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In a round-robin match in the Open Trials, you face a tricky choice of game decision.

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

North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
?

1: 11-15, 2+ diamonds. If balanced, 11-13.

Double would presumably be a normal negative double, although since 2 would be a negative free bid the double could be a game-forcing hand with 5+ hearts which would be shown by a 3 follow-up.

2 would be natural, at least game invitational, presumably 5+ diamonds, presumably fewer than 4 hearts.

2 would be presumably a balanced game force with no spade stopper and not right for a negative double.

Your call?

North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
?

Your first order of business must be to determine whether or not you have a 4-4 heart fit. Double is clear.

You double. The bidding continues:

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

Partner's 2 call does not show both minors. He is simply bidding his best suit in response to your negative double. If he is balanced, he is permitted to rebid 1NT without a spade stopper.

Double would show a doubleton spade and interest in competing. You could have more than 2 spades and be using the double to keep the ball rolling.

3 would be non-forcing.

2NT would be takeout.

3 would be some kind of game force.

Your call?

North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
?

The hand is too strong for 3. That is the bid you would make with one fewer ace. This hand has to be driven to game.

The 2-card double looks perfect. Partner won't pass unless he has 4 spades, and if he does pass your defensive prospects figure to be good. Otherwise, partner will make his best descriptive call, with 2NT being takeout.

You double. The bidding continues:

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

4 would be forcing.

5 would be the end of the auction.

Your call?

North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
?

Partner is clearly bidding a 3-card heart suit, since if he had 4 hearts he would have bid 2 instead of 2. Your heart holding probably isn't strong enough to handle a 4-3 fit. It looks like you need to choose between 3NT and 5. There isn't any reason to bid 4, since you will just be getting to 5 anyway.

Suppose partner doesn't have any help in spades, which is likely considering that partner bid 2 rather than 1NT. This leaves you with a single spade stopper. If the diamonds run you have 8 tricks, but would still need the ace of clubs or the king of hearts from partner. If partner has this, 5 probably has good play.

If the diamonds aren't running, 3NT is in trouble. What about 5? It might make. For example, partner could hold something like xx Kxx Qxx AKxxx.

On the other hand, 9 tricks are easier than 11. Give partner something like xx Kxx AQx Qxxxx and 3NT rolls, while 5 has almost no play. That potential third-round heart loser is big danger for 5.

The bottom line is that it looks like a close decision. Perhaps the nod goes to 5, but that is not at all clear.

If you think that 5 is a better call than 3NT, you can improve your chances by bidding 3. You could catch partner with queen-doubleton of spades, in which case getting 3NT played from his side is huge. If partner doesn't have any spade help, he will make his most descriptive call. If he tries 4 you might choose to pass and play for the 10-trick contract, since he won't be bidding 4 without 3 good hearts. Otherwise, you will just settle for 5. Your sequence might seem strange to partner since diamonds haven't really been bid, but he will know that nobody invited him to the party. He has described his hand, and you have placed the contract. He will pass a subsequent 5 call regardless of his hand.

You choose to bid 5, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P

Partner did open 1, so he gets to declare. Not in Kit's Korner here on Bridge Winners. Over you go to give it a try.

West leads the king of spades. Standard leads and signals.

North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
South
62
Q62
AQ10
KQ963
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P

Do you win or duck?

North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
South
62
Q62
AQ10
KQ963
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P

Prospects look grim. It appears that you will have to lose at least one trick in each side suit. If East has the ace of clubs your chances would go up considerably, but that doesn't seem likely. That would give West a model weak jump overcall. In addition, West wouldn't be competing so high without that card. In fact, West probably has both the ace of clubs and the king of hearts.

A case could be made for ducking the first trick, since you don't want East in to lead a heart through. However, it looks better to win the trick. Maybe the enemy overcalling style isn't what you think, and East has the ace of clubs. If that is the case, it is clearly better to win the first trick so a club off dummy will put him under more pressure. You might want to save the spade for a later exit. Also, West isn't likely to be able to know to underlead his queen of spades anyway.

You win the ace of spades. East plays the 3. Which spade do you play from your hand?

North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
South
62
Q62
AQ10
KQ963
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P

The opponents are playing standard signals. If you play the 2, West will know East's 3 is his lowest spade. If you play the 6, West may have to consider the possibility that the 3 is from 32 doubleton. It isn't likely to matter, but the falsecard is just good technique. In general, the principle is to signal honestly using the enemy carding methods.

You play the 6. What do you play at trick 2, and what is your plan?

North
8
A954
KJ7654
7
South
2
Q62
AQ10
KQ963
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P

One idea is to lead a trump to your hand and exit with a spade. If West is unable or unwilling to duck, he will have a problem if he started with a singleton diamond. However, it looks better to go after clubs. It is always possible that East has the ace of clubs. East might have J10x, or West AJ10 tripleton, in which case your 9 will set up for 3 club tricks which is enough. East might have J10xx and not see the importance of splitting -- naturally you would plan to play the 9 if East plays small.

Should you draw any trumps first? You can't afford to draw 2 rounds, since you would then not have the entries to capitalize on one of the favorable club positions. However, you can afford to draw one round. That could be important if West started with a singleton trump, since he could have a big problem. Picture West holding something like KQJ10xx, K10x, x, AJx. You cash dummy's jack of diamonds, and lead a club to your 9 and his jack. He cashes his spade trick, but then what does he do?

If your hand is:

xx QJx AQx Q109xx, a third round of spades gives you the contract. You ruff in dummy, pitch a heart from your hand, cross to your hand with a trump to take a heart finesse, and eventually ruff the third round of hearts and set up dummy's long heart. Both a club shift and a heart shift would succeed.

