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In a round robin match in the Senior trials, you face a difficult 3-level decision.

E-W vul, South deals. As South, you hold:

South
KQJ93
AK53
105
84
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
?

Your call?

South
KQJ93
AK53
105
84
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
?

If you pass, you can expect West will be bidding 3 of a minor. If that comes back to you, what will you be doing?

You can expect partner has 3-card support. If he has 4-card support he might have bid 3 (which would just be to play) immediately, and having not done so he would probably compete to 3 himself knowing that your side has a 9-card fit. You don't know what the enemy fit looks like. They might have anywhere from 7 to 9 cards in the minor they choose. That makes the trump total between 15 and 17. Competing to 3 contracts for 18 total tricks (the 9 they will be contracting for and the 9 you would be contracting for). It is a big winning action only if both contracts make. If only one side can make their contract it doesn't matter much whether you declarer or defend, and if neither side makes you definitely want to defend. The law of total tricks clearly says that defending is percentage, all other things being equal.

On this hand all other things are not being equal. You have great trumps, extra shape, and all your high cards are in your long suits. In addition if you need to ruff losing hearts in dummy you can be confident that East won't be overruffing since he made a takeout double of spades. For defense your hand will take 2 heart tricks and maybe a spade trick, although if East has a singleton spade for his takeout double you won't get that spade trick. This hand has definite offensive orientation. You can expect the trick total to be at least one trick above what the Law of Total Tricks would estimate.

The time when it will be almost certainly wrong to compete to 3 is when the opponents have only a 7-card fit, making partner 3-2-4-4. The best way to find this out is to redouble. This will encourage partner to double 3 of a minor with a 4-card holding, which is what you want. In principle the redouble is supposed to show extra strength, which you don't really have. However, since your opening bid is limited to begin with, you don't have to worry about partner driving to game on with a maximum raise, since he knows there can't be a game unless you are distributional. So, a reasonable plan would be to redouble, planning on sitting if partner doubles 3 of a minor but bidding 3 otherwise. You might instead pass, but then partner will be less inclined to double 3 of a minor even when he has 4 trumps since he will fear you are weaker and your side is just plain outgunned.

You choose to bid 3, ending the auction.

South
KQJ93
AK53
105
84
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P

West leads the 10. Standard leads. Upside-down count and attitude.

North
A74
976
KQ9
10932
South
KQJ93
AK53
105
84
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P

East follows with the 2. Do you win this trick, and if so, with what?

 

North
A74
976
KQ9
10932
South
KQJ93
AK53
105
84
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P

Clearly you must win this trick. Unless something good happens in one of the minors, you will probably have to win the first 2 rounds of hearts, give up a heart, and ruff the fourth round of hearts in dummy. With good luck you will get 6 trump tricks, 1 diamond trick, and 2 heart tricks. There may be a danger of a trump promotion if West has the 10 of spades, but you will just have to deal with that.

It probably won't make any difference, but you might as well win with the ace of hearts. If you win with the king, both defenders will know that you have the ace.

You win the ace of hearts. What do you play now?

North
A74
97
KQ9
10932
South
KQJ93
K53
105
84
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P

While you might need to ruff the fourth heart in dummy, it looks right to go after diamonds now. You will need to set up a diamond trick in all variations, and it is barely possible that West has the ace of diamonds. Also you will have the option of finessing for the jack of diamonds, and if East ducks the ace of diamonds that will be available without risk. In addition, you may need an entry back to your hand, and that entry might be a diamond ruff.

Should you lead the 10? Probably not. Unblocking won't help, since if you lead the 10 to the king and ace you aren't going to be finessing the 9 anyway. So, it looks better to conceal from the defense what your diamond holding is.

You lead the 5. It goes 8, king, 4. Now what do you do?

 

North
A74
97
Q9
10932
South
KQJ93
K53
10
84
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P

So far so good. Now you can safely finesse for the jack of diamonds. The problem is getting back to your hand to do so.

Coming back with a spade has problems. You may need to ruff a heart in dummy, and this could give the opponents the potential to draw dummy's trumps.

You could punt with a club and see what the opponents do. But this is dangerous. There might be a trump promotion coming.

Coming back with a heart might be okay. The only problem is that West could be getting a discard on the third round of hearts, and that might lead to a trump promotion.

