Join Bridge Winners
Automatic Duck
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In the fourth session of the Cavendish pairs, you have the opportunity to stick in a light overcall.

East
K109
J98
95
AK753
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
?

Your call?

 

East
K109
J98
95
AK753
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
?

We have all been taught the dangers of overcalling at the 2-level on a 5-card suit. You may go for a number when the opponents don't have anything. Here your shape is 5-3-3-2, the worst shape. Partner probably has 3 or 4 hearts (not 5 since he didn't overcall, not 2 since the opponents haven't bid hearts), and that doesn't fit your hand well. You don't have intermediates in your suit. The overcall doesn't consume much space. You are probably outgunned, since partner wasn't able to act over the opening bid and your suit is lower ranking than theirs.

Even with all these negatives, overcalling looks right. The favorable vulnerability makes it  unlikely that you will go for a number.  Even if the opponents have you they will be reluctant to double, since the penalty might not be sufficient compensation for their vulnerable game. Also most pairs play support doubles, so South can't double for penalties. Partner passed over the opening bid, so he is unlikely to have the strength to bury you. Most important, if partner is on lead vs. a diamond or a notrump contract, which is quite likely, you much prefer a club lead to a heart lead. On balance, the gains from the overcall look to be enough to make it worthwhile.

You overcall 2. The bidding concludes:

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

Partner leads the 6.

North
87643
Q107
Q7
J108
East
K109
J98
95
AK753
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2NT
P
P
P

The J is played from dummy. How do you defend?

 

North
87643
Q107
Q7
J108
East
K109
J98
95
AK753
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2NT
P
P
P

It looks automatic to duck this trick. If partner has a doubleton club, which is likely, you will need to duck in order to retain an entry to run your clubs unless partner happens to have the A.

There is one problem with this automatic duck. You are defending 2NT, not 3NT. If partner gets in and leads another club, that will be only 5 tricks for your side. Partner will need 2 entries. It is possible that he has them. There are 24 HCP you can't see, and partner probably has 6 or 7 of them. Still, this might not be the best way to defeat the contract.

If you aren't running the club suit, the most promising source of tricks is clearly spades. Declarer is unlikely to have three spades given his failure to support double, and he might have a singleton. If it is a singleton queen or jack, it will be necessary for you to lead the K rather than a small spade in order to untangle the suit. If it is a singleton A, the spade shift will establish 3 spade tricks in which case you will only need to find partner with a red-suit winner and declarer unable to take 8 tricks before this winner is dislodged.

If you aren't ducking the club, might it be a good idea to cash both club tricks before shifting to the spade?

North
87643
Q107
Q7
J108
East
K109
J98
95
AK753
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2NT
P
P
P


Cashing both club tricks will only be necessary if partner has led a singleton club and you don't have an entry. If declarer doesn't have a singleton spade, the spade shift isn't going to defeat the contract. If declarer does have a singleton spade, you won't need to cash the second club immediately since you will have an entry in the spade suit. Cashing the second club may cost if it sets up enough tricks for declarer. For example, suppose declarer holds something like A Kxx AKJxx Q9xx. Declarer has 5 diamond tricks and a spade off the top, so you must shift to the spade before cashing the second club. It is true that if you shift to the king of spades and this is partner's hand, partner will have to defend quite well. When he gets in with his ace of hearts, he will have to underlead his QJ of spades. This won't be easy, but he should have enough information to work this out.

So, the choices are to duck this trick or to win and shift to the K. Which should it be?

 

North
87643
Q107
Q7
J108
East
K109
J98
95
AK753
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2NT
P
P
P

This isn't clear. Partner could have a card in both red suits. Declarer might hold something like AQ Axxx AJ10x Qxx, in which case ducking the opening lead is necessary to defeat the contract. However, if declarer has a 5-card diamond suit, which is likely, he will probably have enough tricks without needing to develop heart tricks. The K shift will succeed if declarer has any spade singleton and the hand can be defeated. It is a close decision, but it looks like the odds favor the spade shift.

You choose to duck. It is not the winning decision. The full hand is:

West
AQ52
6543
J106
64
North
87643
Q107
Q7
J108
East
K109
J98
95
AK753
South
J
AK2
AK8432
Q92
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2NT
P
P
P
D
2NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
J
3
2
1
1
0
1


Declarer has 10 tricks. Winning the first trick and shifting to the K would have defeated the contract. Obviously when the K holds you would cash your second club trick before continuing spades in case partner had a singleton club.

What do you think about South's 2NT call?

West
AQ52
6543
J106
64
North
87643
Q107
Q7
J108
East
K109
J98
95
AK753
South
J
AK2
AK8432
Q92
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
2
2NT
P
P
P
D
2NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
J
3
2
1
1
0
1

It doesn't look right. While this time you didn't have a 6-card club suit, usually you will. If the diamonds run, he can expect to make 3NT with 6 diamonds, 2 hearts, and 1 club. If the diamonds don't run, 2NT doesn't figure to make. Stopping on a dime in 2NT is seldom right, and it is less likely to be right when you have a long suit. South should take his chances and bid 3NT.

It is interesting to note that vs. 3NT the automatic duck of the club would be the logical defense. Now all that is needed is for West to hold one entry with his hoped-for doubleton club. The duck would not have been successful on this hand. This is a good illustration why South should have bid 3NT instead of 2NT. 3NT would surely have made, while 2NT could have reasonably been defeated.

The overcall was effective. Without the overcall West certainly would have led a heart against the likely 2NT or 3NT contract. This is a good illustration of the importance of bidding where you live when there is only one lead you can stand. If East's K were the K, now East can stand a heart lead, so there would be less argument for the overcall.

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