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In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials, you have to decide whether or not to bid game opposite partner's unusual call.

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

North
A103
K10865
A1042
3
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
?

1NT: 15-17

Your call?

North
A103
K10865
A1042
3
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
?

Partner should have a semi-solid club suit for this unusual call, so your lack of support isn't likely to matter. He probably has something resembling 8 tricks in his own hand to justify bidding this high. You don't know which of your cards are working, but some of them figure to be of value. You have aces, so he probably doesn't have 3 quick losers. On this sort of hand, it is usually right to bid one more for the road. Stopping on a dime in 4 is cutting things too thin.

You bid 5, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P

Over you go to try to make it.

West leads the 3. Fourth-best leads. Standard carding.

North
A103
K10865
A1042
3
South
KJ82
87
KQJ10652
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P

Do you win this or duck?

North
A103
K10865
A1042
3
South
KJ82
87
KQJ10652
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P

Winning the trick has the advantage of making a trick 2 play before the opponents know much about your hand. If the lead is from a 3-card suit, East may think you have a singleton diamond. If it is from a 4-card suit, East will know you have a doubleton diamond since the opponents play fourth-best leads.

Ducking has several things going for it. East will know you have a doubleton diamond, but unless he has QJ or KQJ he won't know what your other diamond is. If he has KJx(x) of diamonds he will fear you have queen-doubleton, and he may think it necessary to cash his ace of hearts before it runs away. Even if East's diamonds are as good as KQ9x, he has worries about his ace of hearts. Suppose you have jack-doubleton of diamonds. If East doesn't cash his ace of hearts now or when in with his ace of clubs, he may be caught in a heart-diamond squeeze if his partner can't beat your singleton heart spot. So, if you duck this trick there is a good chance East will try to cash his ace of hearts. This won't necessarily give you the contract, but it will certainly improve your chances.

Even if East doesn't try to cash his ace of hearts, ducking has advantages. You may find out how the diamonds lie, which could help you determine the location of the queen of spades. Keeping the extra entry to dummy gives you more flexibility. Finally, East has to do something, and that something might be a helpful spade shift.

It looks best to duck.

You choose to win the ace of diamonds. East plays the 6. What do you play off dummy?

North
A103
K10865
1042
3
South
KJ82
8
KQJ10652
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P

This is your last time in dummy for a while, so you should try to make the most of it. Leading a trump doesn't accomplish anything, as you can draw trumps from your hand at leisure. There are better uses for this dummy entry.

One possibility is to come off with a small heart. East almost certainly has the ace of hearts. If he doesn't have the queen he may go up ace. Not only will this give you a heart trick to take care of the fourth round of spades, it will almost certainly place the queen of spades in the East hand for his 1NT opener.

If you are willing to stake the contract on East having the queen of spades, an interesting idea is to lead the 10 off dummy at trick 2. The most prepared player in the world is going to be caught by surprise by this play. It would be bad if East has queen-doubleton and covers, but will he cover? Covering would be catastrophic if you have K98 of spades, and would give you the spade guess if you have KJ9. It would be extremely difficult for East to work out in a split second the combination where covering can gain. East's instinct will be to duck. The only holding where he will cover is Q9xx. If he has that you won't even need to finesse for the 9, as he will eventually be caught in a spade-heart squeeze.

You choose to lead a heart off dummy. East plays the queen. You ruff, West playing the 2. You lead the queen of clubs. East wins the ace, cashes the queen of diamonds (West following with the 5), and exits with a club which you win, discarding a heart from dummy. When you draw the remaining trump West discards the 9 as you discard another heart from dummy. What do you do now?

North
A103
K10
104
South
KJ82
1065
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P

You are going to have to tackle the spades at some point. It can't hurt to play another round of trumps. You can comfortably discard a red card from dummy, and the opponents may be under some pressure.

You lead a club. West discards the 3. What do you pitch from dummy?

North
A103
K10
104
South
KJ82
1065
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P

Unless you are going to play West for the queen of spades it won't matter what you discard from dummy at this point, since you will have only one dummy entry so you won't be able to establish a winner by ruffing and get back to cash it. If West does have the queen of spades, he might have been under pressure if he started with something like Qxxx Jxx Jxxx xx. This gives East xx AQxxx KQx Axx, which is consistent. Therefore, you should discard a heart, keeping open the option of leading a spade to the 10 and establishing a diamond trick.

You choose to discard a diamond. East discards the 4. What next?

