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In a round-robin match in the Open Trials, you must choose the best path on a minimal opening bid.

None vul, West deals. As North, you hold:

North
J9853
A8
A83
K86
W
N
E
S
P
?

Your opening 1NT range is 10-12.

Your call?

North
J9853
A8
A83
K86
W
N
E
S
P
?

You have 12 HCP, but with the two aces the real value of the hand is a bit higher. There is no need to open 1NT. You have a 5-card major to open, and there shouldn't be any great rebid problems. The 1 of a major opening bid is the most powerful opening bid in Precision, since it is so tightly defined.

You open 1. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
?

1NT: Semi-forcing

Your call?

North
J9853
A8
A83
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
?

A semi-forcing notrump means that you may pass if you have a 5-3-3-2 minimum. That is exactly what you have. There is no game, else partner wouldn't have responded 1NT. Partner might have a balanced 3-card limit raise, but you wouldn't be accepting over that. There is no reason to bid 2, since 1NT is likely to be the best contract.

You pass, ending the auction.

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

You dropped partner in 1NT, but you don't get off so easy in Kit's Korner. Over you go to play the hand.

West leads the 10. Standard leads.

North
J9853
A8
A83
K86
South
7
QJ643
Q54
Q1042
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

What do you play from dummy?

North
J9853
A8
A83
K86
South
7
QJ643
Q54
Q1042
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

It is nice that the opponents are leading your best suit, but you still have problems. It seems natural to duck and take the free finesse, but that isn't so comfortable. Suppose your queen wins. What now? You have 2 heart tricks, but that is probably all you are going to get from the heart suit and it will take a lot of luck to find 5 other tricks. About all you can do will be to lead a club to the king and hope both minor suits are very friendly. If East wins the king of hearts, that will be better. He will probably return a heart since he doesn't know where the queen is, which will get you up to 4 heart tricks, but you will have to get to your hand and you will need to develop another trick. Your best bet will probably be the club finesse, but if that loses the defense will win the race for 7 tricks.

It looks better to let them play the minors for you. Winning the ace of hearts is a lot more comfortable regardless of which opponent has the king.

You win the ace of hearts, East playing the 2. How do you continue?

North
J9853
8
A83
K86
South
7
QJ64
Q54
Q1042
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

It is clear to continue hearts. That will set up at least another heart trick, maybe more. You will still have to get to your hand to collect those heart tricks, but you have your friendly opponents to help you out there. They will have to lead something when they win the king of hearts.

You continue hearts. East wins the king, West playing the 5. East shifts to the 2. West wins the queen, and returns the jack of clubs. What do you play?

North
J985
A83
K86
South
QJ6
Q54
Q1042
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

Things have taken a turn for the better. You started this hand not knowing where your next trick is coming from. Now it appears that you have 7 sure tricks -- 4 hearts, 2 clubs, and 1 diamond.

It may seem reflexive to play small. However, there are two reasons to cover with the king. One is that this will force East to win the ace if he has it, since he doesn't know where the 10 is, and now you may get 3 club tricks. The other is that if you win this trick with the queen of clubs you will be forced to run your hearts now, and dummy may have discarding problems. Dummy will have to discard a spade, and if unexpectedly West has the ace of clubs and East has AK10xx of spades they can still defeat you.

You choose to play small. East also plays small, and you win the queen of clubs. You naturally run your hearts. What do you discard from dummy?

North
J985
A83
K8
South
QJ6
Q54
1042
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

You don't have any real choice. You need to keep dummy's clubs so you can get a second club trick. You have to discard 2 diamonds and a spade.

You discard 2 diamonds and a spade. You then lead a club to dummy's king and East's ace. East returns a diamond. The clubs are 3-3, so you make an overtrick. The full hand is:

West
AQ10
10975
J96
J95
North
J9853
A8
A83
K86
East
K642
K2
K1072
A73
South
7
QJ643
Q54
Q1042
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
A
2
3
1
1
0
8
K
4
5
2
1
1
2
7
Q
3
0
1
2
J
6
3
Q
3
2
2
Q
7
3
4
3
3
2
J
9
8
2
3
4
2
6
6
5
7
3
5
2
2
5
K
A
2
5
3
10
9

If declarer had ducked the opening lead, he might have gone down. East would win and return a heart. Now if declarer leads a club to the 10, West can win, return a diamond, and the defense gets 3 spades, 1 heart, 1 diamond, and 2 clubs.

Should the defense have gone differently?

West
AQ10
10975
J96
J95
North
J9853
A8
A83
K86
East
K642
K2
K1072
A73
South
7
QJ643
Q54
Q1042
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
A
2
3
1
1
0
8
K
4
5
2
1
1
2
7
Q
3
0
1
2
J
6
3
Q
3
2
2
Q
7
3
4
3
3
2
J
9
8
2
3
4
2
6
6
5
7
3
5
2
2
5
K
A
2
5
3
10
9

The opening lead is normal. East's spade return at trick 3 seems right. This might set up a spade trick if West has queen-doubleton, and it can't cost. East doesn't know whether or not it is safe to shift to a diamond.

When in with the queen of spades, West can be confident that declarer started with 5 hearts, since if East had another heart he probably would have continued the suit since East wouldn't know who had the queen of hearts. West can assume that East has the ace of clubs, else declarer has 7 top tricks. West's defense is necessary if declarer has KQ of diamonds and his partner has the queen of clubs, and will succeed if his partner has the 10 or declarer misguesses and plays West for QJx. This is a very specific layout. A diamond shift looks better, playing East for the king of diamonds. East will win the trick, return a spade, and West will know what to do depending upon whether East won with the queen or the king. Even if declarer has the king of diamonds, the diamond shift will succeed if East has both minor-suit queens.

At the end, East could have saved an overtrick by ducking the ace of clubs. Since his partner might have had the 10, this wouldn't be a realistic play.

This hand is a good illustration of why most expert pairs have shifted from forcing 1NT response to semi-forcing 1NT response. 1NT has decent chances, but a 2-level contract (assuming N-S are able to choose the right 2-level contract, which is far from clear) will be very sticky. I have often seen players holding a hand such as the North hand rebid 2, get to a poor contract when 1NT would have been much better, and then say: I just knew I should have violated system and passed 1NT on this hand. They are right, of course. The answer is to change the methods so passing 1NT isn't a violation.

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