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Avoiding Promotion
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In the fifth segment of a trials match, you face an interesting competitive decision.  As South, you hold: 

South
KQ9843
J4
AK
Q86
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
?
  

1NT: Semi-forcing

Available to you are:

Dbl: Shows exactly a doubleton heart and interest in competing.

2: Normal, 6-card spade suit

2NT: Relay to 3, showing a weak 3 of a minor call. Immediate 3 of a minor would be a 5-5 maximum (maximum within the context of the limited 1 opening).

3: Maximum, again within the context of the limited 1 opening.

Your choice?




South
KQ9843
J4
AK
Q86
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
?


Even though you have a maximum in point count, it clearly can't be right to bid 3. The hand is way to junky for that.

2 looks like the automatic action. But what about that 2-card double? Let's see how it would work out. Note that bidding 2 contracts for 16 total tricks (the 8 tricks you contract for plus the 8 the opponents have contracted for). The law of total tricks indicates that if the combined trump lengths add up to 16 it is almost certainly right to declare. If they add up to 15, it is probably a break-even decision. If they add up to 14, it is almost certainly right to defend.

Suppose partner has 4 or more hearts. He can be assumed to have fewer than 3 spades since he didn't raise, and if he happens to have 3 spades he will go back to 2 in any event. If he has 4 hearts and 2 spades the trick total is 15. He will pass. You have extra strength, and with your extra strength and his trump length you can expect to defeat 2, quite possibly 2 tricks. If he has fewer than 2 spades or more than 4 hearts, defending 2 doubled will almost certainly be right.

Suppose partner has fewer than 4 hearts. He will not pass, since he doesn't want to be defending at the 2-level when the opponents have 8 trumps. If he has a doubleton spade he will take a preference to 2, which is fine. Otherwise, he will have at least 9 cards in the minors. If he has a 6-card minor he will bid it, which will be fine. Otherwise he will bid 2NT, takeout, and you will bid 3, perhaps finding a 5-card club suit in his hand. In the worst case scenario his shape will be 1-3-5-4 and you will be stuck in a 7-card fit at the 3-level, but that will happen only if he has this specific shape. If he has any other shape you will find at least an 8-card fit, which will presumably be preferable to defending 2.

The above analysis shows that double figures to be better than 2. It keeps all options open, including defending 2 doubled, while 2 pretty much closes out other options.

You choose to bid 2, which ends the auction.

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


West leads the 7 (3rd and fifth leads, high from doubleton)

North
102
K1063
Q98
K1094
South
KQ9843
J4
AK
Q86
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
2
P
P
P
   


You play low from dummy, and East wins the queen. Which heart do you play?




North
102
K1063
Q98
K1094
South
KQ9843
J4
AK
Q86
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
2
P
P
P
 


You don't need extra heart tricks. You must falsecard with the jack to keep East in the dark about who has the doubleton.

You carelessly play the 4 of hearts. East cashes the ace of hearts, West discarding the 6 of diamonds. East continues with the 5 of hearts. What do you play?




North
102
K10
Q98
K1094
South
KQ9843
AK
Q86
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
2
P
P
P
 


You have lost 2 heart tricks and have a definite club loser. There is a possibility that you will not be able to get to dummy and will have to lose a second club trick. There is also the danger of losing as many as 3 trump tricks via trump promotions.

You can solve the club problem by discarding a club right now and letting West ruff small. However, you would be in grave danger of losing 3 trump tricks. East probably has at least one of the black aces, so he will be able to lead another heart through. You are better off ruffing with a middle spade spot and hoping you can get to dummy to get rid of a losing club. After trumps are drawn you can unblock the diamonds and lead out the queen of clubs. If they duck the ace you will have a guess on the next round, but you should have a good chance to get it right.

You actually prefer to be overruffed if West does have the jack of spades. You can afford to lose 2 trump tricks. It is probably best to ruff with the 9 of spades, as it will be more difficult for West to resist overruffing this.

You choose to ruff with the 8 of spades. West discards another diamond. Now what?



North
102
K
Q98
K1094
South
KQ943
AK
Q86
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
2
P
P
P
 

You must play on trumps. Leading low to the 10 is pretty scary. If East has the jack of spades he puts another heart through, and now the 7 of spades probably will set up for the opponents. While you can't be sure, there is a fairly good chance that East has the jack of spades since West didn't overruff with it.

Leading a spade honor is better. That will leave you with the boss trump when they take the ace. Even if East has the ace of spades and leads a heart through, you are probably okay. You can ruff with the 9 of spades, and West's overruff won't hurt you. If West doesn't overruff, you can simply lead the queen of spades, losing only 2 spade tricks unless the spades are 4-1.

It is true that if East has the singleton ace of spades leading a low spade is better. It is also better if East has a singleton small spade. When West has AJ7x of spades and East has the ace of clubs, West will get his 7 of spades with the trump promotion if you lead the king. However, leading the king works against the 3-2 splits, and that seems more likely.

You choose to lead a small spade to the 10. East wins the jack, and leads a heart. Now what do you do?




North
2
K
Q98
K1094
South
KQ94
AK
Q86
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
2
P
P
P
 



You can no longer make the hand unless West is down to a singleton ace of spades. If you ruff high, the defense will always come to 2 more trump tricks. You might as well discard your club loser and hope for the best.

You discard a club. West ruffs small, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
A765
7
J6432
A53
North
102
K1063
Q98
K1094
East
J
AQ9852
1075
J72
South
KQ9843
J4
AK
Q86
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
3
Q
4
2
0
1
A
J
6
6
2
0
2
5
8
2
10
3
1
2
3
5
10
J
2
1
3
2
6
6
K
0
1
4
5


As can be seen, leading a high spade would have worked considerably better.

What do you think of East's overcall?





West
A765
7
J6432
A53
North
102
K1063
Q98
K1094
East
J
AQ9852
1075
J72
South
KQ9843
J4
AK
Q86
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
7
3
Q
4
2
0
1
A
J
6
6
2
0
2
5
8
2
10
3
1
2
3
5
10
J
2
1
3
2
6
6
K
0
1
4
5
 


It is light, that's for sure. There is some danger that West might bury East, but West did pass over 1 and North did respond, factors which cut down on the chance that West has a big hand. The 2 call shuts out South's potential 2 of a minor rebid, and gets West off to the right lead vs. a spade contract. It could go for a number, but being non-vulnerable cuts down both the chances of being doubled and the amount of damage if doubled. On balance, the overcall looks like a winner.

It is worth noting how effective the 2-card double would have been. North would have passed holding K10xx of hearts. Even with dummy hitting with 2 aces, 2 appears to be down 2, +300, when 2 wasn't cold. This was with North having 10-doubleton in spades. Imagine the swing if North had a small singleton spade with otherwise the same sort of hand.

The nice thing about the 2-card double is that it is so well defined. Many pairs play the double as takeout or "cards", which makes it difficult for partner to pass without a big trump stack. When the double is known to show exactly 2 trumps, partner can make a more intelligent decision. Note that when both partners have 3 of the enemy suit they will both pass. It is usually right to sell out undoubled at the 2-level when 3-3 in their trump suit, since both your offensive and your defensive potential are diminished.

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