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Road to the GNT Final Four R16 Q4
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When we left off, our District 6 team (Gill-Shore, Pettis-Lo, Shi-Palmer) led District 16 (Bramley-Compton-Hamman-Passell-Wold) 81-42 after two quarters. Our plan as a team was to rotate through sit-outs the first three quarters, then make a decision for the 4th quarter depending on who was feeling good and/or playing well. Noble and I happily took the rest (playing these matches is tiring!) and came back to find our teammates had a small loss on the quarter, 24-35, leaving us with a 28 IMP lead going into the final quarter. While we had lost a bit in the 3rd, I was definitely still pumped to be up 28 on a team this good. Certainly that was more than I could have reasonably asked for heading into the match!

One of our teammates had a bit of a headache, so Noble and I went in to play the last quarter as East-West against Compton-Passell with Shi-Palmer at the other table against Bramley-Hamman. Board 16 found me declaring a light 3NT:

Dummy
KQ97
1093
73
KJ74
Declarer
AJ6
A6
AQ62
10865
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Our style at IMPs (particularly red) is to just bid game with solid invitational hands and invite light, so partner's hand seemed normal for his bidding. LHO leads the 2 (4th best), and RHO plays the queen on dummy's ten. With no reason to hold up, you win the A and have to decide how to tackle the hand.

Dummy
KQ97
1093
73
KJ74
Declarer
AJ6
A6
AQ62
10865
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You need three additional tricks to make the contract, and you pretty much need them from clubs. The two real options are

  1. Lead the 10, planning to double-hook against the Q and 9. This gains if LHO holds Q9x (2), Q9xx (1), AQ9x (2), and AQ9xx (1). This also gives LHO a guess from Qx and Qxx and he might duck thinking you're trying to find the Q.
  2. Lead to the J, then lead to the K. This gains against Q, Qx (2), and AQx (2) onsides

 

Both lines pick up Q9, AQxx, AQ9, and AQ onsides and lose to Qxx onside. Since LHO almost certainly would have led a club from 5, this is a toss-up on the legitimate holdings. I thought LHO also might have chosen a club instead from Q9xx or AQ9x, particularly if he'd led from Jxxx. That would make the 4-card club holdings a bit less likely than they would be a priori, so I led a low club, playing what I thought was the best legitimate line rather than a line that required my LHO to go wrong.

Because a heart lead seems preferable to a minor on this auction, I think the 10 would have been a better play. If I have a fatal flaw in bridge it's that I give my opponents too much credit. The 10 is going to give LHO a headache from Qx or Qxx and even a great player will often go wrong. As a side note, is it ethical to take your time at trick 1 to let LHO figure out to duck the 10 smoothly? Or against expert opponents should you strive to put the 10 on the table quickly because that's what you would do if you were trying to find the queen?

Today, my choice seemed like it really didn't matter, since the Q was offside and the opponents took the next 5 tricks:

Lho
10842
KJ42
J95
A9
Dummy
KQ97
1093
73
KJ74
Rho
53
Q875
K1084
Q32
Declarer
AJ6
A6
AQ62
10865
D

At the other table, declarer did lead the 10 after the same start. This prompted our teammate to hop the A and cash the hearts. Declarer chose to pitch two diamonds from hand on these tricks, and East continued with a diamond. The diamond finesse wouldn't help, and the contract was still making if the clubs were coming home, so he hopped the A and when the club finesse lost, teammates cashed 2 more diamonds (they missed the unblock). Still, we picked up 5 IMPs from the two red undertricks to pad our lead.

On Board 17 I got to declare an interesting contract once again:

Dummy
J74
KJ876
A109
107
Declarer
A108653
A4
KQJ
Q2
W
N
E
S
1
1
P
2
P
4
P
P
P

Over 2, I figured there was no use in fooling around, since game could be very good opposite a minimum raise. Since we invite light, partner is likely to only accept with a maximum, and I didn't really need that (KJx xxxx xxx Kxx isn't cold but you'd certainly need to be there). Sometimes with this shape, 3NT is the right game, but the slow diamond tricks on the side steered me away from notrump.

