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In the fifth session of the Cavendish pairs, you have the option of making a light opening bid.

Both vul, South deals. As South, you hold:

South
AKQ10
J832
10876
4
W
N
E
S
?

If you open a Precision 1, partner will initially assume you have 11-13 balanced until proven otherwise. If he responds 1 of a major, you can raise to 3 of the major which shows 4-card support, shortness somewhere (not diamonds since the 1 opening promises at least 2 diamonds), and a minimal opening bid (with the same hand but a non-minmum you would jump in the other major).

Your choice?

South
AKQ10
J832
10876
4
W
N
E
S
?

Even when you open light, you have to draw the line somewhere. The question is whether or not this hand crosses the line.

You are only a jack away from your expected balanced minimum, so partner won't be misled too much if you open. If you get a 1 of a major response, the most likely response, you have a descriptive call available. Nothing partner can do will leave you in an awkward situation. You have a couple of tens, and your values are concentrated rather than scattered. All things considered, it looks like the hand is barely on the plus side of that line.

You open 1. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
?

2 is 100% game forcing. With a 4-card major and longer clubs partner may choose to respond either 1 of the major or 2 depending on which he believes will work out better.

With 5+ diamonds you are expected to rebid your diamonds even if you have a major. Thus, a 2 of a major rebid by you simply shows a 4-card major and denies 5 diamonds. It does not say anything more about your distribution. You may choose to bypass a major and rebid 2NT if that seems appropriate. With both majors partner would be expecting you to bid 2.

Your call?

South
AKQ10
J832
10876
4
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
?

It is true that your spades are much better than your hearts, and that you would rather partner be declarer in 3NT if that is the final contract. However, if you bid 2 partner will never expect you to have 4 hearts. A subsequent 3 bid by you will be interpreted as a fragment type of bid rather than a real suit. By contrast, if you bid 2 and partner has 4 spades he can bid 2 naturally and you can raise. Partner may have 4 hearts for his 2 call, and you can't afford to miss a 4-4 heart fit. Partner is in control. You must make the bids partner will be expecting you to make and let him guide the way.

You choose to bid 2. The bidding continues:

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

Your call?

South
AKQ10
J832
10876
4
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

You don't have any real choice but to bid 3NT. If you bid 3, partner won't interpret it as a 4-card suit. He will think you have only a partial stopper in hearts, so if he has two small hearts you won't get to 3NT. You have to bite the bullet and hope that 3NT is reasonable.

You bid 3NT. That concludes the auction.

W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

West leads the 5.

North
4
1064
AQ9
AQ7653
South
AKQ10
J832
10876
4
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

East wins the K. He continues with the Q, West playing the 7. East now shifts to the 7. Do you finesse or not?

North
4
10
AQ9
AQ7653
South
AKQ10
J8
10876
4
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

It is clear that East has KQ doubleton of hearts. Your chances aren't good. You will have to bring in the club suit, since without that you can't come close to 9 tricks. You will need to find the king of clubs onside. A 3-3 club split would be nice. You won't be able to make if West has 4 clubs, since he will be getting in to cash his A so the defense will get 2 clubs and 3 hearts. You might have a chance if East has 4 clubs.

If you choose to go up with the A, how will you continue?

North
4
10
AQ9
AQ7653
South
AKQ10
J8
10876
4
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You can't afford to cash more than one high spade without risk. If you do, you may find East with jack-fifth of spades, and you will have set up 2 spade tricks for him. If this is the case you will go down even if the clubs are 3-3 with the king onside, since the defense can decide which defender will win the third round of clubs.

If you cash only one more high spade, you will definitely need to find the clubs 3-3 with the king onside to get up to 9 tricks. Even this might not be enough. Now the defense will arrange for West to win the third round of clubs. He will cash his ace of hearts and shift to a diamond. Since you have only 8 tricks (5 clubs, 2 spades, and 1 diamond) you will need the K onside.

Which is better? It is probably better to cash the spades and pay off to East having jack-fifth. The reason is that if the spades are 5-3 there is a 3/8 probability that West has jack-third, in which case you will be in much better shape.

If you choose to take the spade finesse and it wins, how will you continue?

North
4
10
AQ9
AQ7653
South
AKQ10
J8
10876
4
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Clearly you will cash two more spades discarding a heart and a diamond. The question is whether or not you can afford to cash the last spade.

If you do cash the last spade, you will be discarding a club from dummy. If the spades are 5-3 with East having 5 spades you will then need the clubs 3-3 with the king onside, but you won't need anything else. Whichever defender wins the third round of clubs will be able to cash one winner, but the Q goes on that and dummy will be good. If East has 4 clubs he will be able to cash his good spade, but if that is the case you never had a chance, since if you played on clubs East would be able to set up his long spade before the clubs are established. Thus, cashing the fourth spade can't cost except in the freak variation where West has 5-4-1-3 distribution, which is unlikely.

