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All comments by Kit Woolsey
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I well remember this hand. I was playing with Eddie Manfield. We were leading by about 1 board going into the final session, and we played this hand in the second round. I also declared 7NT. I might have done the same thing Lawrence did, but there was one difference – my 7NT was doubled and redoubled. No down 1 for me! When the jack of hearts came down I was sure it was going to be our day, but we faltered and fell to fourth.
July 14, 2011
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Playing West for the queen of clubs is clearly the percentage action, by more than might be realized. Look at the inferences:

1) The spades are clearly 4-4. Not only is there the inference from the opening lead, but if the spades were 5-3 East would have split his diamonds so you couldn't steal a diamond trick.

2) When your 10 of diamonds holds, East is known to have at least 3 diamonds. Quite likely he has more than 3 diamonds, since with KJx he might have split.

3) If West were 4-4 in the major, he might have led a heart. That makes it more likely that East has at least 4 hearts.

From the above inferences it is clear that there is zero chance that West has a singleton club, while it is quite possible that East has a singleton. Also, if the clubs are 3-2 West is much more likely to hold the tripleton. This makes playing West for the queen of clubs the clear percentage play by a fair margin.

The concept of intentionally taking an anti-percentage play when well behind in a match is sound, but there are 2 necessary conditions:

1) The play can't be anti-percentage by too much. On this deal, playing East for the queen of clubs would be anti-percentage by quite a lot.

2) It must be almost certain that your counterpart at the other table will be facing the same problem. That is far from clear. They might play it from the North side. They might not get to game. They might get a different opening lead. They might not attack diamonds first as you did. Taking these things into account, it is far from certain that they will face the same problem.

I had a similar problem in the senior trials last month. We were behind 40 IMPs after the first quarter, and this was the first board of the 2nd quarter. We were vulnerable.

AKQ10x
AK
QJx
K9x

xx
Qxx
AKx
AJ10xx

I opened 1NT. Partner bid Gerber, and then 7NT. I got a heart lead and tested the spades, finding out that East had Jxxx of spades. How should I play the clubs?

Obviously the percentage play is to play West for the queen of clubs since he is shorter in spades, but the difference is pretty small. It would be hard to imagine that my counterpart wouldn't be facing exactly the same problem, and he would certainly make the percentage play. So, should I put 20 IMPs up for grabs by playing East for the queen?

At the table I played West for the queen, and went down 2 for the expected push. In retrospect, I think I should have gone the other way.
July 11, 2011
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Michael,

I agree that once you get to the point you describe you have to take the double heart finesse – West can no longer have started with Hxxx in hearts and Kxxx of diamonds. However, that approach not only risks the 6-2 spade split – it also gives up the potential trump squeeze against East since it is necessary to delay the second diamond ruff for the trump squeeze to operate. In theory the trump squeeze option isn't so valuable since you may have to guess whether you have squeezed East or Kxx of diamonds was always coming down, and if East is squeezed which suit he unguarded. In practice defenders have a difficult time discarding deceptively in this sort of position, and an alert declarer will get it right more often than not.
July 9, 2011
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We don't have to risk a 6-2 spade split, and we don't have to give up on Kxx of diamonds. We can still keep our squeeze possibilities alive. Draw trumps, pitching 1 heart (or 2 hearts if trumps are 4-1) from dummy, ace of diamonds, AKQ of spades (diamond pitch), diamond ruff, another trump (if trumps were 3-2), coming down to 10xx of hearts and a trump in hand, AK of hearts and Qx of diamonds in dummy. If one opponent guards both red suits, he will have been squeezed. Of course you will have to guess what has happened, as is often the case with a trump squeeze.

If the black suit information indicates that East is unlikely to be guarding both red suits, then (assuming trumps are 3-2), instead cross to ace of hearts, ruff another diamond, and play the last trump, squeezing West if he holds both guards. This won't involve a guess, since you can see if West discards the king of diamonds.

If the trumps are 4-1, you have to either commit to the trump squeeze or risk a 6-2 spade split. When West has the 4 trumps, the trump squeeze approach is clearly best. If East has 4 trumps, I'm not sure – probably right to risk the 6-2 spade split so can have the simple squeeze on West.

