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In the fourth segment of a trials match, you face a tricky rebid decision.


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

South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
?

East passes. Your 2NT opening shows both minors, less than an opening bid, so you must open a strong 1. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
?

1: 16+ artificial

1: 0-8

Available to you are:

2NT: Most 19's to 21
1NT: 16 to bad 19
1: 4+ spades, forcing

The reason for these notrump ranges is that at this vulnerability your opening 1NT call is 10-12, so 1 followed by 1NT is 13-15. Therefore, 1 followed by 1NT has to start at 16, so the top of that range must be dropped a little or the range is too wide to handle.

In order to make an intelligent decision, it is necessary to know what the follow-ups look like after each of these actions.

After the 2NT rebid, pretty standard Stayman and transfers.

After the 1NT rebid, you play a high-powered Puppet Stayman structure which allows responder to describe his distribution on game-going hands and let the strong hand choose the strain.

After the 1 rebid, there are various ways to raise when partner has 4+ spades, and ways to show a long suit. Otherwise, his bids are:

1NT: 0-5 points
2: 6-8 points, fewer than 3 spades. Over that you may bid 2 artificially, after which he will bid 2 if he has 5 hearts.
2: 6-8 points, 3 spades, fewer than 5 hearts.
2: 6-8 points, 3 spades, 5 hearts.

Your choice?




South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
?


First of all, let's compare the 1NT and 2NT rebids. From an evaluation point of view, 2NT is clearly the accurate evaluation. This is a great 19-count, with 3 aces, 4-4-3-2, and the sole jack in a 4-card suit. This hand upgrades to a 20-count, and the top of the 1NT rebid is a bad 19.

Despite this evaluation, it is better to rebid 1NT. The 2NT rebid has only 1 way to gain. Partner must have a hand which would get to game over a 2NT rebid, pass over a 1NT rebid, and game must make. The 1NT rebid has several ways to gain:

1) Partner might bid over 2NT, pass over 1NT, but game doesn't make. If this were the only consideration you would prefer to have bid 2NT since if partner bids game it figures to be a favorite, but there are other possibilities.

2) Partner is passing both 1NT and 2NT. It is clearly better to be playing 1NT.

3) Partner has a weak hand with 5 hearts. Again the 1NT rebid is better, since you stop in 2.

4) Partner has a weak hand with long diamonds. Your Puppet structure will get you to 2.

5) The 1NT rebid gives partner room to describe his hand, which may be critical for a choice of games decision. For example, suppose partner has QJx, QJxx, x, Qxxxx. After a 2NT rebid all partner can do is bid Stayman, then 3NT, and 3NT has no play on the likely diamond lead. After a 1NT rebid partner has room to describe his shape, and the cold 5 contract will be reached. It must be noted that when there is a swing depending on which game is bid, the swing may be 10 IMPs (when one game makes but the other doesn't) as opposed to the maximum 6 IMP cost of missing a non-vulnerable game.

The ability to stop low and the extra room to find the best contract make the 1NT rebid better even though it is a clear underbid. This follows the principle that it is more important to get to the right strain than it is to choose whether or not to bid game. Bidding 1NT retains more options than bidding 2NT.

What about the 1 rebid? Any time partner has 4 spades you find the 4-4 spade fit, which is probably best. If partner doesn't have 4 spades and has 0-5 points, you can stop in 1NT which is probably reasonable. If partner doesn't have 4 spades and has 6-8 points you can find a 5-3 heart fit if it exists and get to 4, getting to 3NT otherwise. That retains all options. It looks like 1 is the best rebid of all.

You choose to bid 2NT, ending the auction.


West leads the Q, Rusinow (king or shortness), and you get:


North
10853
1032
K6
10962
South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
P
P


East plays the 2 (upside-down count and attitude). How do you play the hand?




North
10853
1032
K6
10962
South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
P
P

You were fortunate to escape a diamond lead, but you still have problems. The spade lead allows you to set up a second spade trick before the opponents establish their diamonds, and then a winning club finesse gets you up to 8 tricks. Unfortunately, if the club finesse is offside the opponents will have time to set up their diamonds, and you will not be able to capitalize on a winning heart finesse -- the opponents will be taking 2 spades, 1 club, 1 heart, and 2 diamonds.

It is possible that West will err and duck your spade continuation from his likely KQJ4. This will give you your second spade trick early, and you will have time to take both the club finesse and the heart finesse for your eighth trick. For this reason, it is important to lead the 7 of spades, not the 9. West might think his partner has 9-doubleton, and that you will let the 7 ride if he ducks.

Should you first cash a high club in order to guard against West having a singleton queen? Probably not. The less you tell West about your hand, the less likely he is to find the right defense of winning the spade continuation and shifting to a diamond.

There is one other possibility to consider. Could it be right to duck the opening lead? This won't be good if West has KQJx of spades and shifts, since then you won't get a second spade trick and you will need both the club finesse and the heart finesse. But will West find a shift? He can see the 108xx of spades in dummy, and he knows that if you have the ace of spades you can set up a second spade trick by winning the ace and leading a spade back. Since you didn't win the ace of spades, he will deduce that you don't have it. His natural play will be to continue with a low spade, expecting to run the suit if his partner has Axx or to at least unblock the suit if his partner has Ax. If this works, it is perfect. You will score your second spade trick while losing only 1 trick in the suit, and you will have time to take both club and heart finesses before your diamond stoppers are knocked out.

