Join Bridge Winners
Avoid the Guess
(Page of 11)

In the finals of the open trials, you have an interesting choice of games decision to make.

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

North
K9
Q864
AK94
Q65
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
?

1NT would be semi-forcing -- partner can pass with a balanced minimum.

2 of a minor is natural, game-forcing, expected to be 4+ cards

2NT would be a spade raise.

Your call?

North
K9
Q864
AK94
Q65
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
?

There doesn't appear to be any reason to be tricky here. The normal 2 response seems fine. If that guaranteed a 5-card suit then you would have to respond 2, but 2 can be a 4-card suit.

You respond 2. The bidding continues:

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

2: Shows at least 6 spades. 3 would show a semi-solid suit, not necessarily any extra strength.

Your call?

North
K9
Q864
AK94
Q65
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
?

You know that you have an 8-card spade fit. But that doesn't necessarily make 4 the right contract. You are in a game force and have plenty of room to probe for a superior contract if there is one.

First of all, might there be a slam? Suppose partner has a nice fitting hand with a singleton in one of the rounded suits. For example, AQJxxx x xx AKxx. That is a perfect hand with everything working which is nearly a 1 opening, yet slam still takes a 3-3 club split. This example hand indicates that slam isn't in the picture. It might be possible to construct a completely perfect hand which makes slam good, but you aren't going to able to determine if partner has that hand.

Does that mean it is right to just jump to 4? Not necessarily. Just because you have an 8-card major-suit fit doesn't mean you belong in 4 of the major. 3NT could easily be better. For 4 to be meaningfully superior it is necessary for spades to take 2 more tricks than notrump (10 vs. 8), while if both contracts take the same number of tricks (9 vs. 9) then 3NT is superior. This hand with the queens in the rounded suits might well take that same number of tricks in notrump. For example, picture partner with something like AQJxxx Jx Qx Jxx. The question how to best determine if partner has a hand like this.

One possiblity would be to bid 3. This would establish spades as trumps, while giving partner the opportunity to suggest 3NT as a final contract. The problem with this is that partner would need a full stopper in both hearts and clubs to bid 3NT, and 3NT could easily be right when partner doesn't have those stoppers.

A better idea is to bid 2NT. Partner won't know about the spade support, but that might not matter. Partner has heard you bid diamonds, so with 3-card diamond support he will bid 3. If partner has other extra distribution such as a 4-card club suit, he will show it. But if partner is balanced or is 6-3-1-3 he will bid 3NT, and that figures to be the best contract.

You bid 2NT. The bidding continues:

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

Your call?

North
K9
Q864
AK94
Q65
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
?

Partner has 3-card diamond support, so it looks like 4 will be better than 3NT. But 3NT could still be right. You might try 3, planning on passing if partner bids 3NT. Partner will be bidding 3NT only if he is 6-2-3-2 -- with a singleton he will certainly bid 4 since he won't know how strong your stopper is in his singleton. With the 6-2-3-2 shape he will tend to pick 4 if he has nothing in the rounded suits. So, the hand where partner will bid 3NT is a 6-2-3-2 hand with something in one or both of the rounded suits. On balance, 3NT probably figures to come out better if he has that hand. So the percentage action is to bid 3, planning on passing 3NT but bidding 4 over anything else.

It should be noted that at no point will these sequences be construed as showing slam interest. While partner may Q-bid something on the way to 4 if he has a decent hand, when you then bid 4 without having make a 4-level slam move of your own the auction is over.

You choose to bid 4, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Over you go to partner's seat to play it.

West leads the 7 (3rd and 5th leads).

North
K9
Q864
AK94
Q65
South
AJ10876
J
1086
AJ10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You cover with the 8 (why not?). East wins the ace, and returns the 3. Do you ruff this or take a discard?

North
K9
Q64
AK94
Q65
South
AJ10876
1086
AJ10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You have 5 spade tricks, 2 club tricks, and 2 diamond tricks for sure. If the club finesse is onside you will always have 10 winners, so while you will be taking the club finesse, you should plan your play on the assumption that the club finesse will lose.

It looks likely that the heart honors are split. East won't be underleading the king of hearts here, since he can't be sure that you won't have a break-even or better discard on the heart return. You know that East has a safe club return on the assumption that the king of clubs is offside. From the spots you have seen, it looks likely that the hearts are 4-4.

