Join Bridge Winners
The Right Order
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In a semi-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you face a potential slam-bidding decision.

N-S vul, South deals. As South, you hold:

South
9
KJ83
KJ632
AK8
W
N
E
S
?

Your opening 1NT range is 14-16.

If you open 1 and partner responds 1, you have to consider your rebid. A 1NT rebid would show 11-13 HCP, and it would guarantee a balanced hand. A 2 rebid would promise at least 4 clubs. A 2 rebid shows specifically 3-4-5-1 shape. Your only rebid would be 2. There is no danger of losing a 4-4 or 5-4 heart fit, since with 4 or 5 hearts along with 5 spades and less than game-going strength partner would respond 2 (non-invitational) or 2 (invitational). Partner is aware that you could have 5 diamonds with the exact shape you hold.

If you open 1, again you have to consider your rebids. If partner has a positive response you will be in game. You might be overboard it he has a minimum and there is no great fit, but the auction should flow smoothly enough. If partner responds 1, you can bid 1. In your style this is forcing and may be a 4-card suit, so partner won't be misled. If partner rebids 1 or 1NT (his minimal calls), you can rebid 2 for which you could be 5-4 either way in the red suits.

Your call?

South
9
KJ83
KJ632
AK8
W
N
E
S
?

There are hands where opening 1NT with a singleton is the least of evils, but this isn't one of them. There aren't particularly difficult rebid problems for either of your more normal opening bids.

As far as strength goes, you are on the cusp of a 1 opening. The biggest consideration should be how the auction is likely to proceed.

If you open 1 and rebid 2 over partner's 1 response, that won't be terrible. Still, partner will play you for the 6-card diamond suit which you will have most of the time, and he will not be expecting this much power. You would be in serious jeopardy of missing a good game if partner has a marginal hand.

A 1 opening bid is a slight stretch, but not by much. If one of your jacks were a queen, there would be no question about opening 1. The auction figures to go okay. The only really bad thing which is likely to happen is that opening 1 propels you to a bad game, and bad games have been known to make.

You open 1. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
?

2: 5+ hearts, 9+ points

Natural bidding after the overcall. Pass would be a normal forcing pass. 3 would be a strong heart raise, likely spade shortness. 4 would be RKC in hearts.

Your call?

 

South
9
KJ83
KJ632
AK8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
?

The 2 call improved your hand a lot. Still, you aren't close to taking over with RKC. It would be quite possible that partner has full values for his call yet you are off 3 aces.

Bidding 3 would certainly be reasonable. Still, despite the singleton spade and the great heart support, your hand is minimal for a 1 opener. If partner signs off over 3, you won't have anything. If he makes any kind of move, you can take over. 3 may encourage him to make a move on the wrong hand.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
?

When your side opens 1, the opponents bid to the 4-level, and you are in a force, you play a treatment called pass/double inversion. Double is like a forcing pass. Pass requests partner to double, and means you had a penalty double yourself or you have some delayed action planned. Partner will do something other than double only if he would not have sat a penalty double.

The idea behind pass/double inversion is that if you want to do something other than make a forcing pass or a penalty double you have two ways to do so without much risk of partner crossing you up. Partner will almost always be doubling when you pass, so you can carry out your plan. If partner isn't doubling that tells you a lot about his hand, which puts you in good position to make the right decision.

In general, direct actions are more definitive, while delayed actions are more flexible. On this auction, for example:

Direct 4NT would be RKC

Delayed 4NT would be like a spade Q-bid.

Direct 5 would be non-slammish

Delayed 5 would be a slam try

As for new suits, the normal rule is that an immediate new suit is a 1-suiter, while a delayed new suit shows more than one place to play. That can't apply here obviously, since partner's main suit is hearts. Exactly what he intends by the immediate 5 call as opposed to a delayed 5 call is not clear.

Your call?

 

South
9
KJ83
KJ632
AK8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
?

Whatever partner is doing, he must have something in diamonds. Also he obviously has slam interest, since he is willing to commit to 5. Your hand is considerably better than it might be, so you aren't going to sign off.