However, with your actual hand, a spade continuation is necessary. A heart shift gives you both a heart trick and the entry to set up 2 club tricks. A club shift gives you 3 club tricks.

West has a real problem. Of course West can underlead his spade holding, but he doesn't know that.

You choose to lead dummy's club without playing any trumps. East produces the jack. What do you play?

North
8
A954
KJ7654
7
South
2
Q62
AQ10
KQ963
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P

You have to cover. Even if you duck and find West with ace-doubleton, you are still a trick short.

It looks right to cover with the queen. While partnerships vary as to which honor they split with, it seems logical in this situation with dummy having a singleton to split with the highest honor.. If you play the king of clubs, West will know you have the queen with it since his partner would have split with the queen from QJ. If you play the queen of clubs, West won't know for sure where the king is.

You play the queen of clubs. West wins the ace, cashes the queen of spades, and exits with a diamond to your ace, East following. Now what?

North
A954
KJ765
South
Q62
Q10
K963
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P

It looks like your only hope is to set up the clubs, finding East with J10x. If this fails you will have the entries to establish your long club and get out for down 1.

There is one other possibility (other than the unlikely stiff king of hearts). How about a Chinese finesse in hearts? Suppose you lead the queen of hearts, and West has Kxx. Is it so clear for him to cover? If he does cover, he may find that your hand is xx QJ8 AQx Q109xx. You can now finesse East for the 10 and make the contract. If West doesn't cover, you would go down.

Note that taking this play doesn't give up on your main chance of East holding J10x of clubs. You still have the entries to pick up that holding and get back to cash the club winners. However, if East has more than 3 clubs you will be headed down 2 if you lead the queen of hearts and West covers, since you will be short an entry to cash the long club.

Is it worth risking the extra undertrick for this added chance to make? Probably not. West will always cover with king-doubleton. If West has the jack, 10, or 8 of hearts in addition to his king, he can work out that it is safe to cover. Even if West has two small hearts he might cover, deciding that the danger of the Chinese finesse is greater than the danger of you holding exactly QJ8. Since the contract is likely to be 5 or 3NT in the other room and either of these contracts may fail, you would be risking a real 3 IMPs.

You cash the king of clubs, discarding a heart. Both follow small. Now what?

North
A95
KJ765
South
Q62
Q10
963
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P

Now the Chinese finesse is definitely wrong. You are known to have KQ of clubs and AQ of diamonds. If you have QJ of hearts you have 14 HCP and would have opened a 14-16 notrump. West will cover the queen of hearts. You should just set up the club if you can and settle for down 1.

You ruff a club high. Both opponents follow small. You lead a trump to your hand. Both opponents follow. You ruff another club, East having the 10 as expected. You cross to a trump and cash the good club pitching another heart. Now what do you do?

North
A9
K
South
Q62
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P

You know West started with 3 clubs and 2 diamonds. It looks like he started with 6 spades and 2 hearts, but it is barely conceivable that he started with 7 spades and a stiff king of hearts. It is totally inconceivable that he won't cover the queen of hearts now. You might as well play him for stiff king.

You lead a small heart. West follows small, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
KQJ954
K3
98
A52
North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
East
1073
J1087
32
J1084
South
62
Q62
AQ10
KQ963
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
A
3
6
1
1
0
7
J
Q
A
0
1
1
Q
8
7
2
0
1
2
9
4
2
A
3
2
2
K
2
4
4
3
3
2
3
5
J
8
1
4
2
5
3
10
8
3
5
2
6
4
6
10
1
6
2
7
7
Q
5
3
7
2
9
9
5
10
3
8
2
2
3
11

How was the defense?

West
KQJ954
K3
98
A52
North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
East
1073
J1087
32
J1084
South
62
Q62
AQ10
KQ963
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
A
3
6
1
1
0
7
J
Q
A
0
1
1
Q
8
7
2
0
1
2
9
4
2
A
3
2
2
K
2
4
4
3
3
2
3
5
J
8
1
4
2
5
3
10
8
3
5
2
6
4
6
10
1
6
2
7
7
Q
5
3
7
2
9
9
5
10
3
8
2
2
3
11

It was fine. The opening lead was normal and probably necessary. The important play was East splitting his honors in a position where splitting usually isn't right. West had a clear trump exit after cashing his winning spade.

Do you like South's auction?

West
KQJ954
K3
98
A52
North
A8
A954
KJ7654
7
East
1073
J1087
32
J1084
South
62
Q62
AQ10
KQ963
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
1
X
P
2
2
X
P
3
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
A
3
6
1
1
0
7
J
Q
A
0
1
1
Q
8
7
2
0
1
2
9
4
2
A
3
2
2
K
2
4
4
3
3
2
3
5
J
8
1
4
2
5
3
10
8
3
5
2
6
4
6
10
1
6
2
7
7
Q
5
3
7
2
9
9
5
10
3
8
2
2
3
11

The 1 opening is systemic, and the 2 rebid clear on the good 5-card suit. The question is the 3 call. North shouldn't have a 5-card heart suit, for with that North would have either made an immediate negative free bid of 2 with less than game-forcing values or bid 3 instead of the second double with game-forcing values. South's hearts aren't that strong, and he has a good 5-card club suit. South does better bidding 3, leaving North room to bid 3 if North has game-forcing values with a good 4-card heart suit. Keep in mind that North's second double doesn't indicate game-forcing values. North might just want to be getting to the best minor-suit fit.

When you are in a poor contract, often the best approach is to enlist help from the opponents by giving them a choice of actions. Since West had a doubleton diamond, that wouldn't have succeeded here, but if West's shape had been 6-3-1-3 then drawing one round of trumps before making the club play might have given West a difficult problem.

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