Discarding will set up dummy's queen of hearts, giving you yet another discard. But this doesn't help you at all. You will still be left with a potential minor-suit loser, so you would still need the club finesse if you fail to pick up the queen of trumps. What is happening is that you would essentially be discarding a winning club on the queen of hearts, so discarding now doesn't really increase your winner count. It is clearly better to ruff and retain more options.

You trump the heart return. West follows with the 2. What do you do now?

North
K9
Q6
AK94
Q65
South
AJ1087
1086
AJ10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

The straightforward approach is to draw trumps with a spade finesse. If you do this, it is clear to play East for the Q for several reasons. You pick up the suit when West has the stiff queen. You don't have to worry about being forced if you lose the spade finesse to West, but if you lose to East, a heart return could end your chances if the spades are 4-1. Most importantly, if East has queen-fourth of spades you might be able to survive via a trump coup.

Can you do better in the spade suit? Perhaps you can avoid the guess entirely. If you can score 6 spade tricks along with 2 clubs and 2 diamonds, that's 10 tricks. The idea is to take the losing club finesse, and then arrange to ruff 2 more hearts in your hand and cash your minor-suit winners. In the end position you will have AJ10 of spades and a losing diamond in your hand, and K9 doubleton of spades in dummy. You exit with a diamond, and the opponents may have to give you the last 3 tricks so you avoid the spade guess.

If you take this approach, what is the proper order? Best looks like crossing to dummy with the ace of diamonds and leading a club to the jack. If the club finesse wins, there will be no problems. If it loses, you will have the queen of clubs and the king of diamonds as entries for the two heart ruffs which will result in the desired ending.

Is there any danger that West will foil your plans by cleverly ducking the first round of clubs, thus depriving you of an entry for the needed heart ruffs? In theory, this is a danger. In practice, it isn't going to happen. While West should know your distribution, he can't know what your trump holding is, what your diamond holding is, or even if you have the potential to repeat the club finesse, since he doesn't know about the 10. If the jack of clubs holds, you can be confident that the king is onside.

So, which is the percentage play? The spade finesse is basically 50%, plus some small extra chances of not losing a diamond trick, which will happen when West has QJ of diamonds. The endplay needs the clubs to be 4-3 and the diamonds no worse than 4-2, which is more likely than usual since the hearts appear to be 4-4. The endplay also needs for East to not hold 4 diamonds for it to be a sure thing, as otherwise East will be able to lead the fourth round of diamonds and you will be back to the spade guess. If that happens, you will have a good count on the hand (West probably having started with 4 hearts, 2 diamonds, and at most 4 clubs, giving him at least 3 spades), so you will have a better than even chance of guessing the spades. It looks like going for the end-play is better.

You choose to lead a spade to the king and then the 9. Both opponents follow small to the first round, and East follows small on the second. Do you overtake or not?

North
9
Q6
AK94
Q65
South
AJ108
1086
AJ10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

If the spade finesse is off, it won't matter. If it is on, you want to be in dummy so you can take the club finesse immediately. This may be important if the spades are 4-1, since you will need all your entries to ruff hearts for an eventual trump coup.

You play small. West also plays small. What do you do now?

North
Q6
AK94
Q65
South
AJ10
1086
AJ10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

The contract is now assured, but you want to take as many overtricks as possible. This means taking the club finesse, and then hoping to avoid a diamond loser via a double finesse or a squeeze.

In theory taking the club finesse now could risk the contract if East has a singleton club. In practice, this can't be the case. East would definitely have returned a club if he had a singleton club. Your best play is a club to the jack. You want to keep hearts in dummy for squeeze potential.

You choose the super-safe play of ruffing a heart to your hand. Both opponents follow small, as expected. You cash the A, West discarding the 2. What do you discard from dummy?

North
Q
AK94
Q65
South
AJ
1086
AJ10
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

The squeeze potential on West is still there if the king of clubs is onside. You need to keep the queen of hearts in dummy. Either a small club or a small diamond can easily be spared. The plan is to cross to a high diamond and run the Q. If the club finesse wins, West will be squeezed if he has QJ of diamonds or any 4 diamonds.

