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Curious Hand
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In a round-robin match in the Open Trials, you have to decide what action to take vs. an enemy strong 1NT opening.

Both vul, North deals. As South, you hold:

South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
?

Your methods vs. strong NT are:

DBL: 4-card major, longer minor

2: Both majors

2: One major

2M: 5-card major with a minor

Your call?

South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
?

Your only choices are to pass or bid 2. Which is the percentage action?

If you pass, you are in essence contracting to take 7 tricks in notrump. It is true that you would be defending rather than declaring, but it amounts to the same thing. You need to take 7 tricks to get a plus score, just as you would need to take 7 tricks if you are declaring.

If you bid 2, you will be contracting for 8 tricks in a major-suit contract. That is one more trick than in notrump, so if 2 of a major takes 1 more trick than you make in notrump it is break-even. If the major takes 2 more tricks than notrump, you gain by bidding. If the major takes the same number of tricks than notrump, you would be better off passing.

Your hand is primish, arguing for a suit contract. If you do hit a 4-4 fit, 2 of a major figures to play considerably better than 1NT. Even a 4-3 fit is likely to be okay, since there would be potential ruffing value in the 3-card holding and your long trump will stop the run of an enemy minor. Also, vs. 1NT anything you lead may blow a trick, and if you lead a high spade you are still going to be on lead with the same problem.

The vulnerability argues more for defending. Any contract which goes down gets the defense at least +100, which is the same they would get if they made a part-score. Down 2 is +200 for the defense, and a profit. If nobody were vulnerable you could show a small profit by bidding if one side makes their contract, but not with both vulnerable.

There are a couple of other arguments against bidding. One is that you might go for a number. This is unlikely, since you have plenty of high cards and West doesn't figure to have much. Also, most players are wary of making marginal doubles of partials at IMPs. Another reason for passing is that West might not be passing 1NT. If West is bidding anything, you will almost certainly be better off passing.

It is a close call. It looks like the primish values and good major-suit holdings tip the balance in favor of bidding.

You bid 2. The auction continues:

South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
?

2: Majors

2: Asks for better major

Your call?

South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
?

This isn't a question of bidding the cheaper major with equal length. Partner isn't going to correct. He likely is 3-3 in the majors, and is going to pass whatever you bid. If one of his majors were longer, he would have picked that major himself.

Your spades are clearly better. It isn't that you have AK of spades vs. AJ. It is the 10 which makes the difference. Picture partner with xxx in both majors and this becomes clear. If instead you had AKxx of spades and AJ10x of hearts then hearts would be your better major.

You bid 2, ending the auction.

South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

West leads the 4.

North
53
106
J10972
Q975
South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

East plays the jack. Which spade do you win with?

North
53
106
J10972
Q975
South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It isn't likely to make much difference. In general, winning the king is probably more likely to keep the opponents in the dark, particularly since East will probably be on lead first.

You win the king of spades. How do you start?

North
5
106
J10972
Q975
South
A102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

The trump lead puts an end to any hopes of ruffing a heart in dummy. In order to do so you have to lose a heart trick, and the defense can play a second round of trumps. Given that, you don't want to be touching hearts. If the opponents have to break hearts you will get 2 heart tricks, but if you break the suit you may get only 1 heart trick.

Your best bet is to punt with a diamond and force the opponents to play. Anything they lead will be potentially beneficial for you.

You lead a diamond. West plays the 6 (UDCA), dummy the jack, and East wins the queen. East returns the 7. What do you do?

North
5
106
10972
Q975
South
A102
AJ42
4
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

You might as well finesse. If the finesse is off, there isn't anything you can do about it unless you want to take the big position that West started with Qxx, and there is no reason to do that.

You play the 10. It holds, West playing the 6. What next?

North
106
10972
Q975
South
A2
AJ42
4
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It looks right to continue punting with another diamond. This will force the opponents to do something. Perhaps they will allow you to ruff a diamond with your 2. They still don't know that you don't have a 5-card spade suit.

Perhaps it is better to cash the ace of spades first. If you do this and lose the diamond trick to the opponent with 3 spades, he will not have a safe spade exit.

You choose to lead another diamond. West plays the 8 and dummy's 10 loses to East's king. East shifts to the 8. You play small, and West wins the queen. West leads the 9 to your ace, East following. What now?

North
10
972
Q975
South
2
AJ4
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It has to be right to duck a heart. This will knock out the king of hearts, setting up a second heart trick. If one of your good hearts gets ruffed, you will get to score your 2.

