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A hand from the Spingold Round of 32
(Page of 4)

Halfway through a relatively quiet first quarter of a Spingold Match you face the following auction:

 

 

North
AK52
10
A8643
K109
W
N
E
S
1
2
X
3
P
P
X
P
4
P
?

 

Partner's 4 bid could be many hands with varying minor suit lengths. Partner should have at least four clubs for their bid, but they could be 3-3-2-5 or 3-3-3-4 and bid the same way. What call should you make?

Joe Grue, playing with Brad Moss, made the expert bid of 4H when he held this hand. In auctions such as this one where there are many playable strains and not much room left below game, it is more important to cue bid the opponents suit as a choice of games rather than an ambiguous slam try. The obvious gain is that you get to the correct game, which is worth many IMPs. Even when you do have slam interest, you wouldn't necessarily have gained by having 4 available as a slam try. Even if partner held a decent hand, they wouldn't know in which strain you were inviting slam and might not judge their hand properly.

 

Should partner know how many clubs and diamonds you have on this auction?

 

It's clear that you have exactly four spades, because you didn't bid 2 over 2 and you have shown enough points to force. If you had at least four clubs, you would raise to 5, and if you had fewer than three clubs you wouldn't likely be inviting partner to pick 5 as a strain. Its possible that on a bad day you are 4-2-5-2 with AQ of clubs or 4-2-4-3, but you're very likely to be your actual shape.

 

On this hand, partner bids 5 and plays it there. The opponents lead the A and continue with another heart. How should you play?

North
AK52
10
A8643
K109
South
63
Q84
K109
AQ753

 

It looks like the king of hearts is on your right and you have no useful piches to make in dummy, so you're going to need to ruff this. You'll also need to ruff another heart on the board whether you want to or not. If you want to ruff a heart, you can easily cross to hand with the K and ruff it. If you don't want to ruff a heart, you'll need to rely on 3-2 trumps and setting up the diamonds to pitch your remaining heart later. However, the opponents can see the hand as well, so if it's a losing play for you to ruff the heart, the opponents will tap the dummy when you duck a diamond to them. Given that you will either need to ruff a heart or go down when you are forced to ruff one, you may as well include it in your plan.

 

How are you going to get back to your hand?

North
AK52
A8643
K10
South
63
Q
K109
AQ753

 

The only quick way back to hand is a diamond. You have two options: One is to duck a diamond back towards hand, hoping that trumps are diamonds are both splitting or that a stiff diamond honor wins the trick and can't prevent you from making the rest of the tricks. However, this gives up on most of your chances when trumps are 4-1. The other play is a diamond to the king, which do. RHO puts up the queen and you win in hand with the King. What now?

 

Your plan now should be to ruff a heart in the dummy, cash the king of trumps, and hope that a third round of spades doesn't get overruffed on your left. For that to happen, LHO would have to have only two spades. Given his vulnerable preempt, it's very likely that he has shortness somewhere. Since he didn't lead or switch to a singleton, it's most likely that his singleton is in trumps. Given that, you play the two top spades, ruff a spade in hand (both following, RHO dropping the queen and jack of spades) and cash the A. LHO discards. Now what?

North
5
A86
South
109
Q7

 

RHO started with four clubs, three hearts, and has either three or four spades. So his shape is either 4-3-2-4 or 3-3-3-4. At this point, you cash the A, reducing RHO to either a spade winner and a stiff diamond (likely the J) and the 8 or Jx 8. Which should you play for?

 

 

 

You don't need to choose – You have a guaranteed play. Just play a diamond to the ace and lead your losing spade. If RHO follows you score your trump easily and if RHO is out of spades you will still score your small trump en passant.

 

On this hand, the opponents gave you a little trouble but you were able to find your way to a reasonable spot. It's true that here both 5 and 5 were good contracts, but without the 4 bid to choose, on some hands you might end up playing in a 4-3 fit at the 5-level. This is a problem less frequently encountered in a standard auction, where a diamond opening generally has four cards, but it comes up. One of the most frequent appearances is when the opponents have made a preemptive opening or overcall and there isn't much room left to explore. It's true that by using the 4-level cuebid as a choice of games you hurt some of your slam bidding, but choice of games is a winner on frequency. Moreover, some slams that would be reasonable on a normal auction are more likely to be doomed to failure on one like this. For example, if you needed trumps 3-2 when the opponents had a 7-2 fit in a side suit, the chance of a 3-2 split has dropped from ~68% to ~58%. Against that, you'll be able to place cards more accurately, but many of the slams you'll bid will be on hands where you have a good fit and it's obvious which suit you want to play. Already knowing your strain will allow you to bid successful slams in those situations without the need for a general cuebid.

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