LHO leads the 3 (3rd/5th) and you have to decide how to tackle the hand.

Dummy
J74
KJ876
A109
107
Declarer
A108653
A4
KQJ
Q2
W
N
E
S
1
1
P
2
P
4
P
P
P

With two losers in clubs and another in trumps, you have to avoid a second trump loser and potentially a diamond ruff if the lead is a singleton. Amazingly, there are 4 reasonable ways to play this spade suit:

  1. You could bang down the A, which loses to KQ9, KQ2 or KQ92 onsides
  2. You could lead the J from dummy planning to hook twice, losing to K, Q, and KQ92 onsides or KQ offsides
  3. You could lead low to the 10, planning to cash the A next, losing to K92, Q92 or KQ92 onsides
  4. You could lead low towards dummy's J, planning to hook the 10 on the way back, losing to K or Q onsides. In theory this line loses to 2-2 trumps with the honors split as well, but in practice it seems very difficult for LHO to duck from Hx. Hard to estimate the exact probability here, but this probably adds the equivalent of an extra losing holding or two.

 

There are a number of other competing factors to consider:

  • If the lead is a singleton, Option 1 will always avoid a diamond ruff when trumps are 2-2. Options 3 and 4 practically guarantee they'll find the ruff when it can be found. For Option 2, it depends on whether RHO will cover from Hx. He doesn't know you have 6 spades, so it seems likely he will cover.
  • Options that preserve the lead allow you to test for a doubleton Q. This definitely includes Option 1, Option 2 if RHO covers, usually not Option 3 and definitely not Option 4.
  • RHO opened the bidding so KQ offsides is very unlikely, and KQ onsides is much more likely than the odds would suggest in spades alone

In the end I went with Option 2, even though it's ostensibly the worst of the four considering the spade suit in isolation. Option 1 seemed like it would just lose to KQx onsides far too often given RHO had opened. Option 2 retains the option of finding a doubleton Q whenever RHO covers, and in the main losing case (stiff honor onsides) you're probably already going down when the lead was a singleton. I'm not certain I made the right play, but I think I did.

Today, only option 3 was doomed to failure:

Lho
Q
9532
763
J8653
Dummy
J74
KJ876
A109
107
Rho
K92
Q10
8542
AK94
Declarer
A108653
A4
KQJ
Q2
D

At my table, RHO covered the J, so I was able to cross to the K and finesse against the 9 to score up 5. At the other table, declarer chose option 1, making 4 to give us another IMP.

After an overtrick IMP to the opponents in a part-score and a flat game, our opponents judged well to stay out of a 25-HCP vulnerable game:

West
A873
Q74
A1083
53
North
9
982
KQJ972
Q64
East
10652
10653
4
AJ109
South
KQJ4
AKJ
65
K872
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1NT
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

3 made on the nose, losing two diamonds, a spade and a club. Our teammates went down two tricks in 3NT after the bad break in diamonds, although it seems like with no sure side entry to dummy 3NT might have failed even on a 3-2 break. This put 7 IMPs in the "out" column and gave the opponents an 8-6 lead for the set.

Another push in a cold game was followed by yet another interesting declarer play problem for me (I must have paid extra!):

Dummy
Q10962
KJ95
104
83
Declarer
A53
AQ642
Q8
AKJ
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

LHO leads the 7 and when you play the 9 from dummy, RHO drops the 8. You continue with the J from dummy and RHO pitches the 7 (UDCA) with LHO following with the 10. Now what?

Dummy
Q10962
KJ95
104
83
Declarer
A53
AQ642
Q8
AKJ
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

Had trumps broken 2-2, this would be a claimer by eliminating clubs and exiting a diamond. Now dummy will run out of trumps and the elimination will fail since they'll have a safe diamond exit. Still, there are three ways of playing spades that pick up 3/4 of the configurations of the K and J. Running the Q then the 10 wins unless LHO holds both, and leading low to the Q/10, then running an honor from dummy picks up everything except LHO holding only the J/K, respectively. Is there anything else to consider?

