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Danger Hand First
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In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you face a choice of games decision.

N-S vul, West deals. As South, you hold:

South
A743
1083
AQ6
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
?

1: 11-15 HCP, 2+ diamonds

2: 4 spades, 11-13, balanced

Double would be penalties

Your call?

South
A743
1083
AQ6
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
?

You must get to game with this hand. Game might go down, but you can't afford to miss a vulnerable game with a major-suit fit, a well-placed queen of diamonds, and a minimum combined 24 HCP. A penalty against 3 doesn't figure to be adequate compensation.

The question is whether to simply bid 4 or bid 3NT as an offer to play. You know you have a 4-4 spade fit. So does partner, and he knows that you know it. If you bid 3NT, he will know that you are offering to play 3NT knowing that you have a 4-4 spade fit. This is what you should do. If partner agrees that 3NT is better, it probably is better. Partner can look at his hand and make an intelligent decision.

You bid 3NT. The auction concludes:

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

West leads the 8. Standard leads and carding.

North
Q1096
A72
J3
A532
South
A743
1083
AQ6
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P

Which diamond do you play from dummy?

 

North
Q1096
A72
J3
A532
South
A743
1083
AQ6
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P

It appears that West has 2 diamonds and East K109xxx. It won't make any difference to you which diamond you play. But it might to the opponents. If you play small East can encourage, and when you win the queen West will have a pretty good idea what is going on in the suit. But if you play the jack East will have no choice but to play the king, and West will know less.

Playing the jack could make things more difficult for East also. If you play small he will also play small, and he will know he can continue with the king of diamonds safely. But if you play the jack and he doesn't have the 7 he may be afraid that you have AQ76 and can get a third diamond trick by force.

It isn't likely to matter. But playing the jack is good technique.

You play the jack of diamonds. East covers with the king, and you win the ace. How do you tackle this hand?

 

North
Q1096
A72
3
A532
South
A743
1083
Q6
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P

You have your work cut out. It will be necessary to hold your trump losers to 1 trick, and you probably will need a 3-2 trump split as well. If the trumps behave you have 4 trump winners (3 on power and a diamond ruff), 2 club winners, 1 heart winner, and 2 diamond winners. Where will #10 come from? The best chance appears to be the club suit. That will require a 3-3 club split, making East's likely distribution 2=2=6=3. That is pretty specific, but you need to make some favorable assumptions in order to have a chance.

Meanwhile, what will the opponents be doing? You will have to lose a spade trick and a club trick before you are ready to take your third club winner. Meanwhile they can shift to a heart, and if they can establish 2 heart tricks before you are ready they will defeat you even when the black suits are favorable.

The favorable projection of the enemy distribution has the hearts 5-2. This is promising. You may be able to duck the heart shift, win the second round of hearts, and keep West out of the lead so the opponents won't be able to cash a second heart trick. The defense will almost certainly be able to arrange for West to win the club trick, but if East has the king of spades West won't be able to win a spade trick. You need to knock out the entry to the danger hand first. That means giving up a club trick before tackling trumps.

There is one other possibility. If West has 5 hearts and 4 clubs, you might eventually get him in a heart-club squeeze depending upon how things work out. For this reason, you should duck a club immediately rather than play ace, king, and a club. You don't want West to be able to lead a fourth round of clubs and destroy the threat card. If clubs are 3-3 taking this approach won't hurt, and if they are 4-2 it is your only chance.

You lead the 8. West plays the 4, and you play small from dummy. East wins the 10, and leads the 10 to your queen, West playing the 5. Now what?

 

North
Q1096
A72
A53
South
A743
1083
6
K6
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P

The diamond return gives you more flexibility. You will now always make if the clubs are 3-3 and you succeed with the spade suit. In addition, you have some chances with your squeeze.

The difficulty with the squeeze is that you have to ruff a diamond, give up a heart trick, and wind up in your hand to play your last trump while you still have adequate communication in the rounded suits.