I don't see any variation where the double finesse will be better than the squeeze, unless the 9 of clubs entry is used for the second diamond ruff and East shows up with king-fifth of diamonds. That both risks the 6-2 spade split and gives up on the trump squeeze against East. I don't think is the percentage approach.
July 9, 2011
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Don't worry, Mike. I'm sure I'll give you plenty of opportunities to happily disagree with me.
July 5, 2011
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Peter,

You are correct in the variation where declarer wins the ace of spades and West ducks the second spade. Then it is better to take the club finesse first.

In the variation where declarer ducks the first spade and West continues with a small spade, I do believe heart to the king has a better chance. Here, the defense gets only 1 spade trick when the ace of hearts is onside.
July 5, 2011
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While some of the earlier calls might be debated, they are all reasonable. It is the final two calls which are the crux of the problem.

Expert partnerships should have clearly defined agreements on the meanings of actions when a notrump probe such as this is doubled. Without explicit agreements, it seems logical that an immediate 3 or 3NT call should show a definite preference for that strain. Pass should show no clear preference. The North hand has some help in both hearts and spades, hence no clear preference. She should have passed, after which South, with a heart stopper opposite any help, would have bid 3NT.

On the actual auction, South was quite correct to bid 4. She had every reason to expect North to hold something like Kx xx KQxx KQxxx, and 4 would be the best game if North held that. South should not bid 3NT, since North cannot know that South's spades are good enough to play a 5-2 fit.

The double should have helped N-S. Without the double North might have chosen 3 rather than 3NT, and South might have then chosen 4 instead of 3NT playing North for Kx of spades and 2 small hearts. The double gave North the opportunity to avoid expressing a strong opinion.

July 5, 2011
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Obviously the Kokish-style relay works better when you are dealt the big balanced hands. The tradeoff comes when opener has hearts and responder can't immediately bid naturally. Our experience is that the latter is more important.

It just isn't worth splitting hairs over an extra jack. Sometimes we will miss a 65% game. Sometimes we will get to a 30% game. Big deal. The expected cost of these sins is relatively small, perhaps a couple of IMPs. Remember, sometimes 65% games go down and sometimes 30% games make. The cost of getting to the wrong strain can be a lot greater.
July 4, 2011
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If you believe that 2NT is a better rebid than 1NT because the call has a higher IMP expectancy, that is fine. But if you believe you must bid 2NT because you have 19 Goren points and the system defines the 2NT rebid as most 19's to 21, you are being a slave to the point count. The goal is to choose the call which maximizes your IMP expectancy, not to follow some rule.

As to what the ranges are for the 1NT rebid, we vary slightly depending on the opening 1NT range. When 1NT is 10-12 (so 1, then 1NT is 13-15), 1C followed by 1NT starts at 16, so we make the defined top a little lower – bad 19's. When 1NT is 14-16, 1C followed by 1NT starts at 17, so the defined top is higher – most 19's. When 1NT is 15-17 (which we play in 3rd or 4th seat) 1C followed by 1NT starts at 18, so we make the defined top all 19's.

Within the definitions, there is a lot of scope for judgment. The main reason I don't like the 2NT rebid on the actual hand is that the hand is suit-oriented enough so there is a good chance that we belong in a different strain. Rebidding 1NT increases the chances of finding that superior strain, and I believe the gains from this more than compensate for the possible missed game. If the hand had the same playing strength but were more notrump oriented, then I would agree with the 2NT rebid.
July 4, 2011
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It seems to me the only possible improvement is the final double. It is impossible that North would have both Q-bid 5 and made a forcing pass of 7 without the ace of diamonds and the king of hearts. That means South can count 12 tricks, and where there is 12 there is often 13.

Still, bidding 7NT is questionable. Would North have bid differently if his jack of spades were the ten? Might not North have something like J10x Kx Axx QJxxx for this sequence? The enemy bidding indicates that suits won't be splitting. If 7 goes for 1700 and only a small slam is bid at the other table, which is quite possible, then bidding 7NT risks 23 IMPs in order to gain 6 IMPs. Thus, it is hard to fault South's decision to double.
June 30, 2011
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If there is any fault, it must be the final double. It is inconceivable that North could both bid 5 and make a forcing pass of 7 without the ace of diamonds and the king of hearts. Thus South can count 12 tricks, and where there are 12 there are often 13.

Still, it is difficult to fault the double. Would North have bid differently if his jack of spades were the 10? Might not North have bid this way with J10x Kx
June 28, 2011
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Good catch Cenk. I think you are right. So we need East to have both spade honors.