There's a fair bit of information from the first two tricks. A trump lead from 10xx isn't usually great. With the strong hand on your right it's not so likely to blow up the suit (though it certainly could), but often it gives declarer a finesse he'd have had to use a dummy entry for. It also telegraphs the 3-2 break to declarer and might make drawing trumps safe or let declarer know that he can establish winners in dummy and get there with trumps drawn. Plus, LHO played the 10 on the second round of trumps, presumably suit preference. While he could be messing with me, he really doesn't have much information to go on at that point so it was probably an honest signal.

From all this I concluded LHO had a bad hand to lead from, probably the K, A or K, and Q at a minimum. I really thought his spade honor was the king, both because of the 10 play and because he might have led from Jxx (this is IMO a better lead into a 2NT opener than Kxx is). I figured it couldn't hurt to gather some evidence before guessing, so I drew the last trump (RHO pitched a nondescript club smaller than the first), and played a low diamond to the Q and K. LHO continued with the J and RHO overtook with the A to play back a club.

Not finding any indication to contradict my original assumptions, I led low to the Q, saving the club ruff entry to run an honor from dummy on the 2nd round if I decided my original read was wrong. The Q won so I made 4:

Lho
K84
1073
KJ962
Q5
Dummy
Q10962
KJ95
104
83
Rho
J7
8
A753
1097642
Declarer
A53
AQ642
Q8
AKJ
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

As it turns out, cashing the AK to test for a doubleton Q would have made the contract easily. While this would have precluded finding out the diamond high-card story before my spade guess, I already felt like I knew what was going on. I actually didn't even really consider cashing the AK, which definitely was an error. Doubleton Q is very unlikely in the abstract, but the information I had made it reasonable. RHO pitched two clubs (so he almost certainly had at least 5), and I had placed LHO with the queen. If clubs were either 2=6 or 3=5, they would be 2=6 about 1/3 of the time!

At the other table, responder bid regular Stayman, and our teammate led a spade rather than a trump from 10xx against a likely 4-4 fit. This solved declarer's guess and they made an overtrick when the Q dropped. We lost an IMP but avoided the potential double-digit swing.

Another flat game was followed by my hand being on lead against the following auction:

East
K65
QJ5
Q753
J87
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
P
P

Don't worry, there are only 14+ IMPs riding on your choice (gulp!):

East
K65
QJ5
Q753
J87
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
P
P

Let's start with what we know:

  • Dummy is about to rain down fire and brimstone. It takes quite the hand to force a slam opposite a normal minimum weak two bid. 
  • Good players don't tend to bid slams where they just don't have the firepower for 12 tricks. As Garozzo said in his BOLS tip: "Games may be quietly defended, but slams must be attacked." This means you probably need to find partner's K on opening lead to really have a shot.
  • If your K isn't a trick then you aren't beating this slam even if you find partner's king.
  • Partner didn't double 4 so the choice is really between the red suits.

The reflex lead is certainly the Q - leading from honor sequences is almost always better than not. But in a sense the J is redundant since you're counting on hitting partner's K. You only need one heart trick, not two. If you were defending 5, the heart lead would be automatic. I thought for quite a long time about whether there was really anything to chose between the red suits, and I think there is. The J may be redundant if you lead a heart, but if you lead a diamond, it's working hard to stop the opponents from taking heart tricks.

Remember, even if you find partner's king, you haven't beaten the contract yet. If RHO's keycard is the A, you're in very good shape unless declarer can pitch the loser while you have to follow suit. If declarer can pitch it on clubs, there's nothing you can do, but your hearts are much better for stopping a fast pitch than your diamonds are - declarer will almost always have a finesse through you in diamonds if he needs it.

