Join Bridge Winners
A Way Out
(Page of 10)

In a round of 16 match in the Open Trials, you have to decide what to do with a good balanced hand and an opening bid on your right.

Both vul, East deals. As West, you hold:

West
KJ4
K2
AK84
J1043
W
N
E
S
P
1
?

Your call?

West
KJ4
K2
AK84
J1043
W
N
E
S
P
1
?

You have the strength, shape, and heart stopper for a 1NT overcall. But overcalling 1NT on this thin a hand with no source of tricks, no runout suit, and a single heart stopper is pretty scary. If nothing else were available you might take the risk, but you don't need to do so on this hand. This is a perfectly acceptable hand for a takeout double. Sure, you will be expected to have 4 spades, but that isn't etched in stone and you won't always have a perfect hand for your auction. You have support for all suits, and this sort of hand might play decently in a 4-3 spade fit.

You double. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
?

Your call?

West
KJ4
K2
AK84
J1043
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
?

If you had 4-card spade support you could bid 2 on almost any 13 cards. It would be a normal trick total call. Your side has 8 spades, the opponents have 7 or 8 hearts, so it is right to compete to 2 over 2.

With only 3-card spade support, bidding 2 would be a serious error. You have already shown at least 3 spades with the takeout double, and you don't have to tell the same story twice. If partner has 5 spades he can apply the law of total tricks and compete to 2 when that is right.

You could make another takeout double, which typically shows a hand like this. The problem is that you are minimal. Your side doesn't have a game since partner bid only 1, and anything over 2 might be too high. Partner heard your initial takeout double, and he will play you for about this shape. If it is right to compete over 2, partner is still there.

You pass, as does everybody else.

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

Your lead. From an AK holding, you have the option of leading either the ace or the king. If you lead the ace, partner is expected to give a standard attitude signal. If you lead the king, partner is expected to give a suit-preference signal.

West
KJ4
K2
AK84
J1043
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
P
P
P

You don't have enough information to lead anything but a diamond honor. The question is which honor to lead.

If you lead the ace, partner will give a standard attitude signal. He will encourage with a doubleton. He will also encourage with the queen, unless dummy has something like Jxxx in which case he will probably discourage so you don't wrongly play him for the doubleton.

If you lead the king, partner will give a suit-preference signal. This may tell you whether he has a club card or a spade card, which could be of value. Partner can also play a middle diamond if he wishes to encourage a continuation. One problem is that partner might not have too many diamonds, so his signal might not be readable.

It is far from clear which is best. But with your hand the knowledge about partner's black-suit strength is probably more important than just his attitude about diamonds, so it looks best to lead the king.

You choose to lead the ace of diamonds.

West
KJ4
K2
AK84
J1043
North
Q763
4
Q10976
852
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
P
P
P

Partner plays the 3 (standard attitude) and declarer the 5. How do you continue?

West
KJ4
K2
K84
J1043
North
Q763
4
Q1097
852
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
P
P
P

The 2 is missing and partner has given a standard attitude signal. He would not be playing the 3 from J32, so you know the king of diamonds is cashing. You might as well cash it. If partner has a singleton, you can then give him a ruff. If the remaining diamonds are split, at least you will have gotten the king of diamonds out of your hand. If you don't cash it, declarer can later stuff you in with that card and you might not have a convenient exit.

You cash the king of diamonds. Partner follows with the 2, and declarer the jack. And now?

West
KJ4
K2
84
J1043
North
Q763
4
Q109
852
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
P
P
P

You need a way out, and nothing is attractive. A heart shift can cost a trump trick. A diamond continuation forces partner to ruff and possibly lose a natural trump trick. A spade shift is bad if declarer has ace-doubleton. A club shift may give declarer a finesse he can't take for himself.

What is declarer's likely distribution? He is known to have 2 diamonds, and probably 6 hearts. If partner had 5 spades he probably would have competed to 2, thus declarer figures to have 2 spades. That makes his expected shape 2-6-2-3.

A club shift looks the least damaging. If partner has nothing in clubs or the queen of clubs, a club shift won't cost anything. It may cost a trick if partner has the king or ace of clubs since declarer doesn't have easy dummy access, but you will probably have to break clubs anyway.

If you are shifting to a club, it has to be right to shift to the jack rather than a small club. You really want to get partner in so he can put a spade through. The jack of clubs shift will retain his potential entry if he has the king or the queen, and if he has the ace he will know to hold off playing it. A small club shift may knock out his entry.

You choose to shift to the 4. Partner plays the king, and declarer the ace. Declarer cashes the queen of clubs. What do you play?

West
KJ4
K2
84
J103
North
Q763
4
Q109
85
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
P
P
P

It looks like declarer is planning on exiting with a club to put you in again. Even after having blown partner's king of clubs away, you still have a chance to get him in. You must dump a club honor. If declarer has the 9 this won't work, but if partner has that card you get off the end-play. You will have a chance to see which club declarer plays, so it is a free shot.

You mistakenly follow with the 3, on which partner plays the 6. Declarer leads the 7 which you win, partner playing the 9. Now how do you get out?