If you were sure that 5 is a cue-bid, you could come back with 6 showing that you like your hand in the context of the previous auction. But it would make sense for partner's immediate 5 call to be showing a 2-suiter. If so, you would rather play in the longer suit. Bidding 6 looks like the best hedge. If it is only a question of which small slam to play, partner will be well-placed to make the right choice. If there is a grand, maybe partner can bid it himself.

You bid 6. The auction concludes:

W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

West leads the queen of clubs. Standard leads and carding.

North
AJ3
AQ1076
A4
432
South
9
KJ83
KJ632
AK8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

What should your first thoughts be?

 

North
AJ3
AQ1076
A4
432
South
9
KJ83
KJ632
AK8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

When the dummy comes down, most declarers go right into counting their winners and losers, what they should play to the first trick, and what afterwards. This will usually work out okay, but it is not the right order to think. The first thing you should think about, before counting tricks or planning the play, is: What do I know about my opponent's hands? It might not make any difference, but it is good to lock in this information before you get involved with playing the hand. Once you have that information stored in your brain it is there for your use for the rest of the hand.

What do you know here? From the bidding, the spades must be either 5-4 or 6-3. From the opening lead, you can be confident that West has at least QJ10 of clubs, since without the 10 there is no way that he would lead a club when a spade lead or a heart lead is almost certainly safe.

East plays the 6. Which honor do you win the first trick with?

North
AJ3
AQ1076
A4
432
South
9
KJ83
KJ632
AK8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

It is normal to win the first trick with the ace. If you win with the king, both opponents will know that you have the ace. If you win with the ace, East will know where the king is from the opening lead but West will not know for sure.

On this hand, you have a hidden diamond suit. You would like to see opponents make fatal diamond discards. That would be an argument for winning with the king, so West would be more worried about guarding his club holding.

On the other hand, West knows that you normally would win with the ace. It should be pretty clear from the bidding that you have the king of clubs. Thus, it is probably best to do the normal thing and win with the ace.

You win the ace of clubs. How do you proceed?

 

North
AJ3
AQ1076
A4
43
South
9
KJ83
KJ632
K8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

You can count 7 heart tricks (with the 2 spade ruffs in your hand), 1 spade trick, 2 club tricks, and 2 diamond tricks. That gets you up to 12. The thirteenth trick will have to come from diamonds.

If the diamonds are no worse than 4-2, you can set up the long diamond with a couple of ruffs. These ruffs may have to be high, since East might have a doubleton diamond. That means you will have to do the trump drawing with the high trumps in your hand. That should be okay, since West has at least 3 spades for his 4 call so you don't have to worry about West overruffing unless you let him get a discard. Since West could have 3 spades and 2 diamonds, it may be important to get the spade ruffs first.

If the trumps are 4-0, you won't be able to take two diamond ruffs in dummy. You will have to find another way to deal with the diamond suit. But you will still need those 2 spade ruffs in all variations. That indicates that you should take your first spade ruff before touching trumps.

After ace of spades and a spade ruff in your hand, what should you do next?

North
J
AQ1076
A4
43
South
KJ8
KJ632
K8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

Your next step must be to cash one high heart from your hand. You need to find out whether or not the hearts are 4-0. If they are not 4-0, you can continue with the plan of ruffing two diamonds in dummy to set up the long diamond. If they are 4-0, you want to find that out now so you can switch horses.

You cash the king of hearts. Suppose both opponents follow. How do you time the play?

North
J
AQ107
A4
43
South
J8
KJ632
K8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

You still need to be careful. In order to avoid a possible overruff in spades, you want to ruff dummy's last spade before you start ruffing diamonds and giving West a chance to discard a spade. The right order is: Diamond to ace, spade ruff with the 8, king of diamonds, diamond ruff high, small heart to your hand, another diamond ruff high, draw last trump discarding a club, and your hand is high with the king of clubs and the long diamond. If the diamonds are 5-1 that is too bad, but you were never making without peeking if that is the case.

Suppose East shows out on the first round of hearts. Now what?