You lead a small heart. West wins the king, draws your last trump, and exits with a heart. You have to lose two more tricks, for down 2. The full hand is:

West
9864
KQ973
86
J8
North
53
106
J10972
Q975
East
QJ7
85
AKQ5
K1064
South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
3
J
K
3
1
0
3
6
J
Q
2
1
1
7
10
6
5
3
2
1
4
8
10
K
2
2
2
8
2
Q
6
0
2
3
9
2
Q
A
3
3
3
4
K
10
5
0
3
4
8
5
5
2
0
3
5
3
9

What do you think of the opening lead and subsequent defense?

West
9864
KQ973
86
J8
North
53
106
J10972
Q975
East
QJ7
85
AKQ5
K1064
South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
3
J
K
3
1
0
3
6
J
Q
2
1
1
7
10
6
5
3
2
1
4
8
10
K
2
2
2
8
2
Q
6
0
2
3
9
2
Q
A
3
3
3
4
K
10
5
0
3
4
8
5
5
2
0
3
5
3
9

It seems automatic to lead a trump when declarer has two suits and you have his side suit under control. However, as always it is important to listen to the bidding, look at your hand, and try to project how the play is likely to go before you make your opening lead.

West is looking at 5 hearts, and he knows South has at least 4 hearts. East opened 1NT, so he must have at least a doubleton heart. That leaves North with at most 2 hearts. If North has more spades than hearts North wouldn't be asking South to pick the major -- North would have picked spades himself. The conclusion must be that North is 2-2 in the majors. South presumably has 5 spades and 4 hearts, leaving East with 2-2 in the majors also.

How will the play go? Delcarer will be trying to ruff losing hearts in dummy. He will have no idea that the hearts are 5-2, so his first ruff will be with dummy's smaller spade. This will allow East to overruff cheaply, and if East is unable to beat dummy's other spade East will return a trump. Thus, there is no need to lead trumps, as that only removes a potentially losing line of play for declarer. West should lead a minor, probably the safer diamond, and get ready to do some overruffing of his own if things go well.

East can also see that there is no urgency about drawing trumps. Declarer can't get to dummy, so East will always score his trump truck unless he returns a trump. His best defense is probably to cash another diamond (which he knows is cashing from West's count card), shift to a heart, and let nature take its course.

Should E-W have done better in the bidding?

West
9864
KQ973
86
J8
North
53
106
J10972
Q975
East
QJ7
85
AKQ5
K1064
South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
3
J
K
3
1
0
3
6
J
Q
2
1
1
7
10
6
5
3
2
1
4
8
10
K
2
2
2
8
2
Q
6
0
2
3
9
2
Q
A
3
3
3
4
K
10
5
0
3
4
8
5
5
2
0
3
5
3
9

West missed a golden opportunity here. Even though he has only 5 HCP, he has a clear penalty double of 2. As discussed, he can deduce that dummy is 2-2 in the majors. He knows declarer has at most a 7-card spade fit, at most half the deck, and that everything is ruff wrong for declarer. All of West's hearts figure to score. This hand is going to play terribly for declarer. It will almost certainy be down, and might be down a lot. Yet, the fear of doubling the opponents into game caused West to fail to collect the maximum.

How was North's bidding?

West
9864
KQ973
86
J8
North
53
106
J10972
Q975
East
QJ7
85
AKQ5
K1064
South
AK102
AJ42
43
A32
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
3
J
K
3
1
0
3
6
J
Q
2
1
1
7
10
6
5
3
2
1
4
8
10
K
2
2
2
8
2
Q
6
0
2
3
9
2
Q
A
3
3
3
4
K
10
5
0
3
4
8
5
5
2
0
3
5
3
9

North didn't have any real choice. He has to assume that South is 5-4 in the majors, which will usually be the case, and his 2 call will get to the 5-2 fit. This type of hand, or the more common case where North is 3-3 in the majors, illustrates a main weakness with conventions such as Cappelletti or DONT. With these conventions, North has to guess which major is longer, and if North misguesses the wrong suit will be trump. It is much better for 2 to be the call which shows both majors, leaving North room to find South's longer major.

In one of Victor Mollo's menagerie books, he describes a hand where in a team match both pairs on the same team bid and make 4. Oscar the owl comments: Curious hand -- both N-S and E-W can make 10 tricks in spades. On the actual hand, at the other table South chose to pass over the 1NT opening. He was rewarded when West opted for Garbage Stayman, and soon arrived in 2. Unfortunately, life didn't imitate art, and 2 at the other table failed by a trick.

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