Cashing the fourth spade can show a profit when the spades are 4-4. Now when you play clubs, you will make when East has 4 clubs and the K is onside. East will be end-played into leading up to the Q. Therefore, if the spade finesse wins you should cash all the spades before taking the club finesse.

So, back to the big question. Do you finesse or not?

North
4
10
AQ9
AQ7653
South
AKQ10
J8
10876
4
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

It is clear from the previous analysis that your best bet to make 3NT is to take the spade finesse. Refusing the finesse needs the K onside as well as the clubs 3-3 unless the J happens to fall tripleton and you play for it by taking the top spades. But if you take the top spades and East has jack-fifth, you will be down regardless of how favorable the rest of the hand is. Finding the J onside is as likely as finding the K onside, and as seen you might be able to survive a 4-2 club split if the spades are 4-4. While it goes against the grain to take such a committal play, as in poker sometimes it is necessary to go all-in.

You choose to go up A and cash only 1 more spade, pitching a heart. You then take a successful club finesse, cash the A, and continue clubs. This does not succeed. The clubs are 4-2 with East having 4 clubs. East wins the third round of clubs, cashes the last club, and dumps you back on the board with a diamond. You get your clubs, but must concede the last trick for down 1. The full hand is:

West
8652
A975
KJ4
K10
North
4
1064
AQ9
AQ7653
East
J973
KQ
532
J982
South
AKQ10
J832
10876
4
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
4
K
2
2
0
1
Q
3
7
6
2
0
2
7
A
2
4
3
1
2
K
5
10
7
3
2
2
4
10
Q
2
1
3
2
A
8
6
K
1
4
2
3
9
7
6
2
4
3
J
8
8
5
2
4
4
2
9

Finessing the spade and cashing 4 rounds of spades would have succeeded. East would be forced to give you a diamond trick. With East being 4-4 in the black suits, this line of play would work regardless of the location of the K.

While it seems clear that finessing the 10 is the best play for the contract, if the finesse loses the contract will probably go down considerably more than if declarer doesn't take the spade finesse. Is the cost of the extra vulnerable undertricks large enough to justify taking the inferior line of play for the contract?

West
8652
A975
KJ4
K10
North
4
1064
AQ9
AQ7653
East
J973
KQ
532
J982
South
AKQ10
J832
10876
4
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
4
K
2
2
0
1
Q
3
7
6
2
0
2
7
A
2
4
3
1
2
K
5
10
7
3
2
2
4
10
Q
2
1
3
2
A
8
6
K
1
4
2
3
9
7
6
2
4
3
J
8
8
5
2
4
4
2
9


If the spade finesse loses, South never sees his hand. The defense can take 1 spade trick and 3 heart tricks as well as some minor-suit tricks. The defense will have to break a minor, but West can choose which minor he wishes to lead. The result will probably be down 3.

If declarer doesn't take the spade finesse he probably won't make, but the result won't be too bad. Down 1 looks pretty likely. So, as a rough estimate we can estimate -300 when the spade finesse is taken and loses, vs. -100 when the spade finesse is not taken or it is taken and wins but the contract doesn't make. Since 3NT probably won't make anyway, perhaps it is worth taking the inferior line in order to protect against the larger set.

If the contract figures to be 3NT at other tables, there is a lot to be said for avoiding the big set. The difference between down 1 and down 3 is 200 points, or 5 IMPs, while the difference between making and down 1 is 12 IMPs. Even if the spade finesse wins, 3NT is an underdog, and 3NT might make without taking the finesse. It is quite possible that it is right to lay 12 to 5 odds and play to avoid the big set.

Does 3NT figure to be the contract at other tables? Almost every other South player will not consider South's hand worth an opening bid. North will open 1, and rebid 2 over South's response. Is South worth a move over this? Probably not. And even if South does venture 2NT, North is likely to go back to 3 knowing that his partner doesn't have an opening bid. 2 is almost certain to make, and 3 is a good favorite. Thus, the likely N-S result at other tables is +90 or +110. How does this change the IMP odds?

If South goes down 1 in 3NT, he loses 5 IMPs vs. the club partials. If South goes down 3, he loses 9 IMPs. However, if 3NT makes, South wins 10 IMPs. Therefore, by taking the best chance to make while risking a bigger set, South is risking only 4 IMPs (9 IMPs vs. 5 IMPs) to gain 15 IMPs (a 10 IMP win vs. a 5 IMP loss). Those are pretty good odds. Keep in mind that the finesse will only cost those 4 IMPs when it loses, which is roughly half the time. Thus, the IMP odds appear to say that is right to go all-in when compared with the likely contract at other tables.

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