West
KJ4
K2
84
J
North
Q763
4
Q109
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
P
P
P

Declarer's 2-6-2-3 shape is now pretty well confirmed. But you still have to find a way out.

If you exit with a side suit, you should definitely lead a diamond. If you lead a club dummy will ruff, and partner will be forced to overruff in order to prevent declarer from discarding his losing spade. If you lead a diamond, again partner will be forced to ruff. The difference is that by leading a diamond you retain your club exit for when you are in with the king of hearts. If you squander the jack of clubs now, you will be in trouble later.

Might it be better to try the king of hearts? That depends upon partner's exact trump holding. If partner has J10xx or J9xx of hearts, the heart exit does fine since partner will still have two trump tricks. The diamond exit will force partner to ruff small and cost him his trump trick. On the other hand, if partner has Qxxx of hearts it is the heart exit which costs the trump trick, while he can ruff the diamond small without cost.

Which is more likely? It looks like playing partner for J10xx or J9xx is the percentage play, since there are two such possible honor combination, while there is only one honor combination of Qxxx. Therefore, the percentage play appears to be to exit with the king of hearts.

You choose the poor play of the jack of clubs. It goes 4, 8, 10. Declarer cashes his ace of hearts. Do you unblock?

West
KJ4
K2
84
North
Q763
Q109
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
P
P
P

You need to take 3 more tricks to defeat the contract. If declarer has the ace of spades, your only hope is to unblock and hope partner started with Q9xx. If you don't unblock you will be in with your king of hearts and forced to either lead away from your king of spades or lead a diamond and see partner ruff with his now remaining queen of hearts while declarer discards his losing spade. If partner does have Q9xx of hearts, he can take two heart tricks after you unblock and you will still get your king of spades.

On the other hand, if declarer started with AQJ10xx of hearts and partner has the ace of spades, then unblocking wouldn't be a very good idea. It would be throwing away the setting trick.

Which is more likely? Partner would have to ruff with the 8 from Q98x in case the actual layout exists. He would also have to ruff with the 8 from 98xx if you held something like Q10 doubleton, although he could work out that with something like that you might have exited with a heart rather than a diamond. Also, if partner has the ace of spades and 98xx in hearts he might have been inclined to compete rather than sell to 2. Therefore, it looks better to unblock.

You choose to not unblock. Declarer leads the jack of hearts to your king, partner having followed with the 3 and 5. What is your final way out?

West
KJ4
84
North
Q76
Q10
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
P
P
P

At this point you have no chance to defeat the contract unless partner has the ace of spades. Still, you should play a diamond. Partner will be able to ruff, so you won't be losing anything. If declarer has both the ace of spades and the queen of hearts leading a diamond will save an overtrick.

You lead a diamond. Partner ruffs with the queen of hearts as declarer discards his losing spade to make the contract. The full hand is:

West
KJ4
K2
AK84
J1043
North
Q763
4
Q10976
852
East
10985
Q853
32
K96
South
A2
AJ10976
J5
AQ7
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
6
3
5
0
0
1
K
7
2
J
0
0
2
3
2
K
A
3
1
2
Q
4
5
6
3
2
2
7
10
8
9
0
2
3
J
4
8
10
3
3
3
A
2
3
3
3
4
3
J
K
9
5
0
4
4
4
10
Q
2
2
4
5
9

Clearly West made many errors on the defense of this hand. These were all the kinds of errors any of us could make. It is worth reviewing them and seeing where the thinking process was flawed.

The low club shift at trick 3. It is "automatic" to lead low from this holding. Partner's honor forces out declarer's honor, and you are left with the J10 which will be a trick. On this hand West needed to be focusing on the bigger picture rather than just on the club suit itself.

Not unblocking when declarer led the queen of clubs. This was just a matter of playing too quickly. At this point it should have been quite clear what declarer's plan was and the importance of forging an entry to East's hand.

Leading the fourth round of clubs. While shifting to the king of hearts was probably the percentage play, on this hand it would have conceded the contract so West did well to avoid that. Leading a diamond, the suit where dummy has winners and partner is going to be forced to ruff in front of declarer feels intuitively wrong, and it usually is. On this hand it should be clear that the club play will have the same effect once dummy ruffs with the stiff trump. Once that is seen, it becomes clear that while both plays are distasteful the diamond is less distasteful because the safe club exit is retained.

Not unblocking the king of hearts. This was giving up on defeating the contract when there was still a chance. It wouldn't have worked on this hand, but if East had the 9 it would have succeeded. One must keep digging in no matter how bad things look, and never concede when there is a chance of success.

While there are plenty of advantages to suit-preference at trick 1, I have found the greatest advantage to be the optional lead from AK depending on whether you believe you want an attitudeor a suit-preference signal. You will be holding the lead, so it is important to get the signal you want. On this hand it wasn't totally obvious which signal would be more important. East was likely to be 4-4 in the majors, so knowledge about East's doubleton diamond might be the key to the hand. On other deals it is very clear what information you are after, and you can get it.

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