North
A103
K10
10
South
KJ82
65
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P

It can't hurt to play one more trump. As long as you have a trump left, you can play a spade to the ace and a small spade off dummy, making if East has queen-doubleton. Depending upon what the opponents discard and what you can deduce about their hands, you might be able to afford to play your last trump also before attacking spades.

You choose to lead a spade to dummy. West plays the 5. Do you finesse or go up ace and play East for the queen?

North
A103
K10
10
South
KJ82
65
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P

What do you know about East's hand? He presumably has the ace of hearts, so he has shown up with AQ of hearts, ace of clubs, queen of diamonds. That's 12 HCP. If the queen of diamonds is honest (i.e.,no king) then East would have to have the queen of spades to get his 15 HCP. Of course the queen of diamonds doesn't have to be honest. If East started with KQx of diamonds, he might or might not have the queen of spades.

Consider West's opening lead. If he had the queen of spades and Jxxx of diamonds, leading from the queen would be more popular than a lead from a jack. That makes it more likely that East has the queen of spades.

You go up ace of spades. East plays the 6. And now?

North
103
K10
10
South
KJ8
65
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P

If spades are 3-3, nothing matters. If East has a doubleton queen of spades, you have to lead a small spade off dummy. If East started with 4 spades, you must lead the 10 and hope to pin the 9.

If East has 4 spades, that would give West 2-5-4-2 distribution. Unless West is playing a deep game, he would have discarded a heart on his first discard rather than a diamond. It is better to play East for the short spade holding.

You lead a small spade off dummy. The queen pops up, and you have the rest. The full hand is:

West
9754
J32
K953
98
North
A103
K10865
A1042
3
East
Q6
AQ974
QJ6
A74
South
KJ82
87
KQJ10652
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
A
6
7
1
1
0
5
Q
2
2
3
2
0
Q
8
3
A
2
2
1
Q
8
5
2
2
2
2
4
K
9
6
3
3
2
J
9
8
7
3
4
2
10
3
4
4
3
5
2
2
5
A
6
1
6
2
3
Q
9

How was the defense?

West
9754
J32
K953
98
North
A103
K10865
A1042
3
East
Q6
AQ974
QJ6
A74
South
KJ82
87
KQJ10652
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
A
6
7
1
1
0
5
Q
2
2
3
2
0
Q
8
3
A
2
2
1
Q
8
5
2
2
2
2
4
K
9
6
3
3
2
J
9
8
7
3
4
2
10
3
4
4
3
5
2
2
5
A
6
1
6
2
3
Q
9

The opening lead is pretty much a guess. Leading away from a king could be quite necessary or it could be the lead which allows the contract to make.

Going in with the queen of hearts was fine. If declarer is ruffing it isn't going to matter, but if declarer has a singleton jack of hearts it matters a lot.

East should have ducked the first round of clubs. It probably couldn't matter on this hand, but it might be nice to know how many trumps declarer has since that could affect the defense.

East did well to not play a third diamond. In addition to revealing less about the hand to declarer, playing a third round of diamonds would leave the sole diamond guard in West's hand. This would allow West to be squeezed if declarer's hand were Kxx -- xx KQJ10xxxx.

West's discarding was okay. He clearly has to keep 4 spades in case his partner has QJ doubleton. The order of discards in the red suits doesn't make a difference.

Do you like South's 4 call?

West
9754
J32
K953
98
North
A103
K10865
A1042
3
East
Q6
AQ974
QJ6
A74
South
KJ82
87
KQJ10652
W
N
E
S
1NT
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
A
6
7
1
1
0
5
Q
2
2
3
2
0
Q
8
3
A
2
2
1
Q
8
5
2
2
2
2
4
K
9
6
3
3
2
J
9
8
7
3
4
2
10
3
4
4
3
5
2
2
5
A
6
1
6
2
3
Q
9

It looks on target. Even if North has some spades, the hand is likely to belong in clubs. 4 puts plenty of pressure on the opponents and describes the offensive potential of the South hand quite accurately. 5 would be a bit too much, forcing West to double if West has anything. 3 would be too little, not showing the full trick-taking potential of the hand and not putting as much pressure on the opponents.

At the other table, South bid only 3 over a 1NT opening. That ended the auction. and the good vulnerable game was missed.

It doesn't pay to try to be precise and stop on a dime with distributional hands such as this. When you are already one trick below game and are considering whether or not to bid game, a good rule of thumb is to bid the game unless you think there is a good chance that you are too high already. On this hand North judged that 10 tricks figured to be comfortable, so he went ahead and bid the game.

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