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Battlefield Decision
(Page of 8)

You are playing against the Nickell team in the quarter-finals of the Rosenblum. Your team trails by 31 IMPs after the first quarter. In the second quarter you play against Meckstroth-Rodwell. Things are going reasonably well at your table. With 4 boards to go, you estimate you have a +15 card. Then this hand comes along:

None vul, East deals. As North, you hold:


North
K84
Q93
QJ10
AK109
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
?


2 10-15 points, 6+ clubs, may have 4 or even 5-card major
2 Artificial inquiry
2 No major, some shortness, any strength
2N Artificial Inquiry
3 Non-minimum, heart shortness

Partner will probably consider a decent 3-1-3-6 13-count a non-minimum. With more distribution, he might consider a hand with fewer HCP a non-minimum.

If you now bid 3NT (which of course you won't) or 5, that will end the auction. 4 would be RKC for clubs. 4 would be a natural force, showing slam interest. These are the only bids which would make sense with your hand.

Should you choose 4, then 4 by partner would be RKC and 5 would be a sign-off. Other 4-level calls would be Q-bids, with 4NT substituting for a diamond Q-bid. In addition, should one of you Q-bid 4, a 4NT call by the partner would be a last train call -- saying nothing about diamonds, just showing a hand which is too strong to sign off but too weak to drive to slam. Once the Q-bidding starts, there is no RKC.

Should you choose 4 RKC, partner's responses are standard responses (0 or 3, 1 or 4, 2 without the queen of trumps, 2 with the queen of trumps). After these responses, you may ask for the queen of trumps (if not known from the response) or you may ask for specific kings. If you ask for the queen of trumps and he has it, he shows specific kings as well. In addition, if partner happens to have a void and you will know what the void is (which you would here), he can show the void and number of keycards with bids starting at 5. Same structure -- 5 shows 0 or 3 with known void, 5 1 or 4 known void, etc. After that, you may ask for the queen of trumps (if not known) or for number of kings.

If you are bidding 4 or 4, it is important that you plan your future bids depending on partner's responses. You can't make one bid at a time on slam auctions. It is vital to plan ahead and cover as many contingencies as possible.

So what approach do you take, and if necessary what are your future plans?





North
K84
Q93
QJ10
AK109
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
?


It is clear that your hand is too strong to sign off at 5. Something like Ax, x, AKxx, Qxxxxx is sufficient to make slam a claim. You must be worth at least a move, if not a slam drive.

If you choose 4 RKC, your plan is clear. If partner has 1 keycard, you sign off at 5. If partner has 2 keycards, you bid the slam (if you aren't willing to bid slam when missing only 1 keycard, you shouldn't be bidding RKC). If partner has 3 keycards (he can't possibly have 0 and have his previous bids), you still have to just bid 6 since he can't have the king of diamonds in addition. The only really interesting situation occurs if partner shows 2 keycards and a heart void. You then find out how many kings he has, and if he has one (which must be the king of diamonds), you can bid the grand and hope that his shape is 3-0-4-6 (in which case you have a discard for your losing spade) rather than 3-0-3-7. Remember, he denied a major when he bid 2, so he isn't 4-0-3-6.

Are you worth bidding RKC? That will keep you out of slam if you are off 2 aces. But it may get you to some bad slams. For example, suppose he holds Axx, x, AKx, QJxxxx. That is certainly a non-minimum, yet slam has virtually no play. Add in the jack of spades, and you are basically on a finesse. Add in the queen of spades (taking something out of the club suit to get him down to 15), and slam is a claim. AQx, A, xxx, QJxxxx is another example of a no-play slam consistent with his bidding. Of course he might be 2-1-4-6 in which case slam may be cold -- Ax, x, AKxx, QJxxxx for example. Or he might have a heart void or a seventh club, in which case he needs less for slam.

These examples indicate that driving to slam via RKC may be too aggressive. It is better to bid 4 and bring partner into the picture. But what will your follow-up plans be?

If partner bids 4 RKC you don't have to worry about a follow-up. He just took control. If he bids 5, his weakest action, clearly you will pass. If he bids 4NT, diamond Q-bid, you must sign off at 5. He bypassed both 4 and 4, so you are likely off both major-suit aces.

If he bids 4, he probably has a stiff small heart. As we have seen, there may still be a slam. You come back with 4NT, last train, and leave it to him. With Axx, x, AKx, QJxxxx hopefully he will quit, but with Ax, x, AKxx, QJxxxx he should recognize that his extra distribution may make the difference and bid the slam.

If he bids 4, he probably has the stiff ace of hearts (maybe a void). You can certainly come back with 4. But that is all you are worth. If he last trains with 4NT, you should be done. A typical hand for him might be. A?x, A, Kxx, QJxxxx. If ? is the queen (with no jack of clubs to get him down to 15 HCP), he should know that he has a full maximum once you bid 4 and he should bid the slam. If ? is the jack, he has a close decision whether or not to bid the slam over 4, and slam is about 50-50. If ? is a small card he will definitely not bid the slam himself. At most he will bid 4NT, and the bad slam will be avoided. If he has extra shape such as Ax, A, Kxxx, QJxxxx he should recognize that the shape might make the difference and bid the slam. In fact, he did have the example 3-1-3-6 hand where ? was the jack, so things got interesting.