The question is can we handle both doubleton and tripleton in East's hand. I believe we can. Start as I suggest, 3 rounds of trumps and a spade off dummy. East must win. If East shifts to a diamond honor or they continue spades we are home, since the other diamond entry can't be attacked. So the defense must play on clubs. This will give us the count in both clubs and hearts, and that along with our inferred 6-0 diamond count will tell us whether to lead the queen of spades or just duck a spade.

Playing low from dummy at trick 1 is now clear, since if the spade honors are split East must have the king of clubs.
June 27, 2011
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The problem with playing penalty doubles of 2 of a major is that sometimes you don't know for sure whether the overcaller has hit partner's suit. The is even more true when the multi bid can be a 5-card suit. Imagine picking up KQxx xx Axx KJxx and hearing it go: 2-2 to you. If partner has spades, which he will most of the time, you will want to bid 2. But if partner has hearts, bidding 2 will be a major disaster. You can't afford to take this risk to cater to the rare time you have a penalty double.
June 26, 2011
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Why didn't West lead his partner's suit? The failure to double 2 doesn't mean much. It seems like West would lead a diamond from any singleton or doubleton rather than pulling out some random club lead. The answer must be that he doesn't have any diamonds.

Unless I'm lucky enough to win 2 club tricks, I will need 2 spade tricks. I can never handle a 4-1 trump split since I will get forced in clubs if I draw trumps, and West will get a diamond ruff if I don't. I must start spades before touching diamonds, or else West can set up a diamond trick if he has AK of spades. The first round of spades must come from dummy.

I win the opening lead, play 3 rounds of trumps ending in dummy, and play a spade off. This makes when trumps are 3-2 and East's spades are AKx, A10, A9, K10, or K9. I don't see anything better. Note that I won't make when East has AK doubleton, since I can't afford to lead the second spade from dummy – he would win and knock out the other entry.

The play on the opening lead is sort of a guess, but I think playing small is slightly better. The reason is that the unfavorable spade holdings are East having honor-doubleton (no 10 or 9) or one honor with the spades 3-3. If that is the case, East will need the king of clubs for his opening bid.
June 25, 2011
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I play suit-preference signals here. 10, 9, 8 is suit-preference high, 2, 3, 4 is suit-preference low, 6, 5, 7 is encouraging.

I would like to give an encouraging signal, since a shift to either spades or diamonds could be a disaster. From partner's point of view, a shift to either pointed suit might be right. Partner almost certainly has a trump, and if he does he will shift to a trump rather than continue clubs. He must be aware of the sluff-ruff danger, and he can tell by looking at dummy that there is no constructive value in continuing clubs.

Using Peter's methods, I would play the 3 of clubs.

I do not think this is a tempo-sensitive situation. As a defender you are entitled to take your time to think about the hand and plan the defense, just the same as declarer is entitled to take his time to think about the hand and plan the play regardless of whether his problem is at trick 1 or down the road. If East thinks for a minute before playing a club, West does not know whether East is thinking about the entire hand or about which club to play, so there is no unauthorized information. Only if East plays instantaneously is there unauthorized information, as now West would know that East didn't have a problem on trick 1.

June 22, 2011
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Bob,

I strongly disagree with your statement that the 2 call implies 4-card spade support. If South had 4 spades, he would not have bid 2. He would have raised spades to whatever level he deemed appropriate. As I said, the number one priority is to set the trump suit.
June 22, 2011
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Three fundamental principles of constructive bidding were violated here:

1)Bid out your shape
2)Set the trump suit
3)Don't jump to the final contract unless you are sure

2 was a poor call. North has hearts, and South's takeout double suggests a 4-card heart suit when South doesn't raise spades. North should bid 2. This will simplify matters whatever South has. If North feels he is too strong to bid 2 (I don't think he is), then he should bid 3. He must bid out his shape. The 2 call says that he doesn't have a heart suit to bid or a long enough spade suit to rebid.

2 was correct. Partner is assumed to not have 4 hearts or he would have bid them. Partner might have 5 spade and need to know about the 3-card support. Set the trump suit.

3 was even worse. When South bids 2, North knows for sure that spades is a fine strain. Even if there is a 4-4 heart fit, North's hearts are so weak that a 5-3 spade fit will probably be as good or better. North should bid 3 or 4, but he must confirm that spades are trump. Among other things, 3 might be misinterpreted.

South was misled by North's bidding. However, he couldn't be sure that 5 was right. He should simply bid 4. Yes, that is forcing. Forget about stopping in 4 of a minor on constructive sequences when the minor hasn't been previously agreed – that is losing bridge. After bidding 4, South can respect North's 4 call.