Pay attention! Check out those heart spots again. Dummy started with 976, and you have AK53. West presumably led from 10-doubleton, since if he has a stiff 10 you aren't going to have much of a chance. If it is 108 doubleton, you can lead the 9 smothering the 8 as East has to cover, and your problems will be solved. You can just draw trumps, knock out the remaining heart honor, and your 5 will score the fourth round of hearts on power. That is a 50% chance right away. If it doesn't work, you can still fall back on the other possibilities.

You choose to lead the 10. East wins the king of clubs, West playing the 6. East now leads the queen of hearts. You win, West following with the 8. Now what?

 

North
A74
9
Q9
1093
South
KQJ93
53
10
8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P

It is easy now. Just draw trumps, knock out the jack of hearts, and the 5 is your ninth trick.

Unfortunately, you fail to realize that your 5 will be high. You try passing the 10. East wins the ace. He cashes the jack of hearts, West discarding a small diamond. East cashes the ace of clubs, West dropping the queen. Now East plays a small club. What do you do?

North
A74
Q
92
South
KQJ93
5
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P

If West started with 10-fourth of trumps you are in trouble. That means West has a 2 or 3-card minor, and he would have discarded so he is out of the suit. East would know which suit West is out of. Since East returned a club, West must be out of clubs if West started with 4 trumps.

You might as well ruff high. If the trumps are 3-2 you can draw trumps ending in dummy, and since your queen of diamonds is high you won't have to know that your 5 is also high. Otherwise, you may have to hope that East's singleton trump is the 10.

You ruff high. West discards another small diamond. Now what?

 

North
A74
Q
9
South
QJ93
5
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P

It now appears that West's shape is 4-2-5-2. You need the stiff 10 or 8 of spades in the East hand. If East has the stiff 8, you can cash the queen of spades, finesse the 7, cash the ace of spades, cash the queen of diamonds, and your jack of spades scores the last trick.

You cash the queen of spades. Both opponents follow small. You continue with the jack of spades and a spade to the ace. As feared, West started with 108xx of spades, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
10865
108
J8763
Q6
North
A74
976
KQ9
10932
East
2
QJ42
A42
AKJ75
South
KQJ93
AK53
105
84
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
6
2
A
3
1
0
5
8
K
4
1
2
0
10
K
4
6
2
2
1
Q
K
8
7
3
3
1
10
3
9
A
2
3
2
J
3
6
9
2
3
3
A
8
Q
3
2
3
4
5
K
7
9
3
4
4
Q
6
4
2
3
5
4
J
10

Do you agree with the lead and defense?

West
10865
108
J8763
Q6
North
A74
976
KQ9
10932
East
2
QJ42
A42
AKJ75
South
KQJ93
AK53
105
84
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
X
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
6
2
A
3
1
0
5
8
K
4
1
2
0
10
K
4
6
2
2
1
Q
K
8
7
3
3
1
10
3
9
A
2
3
2
J
3
6
9
2
3
3
A
8
Q
3
2
3
4
5
K
7
9
3
4
4
Q
6
4
2
3
5
4
J
10

The lead is pretty much a guess. Anything could be right or wrong.

East was probably right to duck the ace of diamonds. He wouldn't really know what to do if he won the trick.

East had an interesting problem when in with his king of clubs. He had the complete count of the hand. A spade return was likely to blow up something in the spade suit. A high heart return would definitely set up declarer's heart spot. Cashing the ace of diamonds and then playing ace and a small club would allow declarer to have 2 heart discards. Cashing the ace of clubs and leading a small club would let declarer discard his losing diamond and subsequently smash the 9 of hearts through. Of course ducking the 10 of clubs works fine on the actual layout, but that is a disaster if declarer has the queen of clubs.

The solution is that East should play ace, king, and jack of clubs. If declarer ruffs small, West overruffs, leads a diamond to East's ace. and the fourth round of clubs robs declarer of the needed discard. If declarer discards a diamond, again the fourth round of clubs gets him. The best declarer can do is ruff high, play three rounds of trumps, and lead the 10 discarding a diamond. But West ruffs, exits with a diamond, and East has the fifth club which lets him avoid any end-play.

Obviously declarer overlooked a sure thing, but failing to notice the power of spot cards is quite common since when we look at AK53 we mentally think AKxx. One must pay attention to every detail of a hand in order to get these right.

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