You choose to bid 4. The bidding concludes:


North
K84
Q93
QJ10
AK109
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P


4D: RKC for clubs

5C: 2 keycards and queen of clubs

Since being dummy is no fun, you get to switch over to declarer's seat and try to make the hand.

West leads the 6.


North
K84
Q93
QJ10
AK109
South
AJ3
A
K95
QJ8652
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P


What are your thoughts?



North
K84
Q93
QJ10
AK109
South
AJ3
A
K95
QJ8652
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P



It looks like the contract will depend on the spade finesse. There is the outside chance that the king of hearts is doubleton, and you will certainly ruff a heart before taking the spade finesse just in case. There is also some possibility of a heart-spade squeeze, although you may have to guess to play for that rather than the simple spade finesse.

At any rate, it can't be wrong to draw trumps and knock out the ace of diamonds, in order to try to get the lay of the land. You have plenty of entries.

You win the opening lead, cash a couple of high clubs (West discarding a heart on the second club), and lead the queen of diamonds. East takes the ace, and leads back a heart. What do you do?




North
K84
Q9
J10
109
South
AJ3
K9
QJ86
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P


These guys may be tricky, but they aren't trying to give away the contract. East doesn't know that you have the jack of spades. From his point of view, leading away from the king of hearts might be the only way to let you make the contract. West is now very likely to have the king of hearts. At any rate, since you do have the jack of spades it has to be right to ruff.

You ruff, and West follows small. Now what is the game plan. If you are coming down to an end position, what will it be, and what kind of information will you have about the enemy hands?



North
K84
Q
J10
109
South
AJ3
K9
QJ8
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P


Since you have shown a singleton heart, you won't be able to put too much stock into the honesty of the opening lead. However, getting a count of the hand won't be difficult. The plan will be to run all your minor-suit winners, coming down to 3 spades in your hand, and king-doubleton of spades and the queen of hearts in dummy.

If East has the king of hearts (which you don't think is the case), usually nothing will matter. He will have to keep it, so if he has the queen of spades it will pop up on the second round of spades. If West has the queen of spades along with at least 2 other spades, you are dead. However, there is one other possibility when East has the king of hearts. He might have started with 5 small spades and the king of hearts, and thus be forced to discard 3 spades. If that happens and the queen of spades doesn't appear when you lead the second spade from dummy, you will have to decide if he started with 5 small spades and the king of hearts or with queen-sixth of spades and West having the king of hearts. You should play him for 5 small spades, since if he has queen-sixth that would give West a singleton spade. Since West didn't have the ace of diamonds, if he had a singleton spade he surely would have led it trying for a ruff.

If West has the king of hearts, it is more interesting. He will have to hold it, of course, and the defenders do best to hang onto as many spades as they can. In the 3-card ending, there will be 5 spades and the king of hearts out against you. If West has discarded 2 spades, you will know that he started with 4 spades. If each opponent has discarded 1 spade, you will know that West started with 3 spades and East with 4 spades. If East has discarded 2 spades, you will know that he started with 5 spades to West's doubleton. You might pay attention to the appearance (or non-appearance) of the 10 and 9 of spades. Those might matter against a weaker pair, but these defenders are tough enough so they won't give anything away as far as the spot cards go.

You run all your trumps, discarding a spade from dummy, and you then run your diamonds reaching the planned 3-card ending. As expected, the opponents have played all their red cards except for the king of hearts. Each opponent has discarded one spade. West is known to have started with 3 small diamonds, and East with Axxx. East has shown up with 3 small hearts, and West 5 small hearts. When you lead a spade to the king, West plays the 9. When you lead a spade from dummy, East plays the 10. What do you do?



North
8
Q
South
AJ
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P




You know (or can assume) that West is down to a singleton spade and the king of hearts, since if he had the guarded queen of spades left he would be showing it to you and you would be on to the next hand. Both the 9 and 10 of spades have appeared, so one of the opponents falsecarded, but there is no clue as to which one. These guys don't give anything like that away when the position is obvious. It is simply a matter of percentages. West started with 3 spades, East with 4 spades. Therefore, East is a 4 to 3 favorite to have the queen of spades. Taking the finesse will cost an extra undertrick if wrong, but that is insignificant when a slam which might not even be bid at the other table is at stake.

