Join Bridge Winners
To Split Or Not To Split
(Page of 14)

In a semi-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you have to decide if and with what to open a marginal hand.

N-S vul, West deals. As West, you hold

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
W
N
E
S
?

At this vulnerability, your 1NT opening would be 10-12. Opening 1NT with this distribution is acceptable.

1 followed by 1 over 1 would show a singleton or void in either hearts or clubs.

1 followed by 1NT over 1 would show 13-15.

2 opener would show a 6-card suit.

Your call?

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
W
N
E
S
?

If you are going to open anything, the only thing you can open is 1NT. If you do anything else, that will badly mis-describe your shape or strength. This is something which should never be done when you are making a limited opening bid.

You could pass, of course. But the hand is within your notrump range. It is better to strike the first blow if you can reasonably do so. This hand will not be a surprise for partner. Opening 1NT is clear.

You open 1NT. The bidding continues

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
?

1NT: 10-12

3: To play

Your call?

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
?

Nobody invited you to the party. You have a strong spade holding, but that might not be enough to defeat 4. Partner could be completely broke for all you know. Passing is clear.

You pass, ending the auction

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P

Your lead. Third and fifth leads.

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P

While it is never mandatory to lead partner's suit, there is no reason on this hand to do anything else.

You lead the 7.

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
North
A964
J102
J5
AQ73
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P

The jack is played from dummy. Partner plays the 6, and declarer wins the queen in his hand.

You play suit-preference at trick 1 vs. suit contracts. A high spot card is suit-preference high. A low spot card is suit-preference low. A middle spot card is encouraging.

At trick 2, declarer leads the 6. Do you go up king or duck?

West
KJ85
3
K9
K9652
North
A964
102
J5
AQ73
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P

This sort of position can be a difficult problem. If you go up king you catch air, while if you duck your king may later capture something of value. On the other hand, your king will be dropping next round, so ducking could be costly. You don't know much about the hand at this point, except that declarer appears to have started with AQ or KQ doubleton of hearts and 4 or 5 spades. He could have AQxx of diamonds and choose to play the diamond suit this way. On balance, going up king looks best.

You win the king of diamonds. Partner plays the 7, UDCA. What do you play now?

West
KJ85
3
9
K9652
North
A964
102
J
AQ73
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P

Partner's 7 looks like a high spot. If he is signaling honest count, which he probably is since you are the one who may need to know, that gives him 5 diamonds. If declarer has 5 spades you probably don't have much of a chance to defeat the contract, so you can assume partner is 1-1 in the blacks. You may need him to hold a singleton 10 or jack of clubs, since if you can't potentially get a club trick your defensive prospects may be dim.

At any rate, it looks clear to lead another heart. If partner has the ace, a third round will potentially promote a trump trick. If declarer has the ace, you will then be in position to overruff the third round of the suit. Also, anything else could potentially give away a trick.

You lead the 3. It goes 2, 9, ace. Now declarer puts the 10 in your face. Do you split or not?

West
KJ85
9
K9652
North
A964
10
J
AQ73
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P

Deciding whether to split or not in this sort of position can be difficult. One thing you can be sure of is that if you play small declarer is going to let the 10 ride. Since you have the 8 you know this is his intention, since if he were going up ace of spades he couldn't afford to have led the 10.

Splitting with the jack of spades is costly only if partner has the singleton queen. That doesn't seem likely. Declarer has to have something for his 4 call, and with 10xxx of spades he would be pulling back for fear of a bad trump split.

Not splitting can be costly when declarer has the queen of spades. Declarer will let the 10 ride, and this will give him much better trump control. If instead you split and knock out dummy's ace of spades, now you remain with the boss trump which is potentially very valuable for controlling the timing of the play.

You split with the jack of spades. Dummy wins the ace, partner following with the 7. Declarer now leads a spade to his queen, partner discarding the 5. Do you win or duck?

West
K85
9
K9652
North
964
10
J
AQ73
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P

When you hold the boss trump in this position, it is often right to duck. The idea is that if declaer plays a third round of trumps you can win and play the fourth round, reducing the hand to notrump. If he doesn't play the third round, you have the potential to score your small trump on a ruff. However, if you win the second round of trumps it will be declarer who can time exactly how many more rounds of trumps will be drawn.

