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In a round-robin match in the open trials, you face a delicate part-score competitive decision.

Both vul, East deals. As East, you hold:

East
AK97
64
J10852
106
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
?

1: 11-15, 2+ diamonds. If balanced, 11-14, since 1NT opening is 15-17 in third and fourth seat.

Double would be a normal negative double.

2 would be inverted. At least 5 diamonds. Normally at least invitational and forcing to 3, but since you are a passed hand partner can pass.

3 would be to play.

Your call?

East
AK97
64
J10852
106
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
?

If you were not a passed hand this would be a real problem, since you don't have the values for a 2 call and nothing else is descriptive. Since you are a passed hand, 2 figures to work fine. You don't have to worry about partner driving into some hopeless 3NT contract. If he is balanced his maximum HCP is 14, and he knows you have at most 10 since you passed as dealer. With a combined maximum of 24 HCP, partner isn't going to be blasting into 3NT with a balanced hand.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
?

Double would show exactly a doubleton heart and interest in competing.

Your call?

East
AK97
64
J10852
106
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
?

Selling out to 2 holding a doubleton heart when there is a likely playable spot in spades or diamonds is losing bridge. There is too great a danger that 2 makes and you have a making partial of your own. If only one of the contracts makes, competing is a break-even action, and will show a gain if you can push the opponents one level higher. Only when they can't make 2 and you can't make 2 or 3 is defending a clear winner.

Bidding 2 shows partner you have exactly 4 spades and 5 diamonds, so partner will be able to choose the right strain intelligently.

Double has the advantage of keeping defending 2 as a candidate. Partner will know how many hearts you have, which will help his decision. If he has 4 hearts, it is very likely that defending is the winning action. Unless he also has 4 spades that means that neither side has an 8-card major-suit fit, so the Law of Total Tricks would argue for defending unless there is a big diamond fit. Partner knows you have 5 diamonds, so if he has 4 diamonds he knows it is right to bid 3. Otherwise, when partner has 4 hearts, unless these hearts are very small, defending 2 doubled is probably the winning action. Partner will never pass the double unless he has 4 hearts, since he knows it isn't right to defend an 8-card fit at the 2-level. If he has a 4-card spade suit he will try that, otherwise he will place the contract at 2NT or 3.

It looks like double, keeping more options open, is superior.

You double. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
?

Your call?

East
AK97
64
J10852
106
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
?

You are clearly done. You have bid your entire hand, and successfully pushed the opponents to the 3-level. If there is more to be done, that is up to partner.

You pass, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P

Partner leads the 7. UDCA. Suit-preference in trumps.

 

North
1054
K95
9
AK8532
East
AK97
64
J10852
106
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P

The 9 is played from dummy. What do you play?

 

North
1054
K95
9
AK8532
East
AK97
64
J10852
106
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P

You play suit-preference in trumps, making the 6 your proper theoretical play. You might as well show your preference for spades. That is likely to be more helpful to partner than to declarer.

Declarer plays the 2 from his hand. He cashes AK of clubs, playing the jack on the first round and discarding the 4 on the second round. He now leads a small club off dummy. What do you play?

North
1054
K5
9
8532
East
AK97
4
J10852
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P

You can certainly afford a diamond discard. The 8 could conceivably come into play, and signaling discouragement in diamonds isn't so important. The 5 looks okay.

You discard the 5.  Declarer ruffs with a small heart, and leads the queen of diamonds. Partner wins the ace. Which diamond do you play?

North
1054
K5
9
853
East
AK97
4
J1082
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P

The jack of diamonds would be the most informative to partner, but if declarer started with 5 diamonds you might not be able to afford the jack. It doesn't make much sense for declarer to have started with 5 diamonds. If his shape were 2-5-5-1 he would have discarded a spade, not a diamond. Also, if partner has 4 spades and a doubleton diamond, he would have bid 2 instead of 3. It is safe to play the jack of diamonds, which will tell partner exactly what you have in the suit.

You choose to play the 2. Partner cashes his ace of hearts and leads another heart, dummy winning the king. What do you discard?

North
1054
K
853
East
AK97
J108
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P

You know declarer started with 5 hearts and 1 club. He could be 4-3 either way in the pointed suits. He certainly has the king of diamonds. If he has QJxx of spades, a spade discard will allow him to score 2 spade tricks and make the contract. If you discard a diamond and duck when he leads a spade off dummy, you will hold him to 1 spade trick unless he has the 8 and works out to finesse it.

On the other hand, suppose declarer stated with Qxx of spades and KQxx of diamonds. Declarer will lead a spade off dummy. You win the king of spades, and lead the jack of diamonds. Declarer wins, and leads back a diamond. You will be forced to give declarer his queen of spades for down 1.

Suppose instead you discard a spade. You win the king of spades, and lead a diamond. Declarer can lead a diamond back, but you will have another diamond to play. That will force him to ruff and lead a spade from his hand, letting the defense take 3 spade tricks for down 2.

There is plenty of evidence that declarer started with 3 spades and 4 diamonds. If declarer has only 3 diamonds partner has 4, and partner would have competed to 3 on his own knowing about the 9-card diamond fit. Declarer's line of play is suspect if he has 4 spades -- he likely would have been going after spades earlier. Also, partner would know that declarer doesn't have a losing diamond to ruff in dummy, since partner has seen your suit-preference signal for spades and your discouraging diamond discard. Instead of playing ace and a heart, partner would have shifted to a spade and gotten a spade ruff.