If instead the dummy has the A, then it must be doubleton, since we're still assuming the K is a trick. Declarer may be able to draw two rounds of trumps with a finesse and establish a side suit for pitches before you can ruff in. Once again, there's nothing you can do if dummy's suit is clubs, but declarer may need pitches from the red suit you didn't lead. Here it also seems like it's better to find partner with the K. You have fewer hearts, which means that hearts is slightly more likely to be dummy's trick source, but also you get to (over)ruff a trick sooner in hearts. It's true that hearts may be 3-3 for declarer while diamonds are, say, 4-2. But, that only matters if declarer can't establish the necessary winners, and it seems unlikely they need a 3-3 break to get there.

The only argument I could think of against a diamond lead was that declarer was slightly more likely to have a singleton. It seemed like everything else outweighed that, so I led a diamond: 

West
102
10943
K2
105432
North
J98743
J10864
A6
East
K65
QJ5
Q753
J87
South
AQ
AK8762
A9
KQ9
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

Declarer won the lead, crossed to the A, took a trump finesse, then set about establishing the hearts. I was able to overruff the 4th round and cash our diamond trick. This gained us a big 14 IMPs when the other table led a heart after a 3 opening but otherwise an identical auction. 

As a side note, had I led a heart, I would have led low. Most of the advantages of leading high from this holding go away when partner can't hold the A behind the K. This really only gives up a trick if someone has A10 or K10 doubleton, since declarer is unlikely to play you for this holding if he has a choice. You're probably not beating the contract if you don't find partner's king, but if you lead the Q and it blows up the suit, you're definitely not beating it!

We picked up 5 on the next board when our teammates stayed out of a borderline 3NT where things weren't lying well for declarer. Then we had a result to confirm that it really just was our day. I had to decide whether or not to make a borderline competitive bid:

East
1076
J
QJ83
KJ972
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
?

We play double as 4+ and 1 as a hand with constructive values but fewer than four spades. This is a terrible 8 points and we would be trying to fight majors with minors. I didn't want to get us to an under-powered 1NT down multiple tricks red. Still, I had the shortness in their suit and some values, so it seems like I should bid 1. Unfortunately, while chewing on this, I forgot I was a passed hand, and we play Standard by a passed hand. Oh God, I just showed 5 spades!

West
Q5
A72
A972
A1065
North
J43
K10965
K64
Q3
Leprechaun
1076
J
QJ83
KJ972
South
AK982
Q843
105
84
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
1
2NT
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

On a bad day, partner raises spades or perpetrates an auction where I had to bury us because of the UI I had from the non-alert of 1. Today, declarer, who was minding his own business in a normal 3 contract, naturally double-hooked spades through my "marked" 5-card holding and went down in a cold contract. I felt so sick about it! It turned out our teammates overreached slightly to 4, so this saved us the 6 IMPs we ought to have lost.

The last 4 boards were easy games that made 5 overtricks between them, so we ended up winning a low-scoring final quarter 25-10 and the match by 43!

Post Mortem

I was definitely excited to have won this match by a solid margin. Heck, just winning the match at all was probably competing with our NAP 2nd place finish in Kansas City for my biggest personal accomplishment at a Nationals. Our team definitely played well (though far from perfectly), but we also had luck on our side. I kind of kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and... it never really did. 43 IMPs seemed comfortable at the time, but the two slam hands alone could have swung 50 IMPs against us on another day. And while we successfully navigated the many boards that didn't make it into this series, a few of our technical errors could have bitten us when they didn't. 

Once the excitement died down, I realized I was pretty beat after that quarter. I felt like I had most of our side's decisions (including a few hands I didn't include because they ended up not mattering much). Fortunately, I was tired enough to get a decent night's sleep! Our draw for the next day was our neighbors to the South in District 7 (Marks/Helms, Wilson/Hubert, Boyd-Bowman/Hudson), who had just finished thrashing a strong District 25 team by over 100 IMPs. 

To be continued...

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