club fit, or force them to the 4-level where they are too high.

You bid 3, ending the auction.

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

Over you go to partner's chair to play the hand.

West leads the 2. 3rd and 5th leads.

North
J1072
10975
A1085
4
South
Q93
KQJ86
Q
K986
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
3
P
P
P

Do you win the ace or play low?

North
J1072
10975
A1085
4
South
Q93
KQJ86
Q
K986
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
3
P
P
P

Playing low risks going down immediately. But will winning the ace work?

Suppose West has Axx of hearts, which is likely considering his 1NT overcall. If you take a "draw trumps and claim" approach you will get 5 trump tricks (4 in your hand, 1 ruff in dummy), 1 diamond trick, and 2 spade tricks. Not enough. And if you try to ruff a couple of clubs in dummy without drawing trumps, you won't be able to enjoy those 2 spade tricks with proper defense.

How likely is it that West has the king of diamonds? Very likely. There are 22 HCP outstanding. West didn't lead a spade, which he surely would have done if he has AK of spades, so you can place East with one of these honors. West did overcall 1NT with a single heart stopper, so he probably isn't on a dead minimum. There is barely room for the king of diamonds in East's hand if West has everything else, but the odds greatly favor West having the king of diamonds. If you score a trick with the queen of diamonds, you won't need to ruff 2 clubs in dummy to get up to 9 tricks.

You could consider deceptively playing the 10 from dummy, since you don't want West to know you have a singleton diamond. This might be effective if East has the jack of diamonds. The problem is that if East doesn't have the jack of diamonds you will have to overtake with your singleton queen, and that will give away the show. It is better to make the natural play of a small diamond from dummy.

You play small. East plays the 9, and you win your queen. So far, so good. Now what do you do?

 

 

North
J1072
10975
A108
4
South
Q93
KQJ86
K986
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
3
P
P
P

You did well at trick 1, but you aren't out of the woods yet. The opponents may have a spade ruff coming. Also, even if you draw trumps that might not be good enough. Suppose you lead a high trump and West ducks. You lead another trump. West wins, and leads a third trump. East wins the first round of spades, and punches a high club through you. The defense can force you to ruff a club with dummy's last trump and they will still have a club winner.

Another possibility is to sneak a trump to dummy in order to discard a spade on the ace of diamonds. This will avoid a spade ruff, provided West lets you sneak the trump through. But you still have the difficulty of setting up the spades and getting to them, if the opponents can force dummy with a club. Also, West might see what you are trying to do. Given the bidding and lead, it is quite possible that West's shape is 2-3-5-3, in which case a spade ruff is a serious danger.

The best bet is to lead a club immediately without touching trumps. This diversionary tactic conceals from the opponents your real danger. It will look like you are trying to ruff clubs in dummy, not trying to avoid an enemy ruff.

If you are going to try a club lead, you should lead the king. This will force West to win the trick. It will be a lot harder for him to find a spade shift. He will know you are trying to force him to win the trick if he has the queen of clubs, but he won't know why. It will look like you are planning to ruff a club or clubs in dummy, perhaps needing a dummy entry to take a trump finesse. The actual layout will not appear likely to him.

If you lead a club and the opponents don't get an immediate spade ruff, you are in great shape even if West has a doubleton spade and Axx of hearts. Suppose West returns a diamond or a club. You can win the ace of diamonds discarding a spade, and use your strong trump spots to brute force crossruff the hand. West's best defense will be to play ace and a heart, which will defeat the contract if West has 3 hearts and 2 spades. But it will be difficult if not impossible for West to find this.

You choose to lead the queen of hearts. West wins the ace, and leads a diamond. What do you do?

North
J1072
1097
A108
4
South
Q93
KJ86
K986
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
3
P
P
P

It looks like West has a doubleton heart, since with 3 hearts he certainly would have ducked both for control puposes and in case East has the singleton king. If he has a doubleton heart, you can draw trumps and claim. Unfortunately, you don't have any sure way of dealing with West having 3 trumps and 2 spades, since the club isn't gone so you aren't ready to crossruff. If you discard a spade on the ace of diamonds and play a spade, the defense can play 3 rounds of spades and you will be a trick short -- when West gets in with a club he plays another heart. Probably your best bet is to ruff the diamond return without committing to a discard, draw trumps ending in dummy, and lead a spade. East will have to fly with his honor and push a high club through to defeat the contract, which won't be an obvious defense.

You choose to win the ace of diamonds, discarding a club, and play a trump. The trumps are 2-2, so you can claim. The full hand is:

West
K4
A3
K7642
AQ105
North
J1072
10975
A1085
4
East
A865
42
J93
J732
South
Q93
KQJ86
Q
K986
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
5
9
Q
3
1
0
Q
A
5
2
0
1
1
4
A
3
6
1
2
1
7
4
K
3
3
3
1
4

Should West have found the spade shift?

West
K4
A3
K7642
AQ105
North
J1072
10975
A1085
4
East
A865
42
J93
J732
South
Q93
KQJ86
Q
K986
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
5
9
Q
3
1
0
Q
A
5
2
0
1
1
4
A
3
6
1
2
1
7
4
K
3
3
3
1
4

West was playing his partner for a singleton diamond, which is possible. If East also has the ace of spades, shifting to the king of spades will always defeat the contract if it can be defeated. East will discourage spades if he has a singleton diamond, encourage if he does not.

Can the contract be defeated with a diamond ruff if East does not have the ace of spades? Declarer will have 5 hearts and 3 diamonds, and will have a discard coming on the fourth round of diamonds. That means declarer's shape will have to be 3-5-3-2 and East's shape 4-2-1-6. This gives declarer something like Axx KQJxx QJx xx and East xxxx xx x KJxxxx. East probably wouldn't be competing to 4 with that hand and declarer would play it basically the same way, so that is consistent. West's defense wasn't a nullo defense since there is a consistent lie of the cards where the diamond continuation succeeds and the spade shift fails.

Even though West's defense could have been the winner, it doesn't look like it is percentage. The problem with the defense is that it is betting on a parlay. West is betting that declarer has the ace of spades AND that declarer's shape is exactly 3-5-3-2. The alternative defense of the king of spades shift bets merely that East has the ace of spades. Declarer is already marked with the queen of diamonds and presumably KQ of hearts at least. Since declarer is limited to 15 HCP, East figures to have either the ace of spades or the king of clubs. It is better to bet on a single event than to bet on a parlay.

Do you agree with West's 1NT overcall?

West
K4
A3
K7642
AQ105
North
J1072
10975
A1085
4
East
A865
42
J93
J732
South
Q93
KQJ86
Q
K986
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
5
9
Q
3
1
0
Q
A
5
2
0
1
1
4
A
3
6
1
2
1
7
4
K
3
3
3
1
4

The distribution isn't perfect, and West would like to have a better heart stopper. Still the 1NT call is an accurate description of the strength and hand type. A 2 overcall emphasizes the wrong thing, the shape is wrong for 2NT, and West will have difficulty recovering if he passes. 1NT looks like the least of evils.

An important feature of the hand is the at-the-table manner in which declarer played to the first trick. Since it is trick 1, declarer is expected to take some 20 to 30 seconds before playing from dummy even if there is no problem at trick 1, since declarer may be planning out the hand. However, if declarer agonizes over the play of the small diamond at trick 1, an alert defender will pick up on this and know that declarer doesn't have QJx of diamonds, since with that declarer wouldn't have had a real problem. Once that is known, the spade shift is trivial. Thus, it is important for declarer to hide the fact that he has a problem at trick 1. Quick thinking does have its rewards.

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