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Putting it to You
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In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials, you have a marginal game drive opposite partner's opening bid.

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

North
AQJ7
K109
J10953
8
W
N
E
S
1
P
?

Some possible conventional actions might be:

1NT: Semi-forcing

2NT: Limit raise or better

3NT: Club singleton, slam interest

4: To play, not necessarily preemptive

Your call?

North
AQJ7
K109
J10953
8
W
N
E
S
1
P
?

While game might not be good, you must drive this hand to game. This is the sort of hand you cannot afford to bring back +170, lose 10 to the comparison. Invitational sequences with distributional hands don't work, since partner won't be able to judge how well the hands mesh.

Clearly there is no slam opposite the limited opening bid. It is conceivable that a 4-4 spade fit will play better than a 5-3 heart fit. Is it worth responding 1 in order to look for that 4-4 spade fit? Probably not. Better is to simply bid a direct 4. This could cause the opponents to have an accident, since they don't know if you have a weak hand or a hand something like this. That possibility outweighs the gain from probing for a spade fit, since 4 will play as well as 4 most of the time. Also, the less you tell the opponents about the hand, the better.

You choose to respond 1. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2
P
?

Your call?

North
AQJ7
K109
J10953
8
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2
P

Partner didn't raise spades, so no 4-4 spade fit. 4 is almost certainly where you belong. There is no reason to bid anything else.

You bid 4, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P

Over you go to play it.

West leads the 5.

North
AQJ7
K109
J10953
8
South
3
A8632
AQ82
KJ2
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P

East wins the ace of clubs, and returns the 6. Do you finesse or go up ace?

North
AQJ7
K109
J10953
South
3
A8632
AQ82
KJ
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P

East is putting it to you with this diamond return. If you finesse East might have a singleton diamond, and the defense will score a ruff and possibly another trump trick. If you go up ace, you might lose two trump tricks when the diamond finesse was on all along.

You can't read much into the fact that East returned a diamond. What else can he do? Perhaps a club trying to weaken dummy's trump holding, but that won't look very promising from East's point of view.

When is going up ace inferior to finessing? The king of diamonds would have to be onside, about 50%. The trumps would have to be 4-1, about 32%, getting down to 16%. Even if the trumps are 4-1 you would be okay if there is a stiff queen or jack, and the singleton would be a small card about 60% of the time trumps are 4-1, This comes to approximately 10%.

When is finessing inferior to going up ace? Looking at East's possible initial diamond holdings, there are 3 small singletons, 6 doubletons, and 3 holdings of Kxx. Thus, his diamond shift will be a singleton about 25% of the time. Of this 25% you will still recover some of the time, when East has 3 hearts (other than QJx) or when East started with queen or jack doubleton. This covers a lot of layouts, but not 60% of them, so it looks like finessing will be inferior more than 10% of the time.

The above analysis is crude, and doesn't take into account the fact that East probably has 6 clubs for his overcall. However, the analysis is sufficient to see that going up ace is slightly better then finessing.

When a decision is fairly close, it is often worth seeing what you can pick up from the defenders. Table feel is part of the game, and using it properly can help improve your chances. What might you read here?

How quickly did East return that diamond? You might think that if he returned it quickly that indicates he has a singleton. If East were an intermediate player, that might be true. With an expert, it is more likely to be the other way. An expert may give that little pause before returning a singleton, for fear that he would be tipping you off if he returns it quickly. On the other hand, if East is underleading the king of diamonds, it is human nature to make the deceptive play quickly. Therefore, if East returns the diamond quickly, it might be right to go against the odds and finesse.

What is West's reaction? West knows from the bidding that you have 4 diamonds, so if West has Kxx he knows he can win the king and give his partner a ruff if you finesse. There may be a sense of anticipation you can pick up. Also, when you stop and think West's mood may change, as he realizes that you might not take the losing finesse. If West has some other diamond holding, he isn't likely to care much at this point. Thus, if you don't sense the anticipation and the mood change this is an indication that East doesn't have a singleton diamond, so it might be right to take the finesse.

You go up ace. West follows with the 7. What do you do now?