You want to extract the full penalty if you can do so safely. Is the evidence strong enough to risk letting the contract make if your construction is wrong? Yes, it is. You should discard a spade and go after the 2-trick set.

You discard a spade. Declarer leads a spade off dummy. Do you go up or duck?

North
1054
853
East
AK9
J108
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P

You must go up. You are playing declarer for Qxx of spades, and you are hoping to shut out his queen of spades.

You win the king of spades, and lead the jack of diamonds. Declarer wins the king, and leads a small spade. Partner grabs his jack, and the contract is down 2. The full hand is

West
J62
A87
A73
Q974
North
1054
K95
9
AK8532
East
AK97
64
J10852
106
South
Q83
QJ1032
KQ64
J
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
9
6
2
1
1
0
A
6
J
4
1
2
0
K
10
4
7
1
3
0
2
5
3
9
3
4
0
Q
A
9
2
0
4
1
A
5
4
10
0
4
2
8
K
7
J
1
5
2
4
K
3
2
2
5
3
J
K
3
3
3
6
3
3
J
10

Should declarer have done better?

West
J62
A87
A73
Q974
North
1054
K95
9
AK8532
East
AK97
64
J10852
106
South
Q83
QJ1032
KQ64
J
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
9
6
2
1
1
0
A
6
J
4
1
2
0
K
10
4
7
1
3
0
2
5
3
9
3
4
0
Q
A
9
2
0
4
1
A
5
4
10
0
4
2
8
K
7
J
1
5
2
4
K
3
2
2
5
3
J
K
3
3
3
6
3
3
J
10

Declarer's approach looks reasonable. The opening trump lead means that he isn't going to get to ruff a diamond in dummy. Even if East has the ace of diamonds, that will be only 4 heart tricks, 2 diamond tricks, and 2 club tricks. Declarer's line of play will make if the clubs are 3-3 and the defense is unable to cash 3 spade tricks. However, declarer should have played a small heart from dummy, retaining the K9. This will guarantee him a dummy entry in the heart suit. Probably declarer had planned upon leading a diamond at trick 2, and changed his mind.

Once the clubs didn't split, there wasn't anything declarer could do against accurate defense.

Do you agree with West's lead and defense?

West
J62
A87
A73
Q974
North
1054
K95
9
AK8532
East
AK97
64
J10852
106
South
Q83
QJ1032
KQ64
J
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
9
6
2
1
1
0
A
6
J
4
1
2
0
K
10
4
7
1
3
0
2
5
3
9
3
4
0
Q
A
9
2
0
4
1
A
5
4
10
0
4
2
8
K
7
J
1
5
2
4
K
3
2
2
5
3
J
K
3
3
3
6
3
3
J
10

The trump lead is very logical. Any other lead is risky. There doesn't appear to be any need to establish tricks quickly, since West has the club suit under control. In addition, dummy may easily have ruffing potential, as was the case.

After that, West's defense of winning the ace of diamonds and playing ace and a heart is obvious.

Was North correct to compete to 3?

West
J62
A87
A73
Q974
North
1054
K95
9
AK8532
East
AK97
64
J10852
106
South
Q83
QJ1032
KQ64
J
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
9
6
2
1
1
0
A
6
J
4
1
2
0
K
10
4
7
1
3
0
2
5
3
9
3
4
0
Q
A
9
2
0
4
1
A
5
4
10
0
4
2
8
K
7
J
1
5
2
4
K
3
2
2
5
3
J
K
3
3
3
6
3
3
J
10

North can be pretty sure his side has an 8-card fit, since South didn't open a weak 2. South certainly holds at least 3 spades, since E-W didn't find a 4-4 spade fit. Tripleton opposite tripleton is not good for offensive purposes. The question is how many diamonds do E-W have? If they have a 9-card fit the trump total is 17, in which case bidding 3 over 3 isn't terrible since that contracts for 18 total tricks. However, if E-W have an 8-card diamond fit the trump total is only 16, in which case it is probably wrong to compete to 3. The key may be West's pass over 2. If West had 4-card diamond support he would likely have bid 3 immediately.

How was West's auction?

West
J62
A87
A73
Q974
North
1054
K95
9
AK8532
East
AK97
64
J10852
106
South
Q83
QJ1032
KQ64
J
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
2
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
9
6
2
1
1
0
A
6
J
4
1
2
0
K
10
4
7
1
3
0
2
5
3
9
3
4
0
Q
A
9
2
0
4
1
A
5
4
10
0
4
2
8
K
7
J
1
5
2
4
K
3
2
2
5
3
J
K
3
3
3
6
3
3
J
10

It looks fine. The opening 1 bid is clear in Precision. Passing over 2 is correct. If partner also has 3 hearts then it is probably better to defend, since the trump total would be only 15, and partner will also pass. Partner is expected to act with fewer than 3 hearts, in which case E-W probably belong in 3.

The two-card double is an extremely valuable tool for part-score competitive decisions. It applies when we have both bid, the opponents are at the 2-level, we are not in a force, and the double doesn't have some other pre-defined meaning (such as a support double). It is sort of like what is commonly called an action double, but better defined. The idea is that when the strength is relatively evenly divided, it is usually wrong to defend at the 2-level when the opponents have an 8-card fit, but usually right to defend when they have a 7-card fit. In addition, our defensive prospects will be better when we are 4-2 in their trump suit than when we are 3-3, so we prefer to double them when 4-2 but simply sell out when 3-3. The 2-card double helps us make accurate Law of Total Trick competitive decisions even when we don't know our combined trump length, since we can key on the enemy trump length to estimate the trump total.

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