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Build a Fence
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In a semi-final match in the Senior trials, you have to decide whether or not to make a marginal overcall.

E-W vul, South deals. As East, you hold:

East
83
1032
K8652
AQ2
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
?

Your call?

East
83
1032
K8652
AQ2
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
?

Overcalling 1 isn't likely to lead to a catastrophe. Even at adverse vulnerability, you will seldom get doubled at the 1-level. Partner is a passed hand, so he won't be hanging you unless he has a good diamond fit.

There are five reasons why overcalling might be profitable. They are:

1) The overcall helps you get to a good game or slam.

2) The overcall helps you compete when the hand is a part-score battle.

3) The overcall allows you to take a profitable save.

4) The overcall gobbles up enemy bidding space, making their auction more difficult.

5) The overcall gets you a lead you want.

Usually you want your overcall to satisfy at least a couple of these conditions. How does the 1 overcall do?

1) With partner being a passed hand, you can forget about game or slam.

2) Your hand is flat, and the opponents likely have a major-suit fit if you have a good diamond fit. In addition, with partner being a passed hand the opponents have the balance of strength. You probably aren't going to be able to out-compete them.

3) You aren't going to have a decent save at this vulnerability.

4) The overcall takes up no room at all. If anything it makes the enemy bidding easier, since South has a negative double available to show both majors. If your suit were spades, the nuisance value of the overcall would be real.

5) You don't particularly want a diamond lead. If you had KQxxx of diamonds and Axx of clubs, that would be another story.

The bottom line is that there really isn't much of an upside to overcalling. It is better to pass.

You pass. The auction concludes:

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

Partner leads the 6. Third and fifth leads. UDCA after trick 1.

North
KJ104
KQ4
97
KJ103
East
83
1032
K8652
AQ2
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Dummy plays the jack, you win the queen, and declarer plays the 4.

What do you play now?

North
KJ104
KQ4
97
K103
East
83
1032
K8652
A2
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Partner probably must have one of the missing aces for you to have a chance to defeat the contract. He could have the queens of spades and diamonds and declarer could misguess the spades, but it looks better to play him for an ace. If he has 2 aces, you have no problems.

There are two possible ways to defeat the contract. One is to give partner a club ruff, which succeeds if he has a singleton or doubleton club. The 5 of clubs is missing, so this is possible.

The other possibility is to set up a diamond trick. This will probably succeed if partner has either the ace or the queen of diamonds.

If you return a diamond, that may lose the chance for a club ruff. Declarer's hand might be something like AQxx xx AQx xxxx.

If you try for a club ruff, that may lose the chance for a diamond trick. Declarer's hand might be something like AQxxx Jxx AJx xx

Why did partner lead a club? He might be short in clubs. If he isn't short in clubs. he figures to have the ace of hearts. Otherwise he would probably have preferred a heart lead to a club lead from xxx or xxxx, since the opening bid was 1.

Maybe you don't have to commit yourself. How about returning a heart? If partner has the ace of hearts, he can lead another club if he started with a doubleton and still get his ruff. With the ace of spades and a doubleton club, he will still be able to get his ruff. If he doesn't have a doubleton club, he can shift to a diamond if he has the queen and you will get your diamond trick in time.

There are a couple of dangers with this defense. One is that partner has a singleton club. That gives declarer 5 clubs, which isn't likely considering his 3 call. The other danger is that partner might play you for a singleton heart when he doesn't have the doubleton club. He shouldn't make that error. If that is what you have, you would cash the ace of clubs before returning the heart (or cash the ace of diamonds or spades if you have that and the ace of clubs isn't cashing). If you don't have a cashing ace, a heart ruff won't defeat the contract. Therefore, he won't try to give you a heart ruff.

You choose to cash the ace of clubs. Declarer plays the 7, and partner the 9. What next?

North
KJ104
KQ4
97
K10
East
83
1032
K8652
2
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You now know that partner didn't start with a doubleton club. Obviously you will shift to a diamond. But which diamond?

If partner doesn't have the ace of diamonds, it won't matter. But what if he does have the ace of diamonds? He might think that you started with AQ doubleton of clubs and not the king of diamonds, and lead back a club. If declarer has 5 spades he will then have 5 spade tricks, 3 heart tricks, and 2 club tricks. You will lose your king of diamonds.

What can you do to avoid this? This should be an attitude situation. Leading a low diamond says you like diamonds and want them continued. Leading a high diamond says you don't like diamonds and want something else.

Partner should get it right. However, there is always the danger that partner will take your 2 shift as suit-preference.

How about leading the king of diamonds? This will build a fence around partner so he can't make a mistake. He will have no reason to overtake, even if he is convinced you have the queen.

Is there any danger? If partner has a singleton ace of diamonds he certainly would have led it. With a singleton queen and one of the major-suit aces a diamond lead would still be pretty clear. Partner isn't going to put that much credence into declarer's 3 call.