North
AQJ7
K109
J1095
South
3
A8632
Q82
KJ
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P

If you can survive the trump suit for one loser, you won't have to worry about ruffing the jack of clubs. It can eventually be discarded on dummy's fifth diamond. The problem is how to deal with the trump suit.

You can guard against QJxx in either hand. If you want to protect against East having QJxx, you can lead to the king of hearts and pass the 10 if East doesn't cover. If you want protect against West having QJxx of hearts, you can cash the ace and then lead low, planning on putting in the 10 if West doesn't split.

The problem with these safety plays is that on this hand they might be unsafety plays. If you lose the second round of trumps, the opponents might get a diamond ruff. To make matters worse, you don't know where the ruff is coming from, since East might have either a singeton diamond or Kxx. Therefore, there is no safe direction to take a safety play.

Since it looks like you are going to have to bang out high hearts, you might as well lead the ace first. Since East has long clubs, if anybody has long hearts it is likely to be West. If West started with QJ7x of hearts he might mistakenly split his honors, not realizing that you don't need to ruff a club in dummy. At least he might think about it and give the show away.

Suppose you lead the ace of hearts, and everybody follows small. When you lead another heart, West again plays small. Assuming your table feel doesn't tell you anything, what should you do?

North
AQJ7
K10
J1095
South
3
8632
Q82
KJ
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P

The outstanding hearts are the queen and the jack. If East has both of them, you won't lose more than one heart trick whatever you do, since East won't have the communication to get a ruff. If West has both of them, you need to put in the 10. If the honors are split, putting in the 10 risks a ruff if East started with Kxx of diamonds.

Of the relevant holdings, 1/3 of the time West will have both honors and 2/3 of the time the honors will be split. So, going up king fails 1/3 of the time. Of the 2/3 of the time the honors are split, how often will East have started with Kxx of diamonds and be able to give West a ruff? As we have seen, East will have started with Kxx of diamonds about 1/4 of the time. Therefore, putting in the 10 will fail 2/3 X 1/4 or 1/6 of the time. That makes putting in the 10 the percentage play.

There is one further problem. If East wins the heart and returns a club, you will need the club finesse onside since you can't afford to ruff a club with the king of hearts. East is a good favorite to hold the queen of clubs for his overcall, but the chance that he doesn't hold the queen of clubs may be sufficient to swing the odds the other way.

In fact, you choose to ruff the jack of clubs and play king and a heart. Disaster! East shows out, and you are down 1. To make it worse, East had sneakily underled king-doubleton of diamonds. The full hand is:

West
K1062
QJ75
74
543
North
AQJ7
K109
J10953
8
East
9854
4
K6
AQ10976
South
3
A8632
AQ82
KJ2
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
8
A
2
2
0
1
6
A
7
3
3
1
1
J
4
9
7
1
2
1
K
4
2
5
1
3
1
10
6
5

Were the necessary-at-the-table clues there to enable declarer to go slightly against the odds and take the diamond finesse? If declarer had played ace and a heart, would West have split? We will never know.

How was the defense?

West
K1062
QJ75
74
543
North
AQJ7
K109
J10953
8
East
9854
4
K6
AQ10976
South
3
A8632
AQ82
KJ2
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
8
A
2
2
0
1
6
A
7
3
3
1
1
J
4
9
7
1
2
1
K
4
2
5
1
3
1
10
6
5

Whether West should lead his highest or his lowest club is debatable, and more a matter of partnership agreement than anything else.

East made a fine diamond shift. Holding Kx of diamonds, things looked hopeless. East judged his best chance was to talk declarer out of the diamond finesse, since declarer didn't know about the bad heart split.

It is worth noting how things might have gone differently if North had bid an immediate 4. East might have stepped in with his 6-4 hand, and if he did he would have gotten his head handed to him. If East had passed West certainly would have led a doubleton diamond rather than a tripleton club, and declarer would have had no problems. Even if West had stumbled on the club lead, East never would have shifted to a small diamond. His natural shift would be to the king of diamonds, hoping West has Axx. After the quiet 1 response, East had a safe 2-level overcall, West knew what to lead, and South's 2 rebid told East how to defend. That is a lot to give up for the small chance of finding a 4-4 spade fit and a layout where 4 makes and 4 goes down.

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