If West has only KQJ of spades, ducking is also effective. West is likely to continue the suit. Once again, you duck, setting up your second spade trick. Unless West now finds a diamond shift, you will have time to take both the club finesse and the heart finesse.

Suppose you duck the queen of spades and your trap works. West continues with a low spade, and dummy's 8 wins as East discards a diamond. What would you do now?




North
10853
1032
K6
10962
South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
P
P

It looks natural to take the club finesse first, establish at least 3 club tricks and saving the king of diamonds for the heart finesse if the club finesse loses. However, it is better to lead a heart to the king. In theory the defense could take four heart tricks and defeat the contract, but West isn't looking into your hand. He is seeing you attack hearts, and it will never occur to him that hearts is your weak suit. In addition, he has a completely safe and from his point of view productive spade continuation. There is no way the opponents will run 4 heart tricks unless West is looking at AQJx, and that is highly unlikely.

Leading a heart to the king will allow you to cash a high club before taking the club finesse, guarding against a singleton queen in the West hand. In addition, there is another hidden benefit. Suppose West has AJx or Axx of hearts. It will look to him as though you have KQ of hearts, and he may duck hoping to pursuade you to repeat the heart finesse.

In fact, you choose to win the ace of spades at trick 1 and lead the 7 of spades back. West plays 4. What do you do?




North
10853
1032
K6
10962
South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
P
P


Clearly you should overtake. If the 8 holds you are in the same position you would have been in had you ducked the first trick and West had continued spades, so a heart to the king would be a good continuation. If East produces the jack of spades, nothing is lost. You definitely want to be in dummy if you can be there.

You carelessly play small from dummy. Your 7 wins, East discarding the 3 of diamonds. Now what do you do?




North
10853
1032
K6
10962
South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
P
P


Unfortunately you now have only one dummy entry, so you won't be able to take both finesses. You will need to develop a third club trick in any event. You best way to combine chances is to bang down AK of clubs. If the queen drops, you have 8 tricks. If not, you can drive out the queen of clubs and hope to get a heart trick. A diamond shift will force you to simply play for the ace of hearts onside, but the opponents don't know your hand and may shift to a heart, giving you more chances.

Is there something to be said for throwing West in with a spade, forcing him to work out to shift to a diamond? No, that doesn't work as well. If the opponents do shift to a diamond you will have only one diamond stopper remaining, so you won't have time to both knock out the queen of clubs and lead up to the king of hearts.

You choose to cash the ace of clubs and exit with a spade. West wins, as East discards the 8 of hearts. West shifts to the jack of diamonds. Now what do you do?



North
10853
1032
K6
10962
South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
P
P


It no longer works to cash the king of clubs and knock out the queen of clubs, planning on leading up to the king of hearts later. The opponents are now a tempo ahead of you. They can win the queen of clubs, lead another diamond, and they will score 2 spades, 2 diamonds, 1 club, and 1 heart before you have a chance to establish your king of hearts. Since you have to go after clubs anyway, you should just take the percentage play of the club finesse.

You win the king of diamonds in dummy, and pass the 10 of clubs. West wins the queen, cashes his good spade (East pitching a heart), and leads another diamond. You win and run your clubs, but East has the last 3 tricks with the ace of hearts and two good diamonds for down 1. The full hand is:

West
KQJ4
J65
J1085
Q3
North
10853
1032
K6
10962
East
2
AQ87
Q9743
854
South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
P
P
D
2NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
3
2
A
3
1
0
7
4
5
3
3
2
0
A
3
2
4
3
3
0
6
J
8
8
0
3
1
J
K
4
2
1
4
1
10
5
7
Q
0
4
2
5
6
Q
A
3
5
2
K
5
6
8
3
6
2
J
6
9
7
3
7
2
9
K
10
Q
0
7
3
10


As can be seen, other lines of play would have worked considerably better.

Should West have won the second spade trick?




West
KQJ4
J65
J1085
Q3
North
10853
1032
K6
10962
East
2
AQ87
Q9743
854
South
A976
K94
A2
AKJ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
P
P
D
2NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
3
2
A
3
1
0
7
4
5
3
3
2
0
A
3
2
4
3
3
0
6
J
8
8
0
3
1
J
K
4
2
1
4
1
10
5
7
Q
0
4
2
5
6
Q
A
3
5
2
K
5
6
8
3
6
2
J
6
9
7
3
7
2
9
K
10
Q
0
7
3
10


Probably. It is possible you started with A76 and if he ducks you will misguess, playing for KQ9x instead of KQJx. But you might go right anyway. If you do go right, or if you have the 9 of spades all along, he will lose an important tempo. He has an attractive diamond shift, so leading after winning the spade trick is no problem.

As can be seen, rebidding 1NT would have been the winner. Had you rebid 1, North would have raised to 2 showing 3-5 points and 4-card spade support. Whether you should make a game try over that is not clear, but it is probably right to quit and not press your luck considering that you have found a good fit which other pairs won't be able to find. On the actual hand even 2 is in some jeopardy, and 3 won't have a chance.

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