On this hand, ducking doesn't appear to be necessary. The key is that dummy has that losing heart, and you have the trump spot to overruff declarer.

What do you know about the hand? The distribution is pretty well confirmed. Partner is 1-6-5-1, and declarer is 4-2-4-3. If partner has the ace of diamonds declarer has no chance, as your side will always get at least 2 diamond tricks and 2 trump tricks (or 2 diamond tricks, 1 trump trick, and 1 heart trick), so you can assume declarer has the ace of diamonds. You probably need for partner's singleton club to be the jack, as otherwise, declarer can power home the club suit for no losers or, failing that, end-play and force you to break clubs. What about the diamonds? Partner was willing to play the 7 to show count. That denies the 8, since if he were signaling high and had 87 he would have signaled with the 8, the highest spot he could afford. What if he had Q107xx? It wouldn't be clear that he could afford the 7, and since giving a count signal in diamonds probably isn't too important he wouldn't have wasted the 7. Thus, the indications are that declarer's diamond holding is A1086.

What will happen if you duck? Declarer is pretty much forced to lead a club to the queen, since he isn't going to play another trump and let you clean up the trump suit and stick him in dummy. When he sees partner's jack fall under the queen he will know the whole hand, and it won't be difficult for him to ride the jack of diamonds and then ruff a heart. You can overruff and cash the king of spades, but you will then be end-played.

Better is to win the king of spades and exit with a diamond. Partner will know to duck the jack if he doesn't have the 10, since your 9 denies the 10. Declarer can still make the hand if he plays for this exact layout and leads the queen of clubs, but if he does anything else you will get both a club trick and another trump trick. Perhaps he can work out to make this play, but let's see him find it.

You choose to duck the spade. Declarer leads a club to the queen, partner playing the jack. Declarer leads the jack of diamonds, covered by queen and ace. Declarer leads the 8. Do you ruff or not?

West
K8
K965
North
96
10
A73
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P

It can't be right to ruff small. Declarer will overruff, and ruff dummy's last heart. You will be stuck. Similarly if you ruff with the king of spades. If declarer has the 10 you are dead, so your only hope is that partner has that card.

You discard a club. Dummy also discards a club, the 8 winning. Declarer continues with the 10. Now what?

West
K8
K96
North
96
10
A7
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P

If you ruff small, declarer can overruff and throw you in with a spade. You will have to give him the last 3 tricks for an overtrick.

If you ruff with the king of spades, declarer discards a club from dummy and has 3 trump tricks and the ace of clubs for the rest of the tricks.

You have to discard again. Now if declarer pitches a heart and leads a trump up, you can win and exit with a trump, getting a club trick in the end. If declarer does anything else, you will get 2 trump tricks.

In fact, declarer shows you his hand after leading the 10, claiming 10 tricks. The full hand is:

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
North
A964
J102
J5
AQ73
East
7
K98654
Q7432
J
South
Q1032
AQ
A1086
1084
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
J
6
Q
3
1
0
6
K
5
7
0
1
1
3
2
9
A
3
2
1
10
J
A
7
1
3
1
4
5
Q
5
3
4
1
4
2
Q
J
1
5
1
J
Q
A
9
3
6
1
8
5
3
2
3
7
1
10
9

How was East's defense?

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
North
A964
J102
J5
AQ73
East
7
K98654
Q7432
J
South
Q1032
AQ
A1086
1084
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
J
6
Q
3
1
0
6
K
5
7
0
1
1
3
2
9
A
3
2
1
10
J
A
7
1
3
1
4
5
Q
5
3
4
1
4
2
Q
J
1
5
1
J
Q
A
9
3
6
1
8
5
3
2
3
7
1
10
9

East's 6 at trick 1 is his stongest suit-preference signal for a heart continuation. Normally other spots might be unreadable, but here East knows that West will know that East has all the unseen spot cards when declarer wins with the queen of hearts. For that reason, East might be better off playing the 8. This shows something in diamonds, and probably the king of hearts instead of the ace. It isn't a strong signal for diamonds, since East has the 9 available for that.

East should not have covered the jack of diamonds. If declarer doesn't have the 10, declarer is unlikely to led the jack ride. If declarer does have the 10, covering is clearly costly. In fact, declarer might be planning on going up ace anyway, since he can't lead from dummy profitably. If East had ducked declarer still has various ways to make.

