Join Bridge Winners
Be Prepared
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In a quarter-final match in the open trials, you have to deal with an enemy preempt over partner's opening bid.

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

West
AQ7
QJ876
Q9763
W
N
E
S
1
3
?

In addition to natural bids, you have the following available:

Dbl: This is not a normal negative double. It is a relay to 3, usually a hand which just wants to compete to 3. It could also be a hand which wants to play 4 of a minor. If you double and follow with 3NT or 4, that turns it into a normal negative double.

3: Limit raise

4: To play, no slam interest. Over a non-jump overcall this could be made on any hand and does not create a force as it could be weak. Over a preempt it shows a good hand and creates a force since we don't preempt over preempts.

4: Slam try in spades.

Your call?

West
AQ7
QJ876
Q9763
W
N
E
S
1
3
?

While 9 tricks might be the limit of the hand, it doesn't pay to make a limit raise. There are too many minimal hands where partner will reject and 4 will be a good prospect. Invitational bids work better on balanced hands, since with those it is more a matter of power than which cards partner holds so partner is more likely to get it right. You just can't afford to bring back the dreaded +170, lose 10 to the comparison with this hand.

On the other hand, this hand isn't worth a slam try. While 5 of a minor could be better, you can't find this out. Simply bidding 4 looks best.

You bid 4. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
?

Your call?

 

West
AQ7
QJ876
Q9763
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P

The 4 call created a force. If partner were interested in competing to 5 he would have made a forcing pass. His double shows preference for defending.

You are void in hearts. Other than that, you have no reason to override his decision. You have only 3 trumps, and soft values outside. In fact you weren't all that sure that 4 was making when you bid it. Passing the double is clear.

You pass, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
P
P

Your lead. Standard honor leads. Third- and fifth-best spot card leads.

West
AQ7
QJ876
Q9763
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
P
P

Leading the ace of spades may seem automatic. But seemingly automatic leads are often anti-percentage. It is worth examining when the ace of spades is superior to the queen of diamonds and when it is inferior.

Leading the ace of spades is better if a cash is necessary. For this to be the case, dummy will have to have the ace of diamonds along with a quick discard when that discard will not be helpful later.

Leading the ace of spades is better when the queen of diamonds blows a trick. This is possible if partner has none of the ace, king, or 10 of diamonds.

Leading the queen of diamonds is better when declarer has the guarded king of spades. It is also better when dummy has the king of spades and declarer a void. Also when dummy has the king of spades and declarer has a singleton an a usable discard on the king of spades which the defense could have prevented on a diamond lead.

Leading the queen of diamonds also might be better if declarer has 3 diamonds. Dummy could have Kxx, and retaining the ace of spades for an entry could be important. Also, there are hands where it might be necessary to make two minor suit leads through dummy to take partner off an end-play. On these hands, leading the ace of spades could cost.

It isn't clear. But on balance it would appear that the queen of diamonds lead is better more often.

You choose to lead the ace of spades.

West
AQ7
QJ876
Q9763
North
J62
KJ982
K93
K8
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
P
P

Partner plays the 4, and declarer the 5.

On an ace lead, your default signal is standard attitude. However, if it is clear from both sides of the table that attitude isn't relevant, then you revert to suit-preference.

If suit-preference applies, 2, 3, 4 (by priority) are suit-preference low. 10, 9, 8 (by priority) are suit-preference high. 6, 5, 7 (by priority) are encouraging. If partner has two spot cards in a category, the higher priority means that this is the signal he wants to give and the lower priority means he wants to give another signal but doesn't have a card in that category. If partner doesn't have a card in the desired category, he tries to give the least damaging signal.

Your play?

West
Q7
QJ876
Q9763
North
J6
KJ982
K93
K8
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
P
P

It isn't totally clear what partner's signal should mean here. If you have four spades then you will know the spade position and would be wanting a suit-preference signal. If you have only 3 spades, you might want an attitude signal, although it can't be too important. You will know it is always safe to continue spades, and looking at the dummy it wouldn't be obvious which suit to shift to if partner gives a discouraging signal. Thus, it looks logical for suit-preference to apply here.