 

North
J
AQ107
A4
43
South
J8
KJ632
K8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

The diamonds could be 3-3, in which case you can ruff out the queen. But it is a lot more likely that East has 4 diamonds. For him to have 3 diamonds his shape would have to be 6-0-3-4. It is possible that West bid 4 with 3-card support, but it is more likely that he has 4-card support. Also, for East to have 4 clubs West would have to have the specific holding of QJ10 tripleton, much less likely than West having any of various 4-card holdings. So, you should just cross to dummy with a trump, ruff a spade, cash the jack of hearts, cross to the ace of diamonds, draw trumps, and take a diamond finesse.

Suppose West shows out on the first round of trumps. What will you do?

 

North
J
AQ107
A4
43
South
J8
KJ632
K8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

It is very unlikely that the diamonds are 3-3. East's shape would have to be exactly 5-4-3-1. However, if West started with at least 5 clubs, which is likely, you can still make. Cross to dummy, ruff a spade, cash jack of hearts, cross to ace of diamonds, and draw trumps, discarding a diamond and a club on the last two trumps. The position will be as follows:

North
7
A4
43
South
KJ63
K
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

West must come down to 5 cards. If he keeps 3 diamonds and 2 clubs, you can ruff out his diamond guard and the king of clubs will be an entry to the good diamond. If he keeps 4 diamonds and 1 club, you can unblock the king of clubs and your last club will be good. A classic trump squeeze. Note that if you have worked out that West must have started with at least 4 diamonds you can simply cash your last trump and West will be squeezed so you won't have any guesswork. It is possible that West can deceive you about the count, but it will be very difficult for him to do.

In fact, you choose to go after diamonds first. You play ace of diamonds, diamond to the king, and ruff a diamond with the 10. The diamonds split 3-3. What now?

North
AJ3
AQ76
43
South
9
KJ83
J6
K8
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P

Now it should be simple. Since you have 4 diamond winners, you only need 6 heart tricks. Ace of spades, spade ruff, draw trumps, and claim works fine.

You mistakenly cash the ace of hearts. Fortunately the hearts aren't 4-0, so you are cold. The full hand is:

West
KQ2
92
Q97
QJ1095
North
AJ3
AQ1076
A4
432
East
1087654
54
1085
76
South
9
KJ83
KJ632
AK8
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P
D
7 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
2
6
A
3
1
0
2
7
A
5
1
2
0
4
8
K
9
3
3
0
3
Q
10
10
1
4
0
A
4
3
2
1
5
0
5

What do you think of North's auction?

 

West
KQ2
92
Q97
QJ1095
North
AJ3
AQ1076
A4
432
East
1087654
54
1085
76
South
9
KJ83
KJ632
AK8
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
2
2
3
4
5
P
6
P
7
P
P
P
D
7 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
2
6
A
3
1
0
2
7
A
5
1
2
0
4
8
K
9
3
3
0
3
Q
10
10
1
4
0
A
4
3
2
1
5
0
5

North's first call was automatic.

When East overcalled 2 and West jumped to 4, North should be willing to bet that South has a singleton spade. If so, then if South has both minor-suit kings or a source of tricks along with the ace of clubs and the king of hearts, North can expect to take all the tricks one way or another. South has to have something for his 1 opening. North should simply take charge with RKC, followed by a king ask if the partnership has all the key cards. This is a common error made by many players. They go into cue-bidding mode when they should be taking over to get the information they need. Even without the possibility ambiguity of the 5 call, a cue-bid just isn't going to accomplish the desired goal. There are hands where you want partner to help in the decision making process, but this isn't one of them. North knows what he needs. As things went North was forced to guess, and he was fortunate to have guessed correctly.

In the other room, South opened a Precision 1 but they were still able to get to the grand slam, played by North. He got a trump lead, which made things very easy. With the extra club entry in dummy and the knowledge that trumps are splitting, it was trivial to ruff two spades and set up the diamonds.

The proper line of play in 7 is relatively straightforward, and just about any expert will get the essence of the timing right when given as a problem to ponder. Under the pressure at the table, one can easily miscount tricks or not see the position through to the end. South was fortunate this time that his line of play didn't run into fatal bad splits.

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