You choose to discard the Q. Now all that is left is the double diamond finesse. You lead the 10, covered. The club finesse wins, and both diamond honors are onside, so you make 12 tricks. The full hand is:

West
42
K972
QJ73
982
North
K9
Q864
AK94
Q65
East
Q53
A1053
52
K743
South
AJ10876
J
1086
AJ10
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
8
A
J
2
0
1
3
6
2
4
3
1
1
7
2
K
3
1
2
1
9
5
8
4
1
3
1
6
5
10
9
3
4
1
A
2
Q
Q
3
5
1
10
7

Do you agree with East's heart continuation at trick 2?

West
42
K972
QJ73
982
North
K9
Q864
AK94
Q65
East
Q53
A1053
52
K743
South
AJ10876
J
1086
AJ10
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
8
A
J
2
0
1
3
6
2
4
3
1
1
7
2
K
3
1
2
1
9
5
8
4
1
3
1
6
5
10
9
3
4
1
A
2
Q
Q
3
5
1
10
7

From the bidding and opening lead East can place declarer with exactly 6-1-3-3 distribution. It looks unlikely that the contract can be defeated looking at that dummy and East's hand. But with some effort it might be possible to construct a layout where the defense has a chance.

One possibility is to take 3 club tricks. That would give declarer AJ10xxx J QJx xxx. Even against a pair who opens light, that is too light for a second-seat opening bid. Declarer has to have the ace of clubs. But there still might be a chance.

The club suit is key. West doesn't have the ace, but he might hold J9x. That means that declarer could have 2 club losers. He might have a spade loser if West has jack-doubleton or if declarer misguesses the spades. There is danger of a discard on dummy's diamonds. Declarer figures to have the queen for his opening bid, but West might have J10xx. That would make declarer's hand A10xxxx J Qxx A10x. That is a full opening bid, but so far declarer has only 9 tricks.

The problem with the heart return is that it allows declarer to discard a club, setting up the Q for declarer's tenth trick. A club return clearly doesn't work. The choice is between a diamond and a spade.

A diamond return is temporarily safe, since it doesn't necessarily give away a trick in the suit. However, when declarer leads trumps and gives the defense a trump trick, whichever defender (probably West) wins the trick will not be able to avoid giving declarer his tenth trick.

A better shot is a trump. Partner could have J10 doubleton. Or partner might have 10-doubleton, and declarer might decide not to finesse the second round -- reasonable since East might not be willing to lead away from the queen of trumps and if West has Q10x of trumps any lead from West will be helpful. This will give the defense a later diamond exit, and if declarer misguesses everything he could go down.

Do you agree with the heart opening lead?

West
42
K972
QJ73
982
North
K9
Q864
AK94
Q65
East
Q53
A1053
52
K743
South
AJ10876
J
1086
AJ10
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
8
A
J
2
0
1
3
6
2
4
3
1
1
7
2
K
3
1
2
1
9
5
8
4
1
3
1
6
5
10
9
3
4
1
A
2
Q
Q
3
5
1
10
7

Any time you lead away from an honor you are risking blowing a trick in the suit. The reason for an aggressive lead from an honor is that tricks in the suit might run away if you don't cash or establish tricks in the suit quickly.

On this deal, South can be assumed to have 6 spades and 3 diamonds. The diamond suit doesn't represent a major threat for discards, since West has that suit under control. The club suit, however, poses a serious threat. South might have 3 hearts and a singleton club, and if West doesn't lead a heart, losing hearts might go on the clubs. This danger appears to outweigh the danger of the heart lead blowing a trick, so the aggressive heart lead looks right.

How much effort should one put into overtricks? Obviously they aren't important in the big scheme of things, but every IMP counts. One shouldn't take a serious risk of the contract in order to get an overtrick, but when there is virtually no risk, it is worth going after every overtrick you can get.

This deal is another example of the value of having the 2 of a major rebid showing a 6-card suit in a 2-over-1 auction. On this deal it wouldn't make any difference. The first 5 bids would be the same. North would then bid 3, as he should have done here, and South will bid 4. The difference would be when South has the 6-2-3-2 hand where 3NT is better. If South hasn't already shown a 6-card spade suit he is pretty much forced to bid 4 once he gets delayed support, since he can't know North is interested in 3NT even if there is a 6-2 spade fit. But when South has already shown his 6-card suit, he is free to make the decision to play 3NT if he has the appropriate hand.

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