What can you make of partner's 4? If partner judged his play to be an attitude signal and wanted to encourage spades he would have played a higher spot. The 3 is missing, and if partner's spade is meant as discouraging that is what he would have played if he has it. Partner isn't looking at the queen of spades, so from his point of view a spade continuation could be wrong if you have Axx and declarer has queen-doubleton.

If partner judged his play to be a suit-preference signal, he doesn't want to indicate any clear direction. Assuming he has the 3 of spades, the 4 would be a weaker signal. That makes sense from your point of view. It is also an indication that partner might not have the jack of clubs, since with AJ of clubs he probably would have given the stronger low signal.

One possibility is to continue with the queen of spades to try to hold the lead. It looks most likely that declarer has AQ of hearts and partner has the king of spades and the minor-suit aces. Still, it is possible that partner has the singleton ace of hearts and declarer has one of the unseen high cards. If that card is the king of spades, leading the queen would be a disaster. Since it is hard to see why it would be urgent for you to hold the lead looking at your hand and dummy, it isn't worth taking the risk.

Continue with a small spade is safe. If partner wins the trick he can safely exit with a spade or a trump, and declarer will have to play the minor suits for himself. There doesn't appear to be any reason for you to have to shift to a minor. Even if declarer has 10x of diamonds, you will still be getting in for a club play before the third round of diamonds is established.

A diamond shift could be right. Give declarer xx AQ10xxxx 10xx x and the diamond shift will net a diamond ruff. However, this isn't likely. Would partner have been in a rush to double 5 if he were 5-5? He probably would have passed the decision to you.

How about a club shift? That could be disastrous if declarer has the jack of clubs and partner the 10, and from what has been seen it appears that partner doesn't have AJ of clubs. But will declarer get it right if you shift to a club? He knows you can safely underlead the ace here, but you can't safely underlead the queen. Will he play you for making a "mistake" and risk not getting the king of clubs when the ace is onside? At this point in the hand he can't have enough information to know that partner has the ace of clubs. He is almost certain to go wrong.

The advantage of the club shift comes when declarer has J10. If you don't shift immediately he will probably find out enough about the hand to determine that partner has the ace of clubs for his opening bid. But if you do shift to a club now, he will likely go wrong on the logic that you wouldn't be shifting to a club away from the queen.

It takes a lot of courage to make a play like the club shift here. But careful analysis shows that it is probably the right play.

You continue with a safe small spade. Partner wins the king, declarer playing the 8. Partner leads back the 9. Declarer ruffs, and cashes the queen of hearts, partner following as you discard a diamond. Now declarer leads the 10. Your general splitting agreements are that you split high from a sequence.

What do you play?

 

West
QJ87
Q9763
North
KJ98
K93
K8
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
P
P

Declarer is known to have 2 spades and can be assumed to have 7 hearts. If he had a stiff club he would have played that before the diamond. Thus, he has either a singleton or a doubleton diamond.

If he has a singleton diamond, it can't cost to duck. Even if declarer lets it ride that trick won't help him.

When declarer has a doubleton diamond, splitting may be necessary. If declarer thinks partner has both minor-suit aces he will duck to force partner to lead away from one of the aces, and that will cost the defense a trick.

Can declarer have a doubleton diamond? That would give him a 2-7-2-2 shape with nothing outside of the heart suit. Even the bravest of preemptors would think twice before bidding 3 with that hand. It is very likely that declarer's diamond is a singleton.

Is there anything to be gained by ducking? There might be. Declarer will certainly go up king of diamonds. Partner will win the ace, and return a diamond. Suppose declarer has J10x of clubs. He won't know for sure how strong partner's diamonds are, but they might be strong enough so he doesn't need the ace of clubs for his opening bid, and he may place you with that card for your 4 call.

If you do split, you should split with the jack. It probably won't matter, but the fewer high cards declarer knows about in your hand the more likely he is to play you for the ace of clubs if he has J10x.

It takes a lot of courage and foresight to duck the 10. But it is probably the right play.

You choose to play the queen of diamonds. It goes king, ace. Partner returns the 2. Declarer ruffs.

Declarer now leads the jack of clubs. Quick! Do you cover or not?

 

West
J7
Q9763
North
KJ98
9
K8
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
P
P

The motto of the Boy Scouts is: Be prepared. Were you prepared? If declarer has J10x you need to duck. And you must do so quickly, since you would never have a problem ducking if you had the ace and not the queen.