The other danger is that declarer has AQ of diamonds, and will no longer have to take the diamond finesse. This isn't a realistic danger. If declarer needs the diamond finesse, he will take it. He might have the option of going up ace, discarding his losing diamonds on dummy's clubs, and playing partner for the ace of hearts, but if he chooses that option it will succeed. It looks 100% safe to lead the king of diamonds.

You lead the king of diamonds. It holds, partner playing the 10 and declarer the 3. What now?

North
KJ104
KQ4
9
K10
East
83
1032
8652
2
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You can't read anything into partner's 10. It could easily be his smallest diamond. It is obvious to continue diamonds.

You lead another diamond. Partner wins the ace, and cashes the ace of hearts for down 2. The full hand is:

West
62
A8765
A10
9865
North
KJ104
KQ4
97
KJ103
East
83
1032
K8652
AQ2
South
AQ975
J9
QJ43
74
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
J
Q
4
2
0
1
A
7
9
3
2
0
2
K
3
10
7
2
0
3
2
4
A
9
0
0
4
A
4
2
9
0
0
5
5

How was West's defense?

West
62
A8765
A10
9865
North
KJ104
KQ4
97
KJ103
East
83
1032
K8652
AQ2
South
AQ975
J9
QJ43
74
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
J
Q
4
2
0
1
A
7
9
3
2
0
2
K
3
10
7
2
0
3
2
4
A
9
0
0
4
A
4
2
9
0
0
5
5

West's opening lead was reasonable. Anything could be right with this hand. The club lead is relatively safe, and might establish a trick in the suit before West's aces are dislodged.

Which club spot West should lead is not clear. In general, it is better to lead the proper count card. That is likely to be more important to partner than knowing about the 98.

West did well to avoid woodenly following with the 5 at trick 2. Had he done so, East would have continued clubs playing West for a doubleton. West could see that it might be important to let East know this is not the case. West was also building a fence around his partner.

West erred by playing the 9. He should have played the 8.  When he follows with a spot higher than the 6 he led, East will know that West started with 986(x). Therefore, West's club play should be suit-preference. West knows he wants a diamond lead. On this hand East was always playing a diamond, but if East had started with AQ doubleton of clubs, a definite possibility the way East was defending, it would be necessary to find West's entry. From East's point of view, West could have either red ace. West knows his ace of diamonds will live, but it is quite possible that declarer is void in hearts. Therefore, West may really need a diamond shift. East's diamond spot should tell West what to do. If East has a doubleton club, he should return a high diamond to tell West to continue clubs. If East doesn't have a doubleton club he should return a low diamond regardless of his diamond holding, and West will have to work out what to do.

What do you think of the N-S bidding?

West
62
A8765
A10
9865
North
KJ104
KQ4
97
KJ103
East
83
1032
K8652
AQ2
South
AQ975
J9
QJ43
74
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
J
Q
4
2
0
1
A
7
9
3
2
0
2
K
3
10
7
2
0
3
2
4
A
9
0
0
4
A
4
2
9
0
0
5
5

South has a close decision about whether or not to invite. He has decent shape and a good trump suit, but his hand is otherwise soft. South has 7 losers which need to be taken care of, and North made a minimum raise. North would need a perfect two aces and two kings for game to be laydown. Most likely if North accepts, game won't be better than on a finesse.

North's acceptance is an example of what I call the expert's error. North evaluated his hand as above average in the context of what he had shown, since he has a full 13 HCP, good trumps, a couple of potentially good 10's, and a doubleton. On the other hand North is aceless, and that calls for a downgrade. North is certainly too strong to sign off, and if he had to make the final decision himself it would be to bid game. However, he doesn't have to make the final decision himself. He can toss the ball back with 3. North's evaluation was that on balance he wanted to be in game over the range of hands where South would invite. That in itself is an accurate assessment. However, South will be bidding game over a Last Train 3 call on many of those hands, in which case it won't matter whether North bids 3 or 4. The only hands which matter are hands where South will not be bidding game over 3. Unless North judges that on the assumption that South would sign off, North still wants to be in game, he shouldn't drive to game. The actual hand is a good example. South obviously would have quit since his game try was questionable to begin with, and N-S would have been on a finesse to make 3 instead of being in a game down off the top.

At the other table the auction started the same way. Here North evaluated differently and signed off in 3 over the 3 game try. West also led the 6, and made the good 8 play when East cashed the ace. East made the obvious diamond shift, and the defense took the first 5 tricks for down 1.

When you are a defender and know enough about the hand to know the correct defense, it is important to defend in such a way that partner is forced to do the right thing. Even if it should be obvious to partner, you are correct to insult him by taking control. Partner will enjoy being insulted in this manner.

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