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The Big Picture
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In a Round of 16 match in the Open Trials, you face a competitive part-score decision.

None vul, North deals. As West, you hold:

West
Q8
A52
J10432
1065
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
?

Your call?

West
Q8
A52
J10432
1065
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
?

What sort of hand does partner figure to have for this sequence? Certainly a pretty good hand, since the double of 1NT has some penalty interest. However, he was unable to act earlier. Quite likely he has at most a doubleton heart, since if he had 3 hearts he probably would have made a takeout double of 1. Not a 1NT overcall -- perhaps not quite strong enough, or perhaps too distributional. He is quite likely to have 4 spades. You can't tell about the minors.

Since the opponents appear to have at least an 8-card heart fit and are at the 2-level, this is incentive for you to compete if you can. You have a decent 5-card suit, and partner is likely to have at least 3-card support. Neither side is vulnerable, which is a further incentive to compete. Bidding 3 is clear.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
3
3
P
P
?

Your call?

West
Q8
A52
J10432
1065
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
3
3
P
P
?

You are done. You have pushed the opponents to the 3-level, which is what you were trying to do. There is no particular reason to think you can or cannot defeat 3, nor do you expect to make 4.

You pass, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
3
3
P
P
P

Your lead. Standard honor leads. Third and fifth leads.

West
Q8
A52
J10432
1065
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
3
3
P
P
P

A spade lead seems to have some attraction. Partner figures to have some strength in spades. Since he didn't overcall 1 he presumably doesn't have 5 spades, which means the opponents can both be expected to have at least 3 spades. Perhaps you can establish a spade trick, or perhaps you can get a third round ruff.

A look at the big picture reveals another story. What is going on in the spade suit? Partner didn't overcall, so he doesn't have 5 spades. Dummy didn't rebid 1. While it is true that some players will bypass a 4-card spade suit with a balanced hand, most likely dummy doesn't have 4 spades. That gives declarer a 4-card spade suit. While a spade lead might generate a trick for a third round ruff, more likely it will just blow a spade trick or help declarer establish his side suit.

A trump lead seems to have some attraction. Dummy might have a ruffing value. If partner has a doubleton heart, which is possible, you will be able to draw trumps and prevent a ruff in dummy. Once again, the big picture makes this unlikely. Dummy figures to be 3-3 in the majors. He could be 3-3-2-5, but for there to be a ruffing value declarer would then need to have 3 diamonds. Even if this is the case, you may have time for a trump shift. All things considered, a trump lead probably won't accomplish anything.

Dummy opened 1, so the club suit is more of a threat for discards than the diamond suit. If you try to project the likely distribution around the table, you could picture dummy with 3-3-2-5 shape, and declarer with 4-6-2-1 shape, leaving partner with 4-1-4-4 shape. That is consistent with everything. If that is the layout, a diamond lead may be necessary before diamond losers are discarded on the clubs.

As to which diamond to lead, leading the jack is clear. Partner will be playing you for 5 diamonds on the auction, so the count isn't important. Letting partner know the honor position so he doesn't lose the first trick to a stiff honor is most important.

You choose to lead the queen of spades.

West
Q8
A52
J10432
1065
North
105
Q106
976
AKJ43
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
3
3
P
P
P

Your queen holds, partner playing the 3 and declarer the 2. Partner's play at trick 1 is defined as suit-preference. A high spot is suit-preference high. A low spot is suit-preference low. A middle spot is encouraging.

What do you lead at trick 2?

West
8
A52
J10432
1065
North
10
Q106
976
AKJ43
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
3
3
P
P
P

You can't read anything into partner's spade spot. The 3 might have been the only card he can afford.

Offhand, a trump shift to cut down spade ruffs in dummy seems to make sense. Once again, look at the big picture. Where are the spades? Partner would have overcalled with 5 spades, so declarer has a 5-card spade suit. While it is conceivable that he might have chosen to respond 1 with 5-5 if his hearts are much stronger, that is something most players don't do since it is more convenient to respond 1 and then bid hearts if partner rebids 1NT. Therefore, declarer is 5-6 in the majors. It has to be right to shift to a diamond and get your diamond tricks before they go away on the clubs. Declarer could have something like xxxxx KJxxxx Qx --, which would give partner AKJx x AKx Q9xxx, all consistent with what you have seen so far.

When shifting to a diamond, the 2 looks right. This is a potential cashout situation, and partner may need to know exactly how many diamonds will cash.

You choose to shift to a small trump. Declarer wins in dummy, cashes the AK discarding a diamond, and easily makes. The full hand is:

West
Q8
A52
J10432
1065
North
105
Q106
976
AKJ43
East
AK93
7
AQ85
9872
South
J7642
KJ9843
K
Q
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
5
3
2
0
0
1
2
10
7
3
1
1
1
A
2
Q
5
1
2
1
K
7
K
4

Since declarer had the stiff queen of clubs, the hand was always cold. If East had held that card, the diamond shift followed by a couple of rounds of trumps would have potentially left declarer a trick short, although if he reads the position he could still make via a squeeze-endplay on East.

Do you like East's auction?

West
Q8
A52
J10432
1065
North
105
Q106
976
AKJ43
East
AK93
7
AQ85
9872
South
J7642
KJ9843
K
Q
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
5
3
2
0
0
1
2
10
7
3
1
1
1
A
2
Q
5
1
2
1
K
7
K
4

There are many players who would overcall 1. While this is reasonable, being a spade short can be costly. Partner will raise with 3-card support, and will compete to the 3-level with 4-card support. After passing, East is well-prepared to make a takeout double if the opponents find a heart fit. If they don't, East may have done well to stay out of the auction.

East is a little light for the double of 1NT. In particular, East doesn't have the club strength he would like to have for that call. The double will often be left in, and West may be leading a club since the double implies some club length and strength considering East's initial pass over 1. Still, passing out 1NT doesn't figure to be a great result.

East has an unexpectedly good playing hand for diamonds. Still, competing to 4 is too much. East has quick tricks which are good for defense, and West may be pushing for his 3 call.

How about the N-S auction?

West
Q8
A52
J10432
1065
North
105
Q106
976
AKJ43
East
AK93
7
AQ85
9872
South
J7642
KJ9843
K
Q
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
X
2
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
5
3
2
0
0
1
2
10
7
3
1
1
1
A
2
Q
5
1
2
1
K
7
K
4

North is light for his opening bid by most standards, but apparently that hand is within the parameters of that partnership. At least North has good clubs, the suit he is opening.

Even though minimal, North is correct to compete to 3. He knows his side has at least an 8-card fit, and more likely than not a 9-card fit. North has nothing in diamonds, and his partner may have a singleton. From North's point of view it is quite likely that one or both sides can make their 3-level contract, and at this vulnerability even if both contracts go down 1 trick, North will not have lost much by bidding 3.

A common mistake is to fixate on one particular aspect of a hand, failing to see the big picture. Losing the forest by focusing on the trees can be costly.

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