What if declarer doesn't have the 10? He knows your partner has at most the king of spades and the AJ of diamonds, and he did open the bidding. In addition you are likely to have the jack of diamonds, since covering the 10 with the queen wouldn't make much sense if you didn't have the jack. Would declarer have the guts to ride the jack of clubs not holding the 10? He certainly might. It is better to assume that declarer will get it right when he has the 10 and not risk having the trick stolen from you.

You cover. Declarer does have the 10, and he is down 2. The full hand is:

West
AQ7
QJ876
Q9763
North
J62
KJ982
K93
K8
East
K10943
4
A542
A42
South
85
AQ107653
10
J105
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
P
P
D
5X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
2
4
5
0
0
1
7
6
K
8
2
0
2
9
4
Q
J
3
1
2
A
6
8
4
3
2
2
10
Q
K
A
2
2
3
2
6
8
3
3
3
3
J
Q
K
A
2
3
4
7

Could declarer's line of play have been improved?

West
AQ7
QJ876
Q9763
North
J62
KJ982
K93
K8
East
K10943
4
A542
A42
South
85
AQ107653
10
J105
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
P
P
D
5X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
2
4
5
0
0
1
7
6
K
8
2
0
2
9
4
Q
J
3
1
2
A
6
8
4
3
2
2
10
Q
K
A
2
2
3
2
6
8
3
3
3
3
J
Q
K
A
2
3
4
7

It looks routine to attack diamonds first. Maybe West will duck the ace of diamonds, although that doesn't seem likely. If not, perhaps declarer will find out enough about the hand to help him guess the club suit.

If West isn't likely to duck the ace of diamonds when the 10 is led, isn't he equally unlikely to duck the 10 if that is led early? Thus, a very reasonable approach for declarer is to lead out the 10 at trick 3, planning on letting it ride. With West having already shown up with the AQ of spades it is probably that East has the ace of clubs. Attacking diamonds first isn't going to give declarer any really helpful information. Even if West appears to have the queen and/or jack of diamonds in addition to the ace, the club honors could still be split either way.

All good declarers have a natural tendency to put off a critical guess as long as possible in order to find out as much as they can about the hand as well as giving their opponents a chance to make a mistake. Leading the 10 early looks counter-intuitive. Yet a realistic analysis of what West is likely to do if this happens makes it clear that this is a pretty good line of play.

Do you agree with East's double?

 

West
AQ7
QJ876
Q9763
North
J62
KJ982
K93
K8
East
K10943
4
A542
A42
South
85
AQ107653
10
J105
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
X
P
P
P
D
5X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
2
4
5
0
0
1
7
6
K
8
2
0
2
9
4
Q
J
3
1
2
A
6
8
4
3
2
2
10
Q
K
A
2
2
3
2
6
8
3
3
3
3
J
Q
K
A
2
3
4
7

East could have made a forcing pass. He does have a decent minimum, with two side aces and a singleton in the enemy suit. However, the singleton is more likely to be a liability than an asset. The opponents apparently have a lot of hearts, and West's 4 call may partly be based on a singleton heart. The matching singletons don't go together well for offense, since that leaves second and third-round losers in the other side suits which can't be discarded on anything. It is only because West has a void in hearts along with a 5-card diamond suit that 5 is a good contract.

At the other table 5 doubled was also reached after a 2 overcall by South. The play was virtually identical. It didn't occur to either declarer that attacking clubs first might be a better idea.

Our use of double as a relay rather than a negative double is unusual but very practical. How often have you had some hand with 4 spades but not much strength where you wanted to bid the third and final spade over the 3 overcall, but feared that partner might take you seriously and move on to game? How often have you held a true limit raise, but felt you had to gamble out 4 for fear partner would pass 3 thinking you were just competing and miss a good game? We don't have that problem, since we can both bid the third and final spade (via the double) and make a limit raise. We play this call not only after we open, but when we overcall or make a takeout double and the next hand bids at the 3-level. We have found that normal responsive doubles at this level aren't particularly valuable, and that the ability to distinguish between a competitive vs. a constructive or forcing call is more important.

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