There is, however, one other factor. The state of the match. You are playing against one of the best teams in the world, and you are probably behind 15 IMPs or so. Is it worth laying 4 to 3 odds for an opportunity to even up the match having been down 31 at the quarter? If the other table doesn't get to the slam then of course you would want to take the percentage play, but if you go for the squeeze you are only laying 4 to 3 odds which isn't exactly giving away the house. If the other table is in slam, it is certain they will take the finesse. Either they won't see the squeeze potential and will just take the finesse, or they will see the squeeze potential, get the same count that you get, and take the percentage play. Thus, by playing for the squeeze you are guaranteed a double-figure pickup if you are right, and a double-figure loss if you are wrong? If it were the first quarter of the match, then of course you would take the percentage play. If you were 31 IMPs behind going into the last quarter, then it would be clear to take the anti-percentage play and go for the squeeze since you will generate a much-needed pickup 3/7 of the time. But at the actual match situation, it isn't clear at all. Your decision may depend somewhat on how likely you think it is your counterparts at the other table will bid the slam.

I faced this decision at the table. I judged that their pair at the other table was about 75% to bid the slam (which they did), and that at the state of the match the best match-winning play was to take the anti-percentage play and go for the squeeze. Unfortunately, the full hand was:

West
965
K106542
874
4
North
K84
Q93
QJ10
AK109
East
Q1072
J87
A632
73
South
AJ3
A
K95
QJ8652
W
N
E
S
 
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
3
J
A
3
1
0
2
4
A
3
1
2
0
K
7
5
2
1
3
0
Q
A
5
8
2
3
1
8
6
4
9
3
4
1
Q
7
9
2
3
5
1
J
4
10
3
3
6
1
8
5
4
6
3
7
1
K
5
10
2
3
8
1
9
10
J
7
1
9
1
K
7
3
9
1
10
1
8
10
A
12


I have asked many good players what they think I should have done under the circumstances, and the results were divided almost 50-50 with many of the players polled quite strong on their opinion one way or the other. So, you can judge for yourself what the percentage play to win the match was.

Before leaving this hand, there are a couple of might-have-beens which are worthy of discussion.

Suppose the auction had been less revealing and I hadn't shown a stiff heart, and West had chosen to lead a diamond. Would that change anything?





West
965
K106542
874
4
North
K84
Q93
QJ10
AK109
East
Q1072
J87
A632
73
South
AJ3
A
K95
QJ8652
W
N
E
S
 
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
3
J
A
3
1
0
2
4
A
3
1
2
0
K
7
5
2
1
3
0
Q
A
5
8
2
3
1
8
6
4
9
3
4
1
Q
7
9
2
3
5
1
J
4
10
3
3
6
1
8
5
4
6
3
7
1
K
5
10
2
3
8
1
9
10
J
7
1
9
1
K
7
3
9
1
10
1
8
10
A
12


Yes, that would make a difference. In the end position I would know that West was 3-6-3-1, with 3 small diamonds and either three small spades or Qxx of spades. Since the bidding wouldn't indicate a threat of discards, it seems safe to assume that if West is choosing between a diamond and a spade lead, he would always choose the diamond lead if he had Qxx of spades. If he had 3 small spades, he would be equally likely to choose either suit. Thus, from a restricted choice point of view West would be a 2 to 1 favorite to have the queen of spades, outweighing the 4 to 3 odds from the spade distribution. The squeeze would become the percentage play.

Was there anything the defense might have done differently?


West
965
K106542
874
4
North
K84
Q93
QJ10
AK109
East
Q1072
J87
A632
73
South
AJ3
A
K95
QJ8652
W
N
E
S
 
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
3
J
A
3
1
0
2
4
A
3
1
2
0
K
7
5
2
1
3
0
Q
A
5
8
2
3
1
8
6
4
9
3
4
1
Q
7
9
2
3
5
1
J
4
10
3
3
6
1
8
5
4
6
3
7
1
K
5
10
2
3
8
1
9
10
J
7
1
9
1
K
7
3
9
1
10
1
8
10
A
12


Suppose East's hand were: 10xx, Jxxx, Axxx, xx. When I attacked diamonds, he could work out the entire position, and if he weren't sure of the diamond count he could safely duck the first round of diamonds to make sure. He would know that for anything to matter I had to pick up the queen of spades. He would also know that I would run my minors, get a count on the hand, and my percentage play would be to play for the squeeze which would succeed. Therefore, his best defense would be to duck 2 rounds of diamonds, take the third round, and shift to a spade. This breaks up the squeeze in the normal manner, since I wouldn't have the entry for the queen of hearts to be a menace when I ran my trumps. I could still make the hand, however, if I read the position and went up ace of spades -- then the squeeze works. Would I read the position? If I deduced the reason for the spade shift, perhaps I would.

Now, back to the actual hand. From Meckstroth's (East) point of view, he could deduce that my actual hand is what it is, since if his partner has the jack of spades I have no play. He could also deduce that I will get it right and take the finesse, since I will get the count and know that the finesse is the percentage play. Therefore, perhaps he should adopt the defense of ducking the first 2 rounds of diamonds and then shifting to a spade. If I decide that he wouldn't dare do this if he had the queen of spades, I might get it wrong.

At the table I doubt if Meckstroth considered this defense. It is very unintuitive, and one would have to really be in the zone to find it. Yet, if the position is reasoned carefully, the defense is quite findable.

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