Do you like declarer's line of play?

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
North
A964
J102
J5
AQ73
East
7
K98654
Q7432
J
South
Q1032
AQ
A1086
1084
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
J
6
Q
3
1
0
6
K
5
7
0
1
1
3
2
9
A
3
2
1
10
J
A
7
1
3
1
4
5
Q
5
3
4
1
4
2
Q
J
1
5
1
J
Q
A
9
3
6
1
8
5
3
2
3
7
1
10
9

This is a complicated hand, and declarer has several possible approaches. Leading the diamond up at trick 2 looks okay. If it didn't look like the diamonds are 5-2, then it might have been right to lead a club to the queen. The plan would be to cash the ace of clubs, discard the third club on the heart, and scramble along crossruff lines. When the play in the diamond suit indicated that the diamonds might be 5-2, leading the 10 becomes reasonable.

One thing declarer probably should have done was to unblock the jack of diamonds on the first round of diamonds. If declarer is going to finesse on the second round, he will probably want to win in his hand.

Do you like East's 3 call?

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
North
A964
J102
J5
AQ73
East
7
K98654
Q7432
J
South
Q1032
AQ
A1086
1084
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
J
6
Q
3
1
0
6
K
5
7
0
1
1
3
2
9
A
3
2
1
10
J
A
7
1
3
1
4
5
Q
5
3
4
1
4
2
Q
J
1
5
1
J
Q
A
9
3
6
1
8
5
3
2
3
7
1
10
9

It is clear to do some damage with the East hand. The opponents may well have a vulnerable 3NT or 4 game, and preemptive action may keep them out of it. 3 is pretty safe, and might be making if West has the right cards.

The question isn't whether 3 is too high. It is whether 3 is high enough. East has extreme distribution. The vulnerabilty is favorable. 4 might even make on a good day.

An important consideration is that when East bids 3 the opponents know East isn't too strong since East had no game interest. However if East bids 4 he might have anything from what he actually holds to a relatively balanced 16-count with a 6-card heart suit. If East has that hand and N-S enter the auction, they will go for a big number.

Incidentally, the 3 of a suit "to play" is probably the most valuable feature of the 10-12 1NT opening. Look at the dangers of opening a flaky preempt. You might catch partner with shortness in your suit and belong somewhere else, or nowhere. Or you might catch partner with a big hand and give him a difficult decision. Opposite the 10-12 NT opener, these dangers don't exist. You know you are catching at least 2-card support so you are in a playable strain. You know partner doesn't have a long suit of his own which might be a better trump suit. And, you know you don't have to worry about partner having a strong hand and missing a game. The bid has all the upsides of a preempt without the downsides.

How do you like the N-S auction?

West
KJ85
73
K9
K9652
North
A964
J102
J5
AQ73
East
7
K98654
Q7432
J
South
Q1032
AQ
A1086
1084
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
J
6
Q
3
1
0
6
K
5
7
0
1
1
3
2
9
A
3
2
1
10
J
A
7
1
3
1
4
5
Q
5
3
4
1
4
2
Q
J
1
5
1
J
Q
A
9
3
6
1
8
5
3
2
3
7
1
10
9

North clearly doesn't have the values to bid over the 10-12 1NT.

South might have made a takeout double, since he has a decent hand and a doubleton heart. However, his hand is more defensively oriented, and if he doesn't catch North with 4 spades or the ability to pass the double, N-S will be headed for a minus score.

North's reopening double was a shot in the dark. It is true that he knew his partner has at most a doubleton heart, increasing the chances of finding 4+ spades in South's hand. Still, South didn't make a takeout double of his own with that known doubleton heart, which is an indication that South doesn't have too much and/or South doesn't have 4 spades. North struck gold, but the bid could have turned out very badly.

South has a clear 4 call once North reopens. 4 doesn't have to make, but South has aces and good trumps. It doesn't pay to hang one trick short with a hand like this.

At the other table East bid an unusual 2NT over North's 1 opener. N-S didn't find their spade fit, and landed in 3NT. The opponents led hearts, but with the East hand having no entries, 3NT eventually staggered home.

Some hands are just too complicated to fully analyze at the table. There are simply too many possible variations. This hand is such a hand, with problems for both declarer and defenders. Sometimes one can only follow instinct and general principles to find the best play.

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