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In the semi-finals of the senior KO, you face a difficult problem vs. an enemy overcall of partner's strong 1NT opening.

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

West
9
K1053
Q6542
K109
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
?

1NT: 14-16

2: Spades and a minor (may be 5-4 either way).

You play a transfer Lebensohl structure. Available to you are:

Double: Negative double, but shows at least 2 spades.

2NT: Forces 3.

3: Transfer, forces 3. Followups are as if they hadn't overcalled (you play 3 as a transfer to 3 if no interference, weak or GF).

3: 5+ hearts invitational or better

3: Good hand with clubs

3: 4 hearts, spade shortness

3NT: No spade stopper, fewer than 4 hearts.

After the 2NT call and opener's forced 3 call,

3: Weak with hearts.

3: Both minors, GF

3: Fewer than 4 hearts, spade shortness

3NT: To play, spade stopper

Note that the route to play 3 is 2NT followed by 3. In order to play 3, simply transfer to 3 and pass. This has the advantage of right-siding 3, quite important when there is an overcall behind the strong balanced hand.

Note also that the immediate and delayed Q-bids show shortness in spades instead of being Stayman with stopper/no stopper. The reason is that balanced hands with 4 hearts are handled via a negative double.

Your call?

West
9
K1053
Q6542
K109
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
?

It is an awkward problem. You would like to make a negative double, but that shows a second spade. Partner will pass the double if he has 4 spades, and that would be very treacherous. It isn't worth the risk.

If you were a bit stronger 3 would be perfect, showing 4 hearts and spade shortness. The difficulty is that your hand just isn't strong enough for this auction opposite a 14-16 1NT. Even if you catch partner with 4 hearts, a 4 contract figures to be marginal. If he doesn't have 4 hearts, you will almost certainly be overboard wherever you land.

On the other hand, your side has the balance of strength and you have a singleton spade. You just can't sell to 2 with this hand. You don't know the extent of the fits, but in the worst case scenario (partner holding 2 diamonds and 4 spades) you have a 7-card diamond fit and the opponents have an 8-card spade fit for a total of 15 trumps. Competing to 3 over 2 contracts for 17 total tricks. You would rather not do that with 15 total trumps. However, most of the time the trump total will be higher than 15. It could easily be 17 or 18. It has to be right to compete. Even if you are too high, the opponents might not know that and over-compete themselves.

The conclusion is that the percentage call is 3, planning on passing 3. It isn't perfect, but it is likely to be a reasonable competitive decision and avoids the potential disasters which could happen if you take one of the other routes.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

3: Transfer to diamonds

Your call?

West
9
K1053
Q6542
K109
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
3
4
P
P
?

It is true that your side has the majority of high-card points. But high-card points don't necessarily defeat contracts. North bid 4 with his eyes open. He might be gambling a bit, but he is bidding with some expectation of making since he could have just bid 3 and probably bought the contract. Your scattering of kings and queens aren't any great surprise for him. They opponents could easily have a 10-card fit, and who knows how much distribution. You don't have a score to protect, since you weren't planning on getting to game anyway. The odds have to be against doubling. Double costs 5 IMPs if they make, and gains only 2 IMPs if they are down 1.

On the other hand, it can't be right to compete. You don't know if you have a great fit, and you can't expect to make anything at the 5-level. Furthermore, you have no idea whether or not 4 is making. Your percentage action is to pass and hope to defeat them.

You pass, ending the auction.

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

Your lead. Third from even, low from odd.

West
9
K1053
Q6542
K109
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
3
4
P
P
P

Nothing is particularly attractive. A trump might cut down on ruffing, but it could pick up partner's trump holding. Also, there is some danger that you need to cash winners quickly.

Either minor suit lead could run into declarer's minor suit, with possibly disastrous consequences. Probably the best bet is a heart. Partner does have at least 14 HCP and probably not too many of them in spades, so it is a good bet that he has either the ace or queen of hearts making the heart lead relatively safe. A heart lead could be needed for a cashout or to set up some tricks, and it isn't going to run into declarer's side suit.

You lead the 5.

West
9
K1053
Q6542
K109
North
Q65432
Q76
J1073
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
3
4
P
P
P

Partner wins the ace of hearts, declarer playing the 4. Partner returns the 8. Declarer plays the jack, and you win your king. What now?

West
9
103
Q6542
K109
North
Q65432
Q
J1073
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
3
4
P
P
P

Partner can't have started with 4 hearts. If his initial holding were A982, he would have returned the 2.

On the other hand, partner can't have started with a doubleton heart. That would make declarer 4-4 in the majors, and declarer surely would have made the system bid which shows that instead of showing spades and a minor. The unseen hearts must be divided 3-3.

Partner has to have a doubleton spade for his 1NT opening bid. That gives declarer a 4-card spade suit. If declarer has 6 clubs you have no chance, so you can assume that declarer's distribution is exactly 4-3-1-5.

Partner probably has the ace of diamonds. If he also has a trump trick the hand is down, so you can assume that partner doesn't have a trump trick.

You can count 1 heart trick and 8 trump tricks for declarer. If declarer has the ace of clubs he has 10 tricks, so you can assume partner has that card. The hand to play declarer for is something like AKJx Jxx x QJxxx, giving partner xx Axx AKx Axxxx. This is consistent with everything you have seen.

If that is the layout, it is imperative that you return a trump. If you don't, declarer can give up a diamond and crossruff for 9 trump tricks. After a trump shift partner can get in with his ace of diamonds, lead another trump, and declarer will be a trick short.

You shift to a trump. Unfortunately declarer has the ace of clubs and partner doesn't have a trump trick. Declarer has a claim. The full hand is:

West
9
K1053
Q6542
K109
North
Q65432
Q76
J1073
East
K10
A82
AK8
J6432
South
AJ87
J94
9
AQ875
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
3
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
6
A
4
2
0
1
8
J
K
7
0
0
2
9
3

Was East's heart return correct, or should he have been doing something else?

West
9
K1053
Q6542
K109
North
Q65432
Q76
J1073
East
K10
A82
AK8
J6432
South
AJ87
J94
9
AQ875
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
3
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
6
A
4
2
0
1
8
J
K
7
0
0
2
9
3

It was definitely correct. From East's point of view declarer might have had AK of clubs and West the singleton jack of spades. Cashing the second heart trick might have been vital.

It is important to have good agreements on how to continue when the opponents overcall your 1NT opening. Without these agreements, any pair will be floundering. On this hand West would have had an easier time if the negative double didn't guarantee at least 2 spades, but that knowledge can be very important to the 1NT opener when he has 4 spades and is considering whether or not to pass the negative double.

It is also important to have good methods over an enemy 1NT opener which allow you to get into the auction with various common distributions. On this hand N-S were playing the perfect methods which allowed them to effortlessly get to the good 4 game. At the other table N-S did not have these methods, and South was forced to pass. West bid Stayman, and passed his partner's 2 response. Either North or South might have entered, but it would have been risky and they both chose to pass. The swing was huge, as the diamond part-score made comfortably to go along with 4 making at our table.

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