June 20, 2011
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Clearly East should not overtake the king of hearts unless playing with a weak partner. That blows any chance of defeating the contract when declarer has the jack of hearts. If East is playing with a weak partner (which appears to have been the case), then overtaking may be best.

Equally clearly, West should shift to a club at trick 2. From West's point of view, there is virtually no consistent construction where the defense can take 6 tricks unless East has a singleton club.

As to who declarer should play for the king of diamonds, I think the odds favor East. He has more diamonds than West. Ownership of the king of diamonds under the overcaller isn't going to affect West's decision about whether or not to double. Finally, West's shape might be 2-4-2-5 instead of 1-4-3-5, and if he has that shape with the king of diamonds he might have opened 1NT.

You say that East encouraged in hearts (wrongly), so the opponents were playing upside-down signals. If the opponents were playing standard signals (so East's 7 was discouraging), then declarer should play the 8 – giving his own encouraging signal since he wants a heart continuation rather than a club shift.
June 17, 2011
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Very interesting hand. As I see it, there are 2 possible lines of play depending on who you think has the ace of clubs.

If you think East has the ace of clubs, take Cenk's line of play. Play all your trumps but one, coming down to 7 cards. If East doesn't hold 4 spades, duck a spade for the tenth trick. If East doesn't hold 3 clubs, cross to dummy with a spade, club to the queen, and duck a club. If East keeps 4 spades and 3 clubs, lead the last trump discarding a spade. If East also discards a spade, throw him in with the third round of spades. If he discards a club, spade to dummy, club to queen, duck a club. It will be very difficult for East to deceive you about the count in this situation.

If you think West has the ace of clubs, cash 3 rounds of hearts, lead a club to the king, and cash the ace of spades. Now, if you believe West started with a singleton spade, simply duck a club. West will be end-played on the third round of clubs. If you believe West started with a doubleton spade, cash the second high spade and play a club trying to keep East off lead. This will work unless East started with J10xx of clubs or West had the foresight to dump the jack or 10 of clubs from AJx or A10x. East will probably discard his idle fifth spade on one of the hearts if he has 5 spades, so that should be your clue as to which layout to play for. This line can also succeed when East has the ace of clubs and West fails to unblock.
June 16, 2011
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Since I was declarer, I'll try to explain my thinking on the hand.

East had returned the 2 of spades. With an initial 3-card holding the proper return is the top of a doubleton if it can be afforded. East couldn't have the 10 of spades, since from A10x he would have played the 10 at trick 1. Defenders cannot afford to falsecard in this sort of situation, since it is likely that their partner will be winning the trick and he will need the count. Thus, I was convinced at the table that the spades were 5-2.

The queen of hearts came out smoothly, and it felt like a queen-doubleton. The instinctive play is to duck, since if the hearts are 3-3 I am clearly dead. However, I realized that I could never make the hand if West had Qx. I win the second heart, and play a club hoping that West has the ace of clubs. The problem is that he can win the ace and return a diamond, and I will be unable to enjoy the jack of clubs. I could not imagine him making a mistake and ducking the first club or winning and returning a club. He knows my major-suit shape, and will get a count card from his partner on the club lead. Furthermore he knows I have every remaining high card to get up my 1NT (14-16) opening, so if I am 4-3 in the minors I must have the rest of the tricks after knocking out the ace of clubs. Therefore, it seemed inconceivable that he would misdefend.

So, what chances did I have? West having QJ doubleton of hearts and the ace of clubs wouldn't help. He wins the club, cashes the jack of hearts, plays a diamond, and I'm back to the untangling problem. He might have stiff queen of hearts in which case ducking is the winning play, since if they can't knock out dummy's ace of hearts I am cold. But at the table it felt like a doubleton heart. If I duck and East turns up with KJxx of hearts and ace of clubs I would go down an extra trick for no good reason. Finally,
if West has QJ doubleton of hearts and East has the ace of clubs, I have a real chance by winning the first heart and playing a club. They can still defeat me if East goes up ace of clubs, leads a heart to West's jack, and West exits with a diamond. While in theory East can work out that this is his only chance if I have my 1NT opening bid, in practice this will be a very difficult defense to find, particularly since he won't have the luxury of thinking for a long time when the club is led through his ace. I believe it is quite likely he would duck, in which case I would make.
June 10, 2011
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