The best approach is probably to take your diamond ruff immediately while you are in your hand. You will then ride the 10. This will work when East is 2-2-6-3 and has one of the spade honors.

You may also have a chance when East is 3-2-6-2 with the jack of spades, depending on what the defense does after winning their spade trick. If they return a heart you duck, and the count is corrected for your squeeze.

On a club return it isn't so easy. Your best shot appears to be to win the king of clubs and try to slip a heart past West while you still have spade communication. This would be the position if West started with Kx of spades:

North
Q9
A72
A5
South
A74
1083
6
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P

If West plays a heart smaller than the 7, you simply insert the 7. That corrects the count for the squeeze, and there is nothing East can do.

If West inserts something higher than the 7, you have to win so West can't give East a club ruff. If East's doubleton consists of two honors, you are okay. You draw trumps, and exit with a heart. West can't win without setting up your 10, and if East wins he has only diamonds to return and West is squeezed.

Also, if East has Kx of hearts you are okay provided you read the position. If he plays small, you draw trumps and lead a heart for the same squeeze. If he unblocks the king, you simply run your trumps which squeezes West without the count. You would have to guess what East's small heart is. Probably you would play him for an honor, since East would really have to be in the zone to unblock the king from Kx.

It is to be noted that East can wreck your entries by going up jack of spades from Jxx. This is a play that nobody will ever find.

You choose to lead a small spade from your hand. West wins the king of spades, and leads the 7. What do you do?

 

North
Q109
A72
A53
South
A74
1083
6
K6
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P

If the clubs are 5-1, you are down. If they are 3-3, you are home. 4-2 is the critical division.

The club return hurts your communication. Your best bet is to win the king, ruff your diamond, and run your trumps. If West has king-fifth of hearts and 4 clubs, he will have to hold 2 clubs and come down to 2 hearts. If he has the king of hearts (or KQ) he must be alert to discard his high hearts. Otherwise you can discard dummy's club and lead a heart, ducking if West plays the high heart but playing the ace if West plays a smaller heart. Of course you would have to read that the clubs weren't 3-3 all along to make this play.

You play small from dummy. East ruffs. One of your hearts goes on the club but you still have a heart loser, so you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
KJ2
J65
85
QJ974
North
Q1096
A72
J3
A532
East
85
KQ94
K109742
10
South
A743
1083
AQ6
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
J
K
A
3
1
0
8
4
2
10
2
1
1
10
Q
5
3
3
2
1
3
K
6
5
0
2
2
7
3
8
5

How was the defense?

West
KJ2
J65
85
QJ974
North
Q1096
A72
J3
A532
East
85
KQ94
K109742
10
South
A743
1083
AQ6
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
J
K
A
3
1
0
8
4
2
10
2
1
1
10
Q
5
3
3
2
1
3
K
6
5
0
2
2
7
3
8
5

The defense looks fine. East has no reason to break hearts holding the singleton 10. West could see an immediate set by going up king of spades and giving his partner a club ruff if this was the hand, and his defense couldn't ever cost.

Do you agree with North's auction?

 

West
KJ2
J65
85
QJ974
North
Q1096
A72
J3
A532
East
85
KQ94
K109742
10
South
A743
1083
AQ6
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
J
K
A
3
1
0
8
4
2
10
2
1
1
10
Q
5
3
3
2
1
3
K
6
5
0
2
2
7
3
8
5

North's first two calls are automatic. This is an opening bid when partner will be expecting 11-13 balanced.

The choice between 3NT and 4 is interesting. Spades will take one more trick than notrump if South has a losing diamond to ruff in the North hand or if South isn't 4-3-3-3 and one of the rounded suits can be ruffed. Even if South is 4-3-3-3, the long club may come into play for a heart discard. It is nice to have an 8-card trump fit. North has good trump intermediates. These arguments all point towards bidding 4.

At matchpoints it wouldn't be close. 4 is the clear action, since spades definitely figures to take one more trick than notrump. At IMPs, it is another story. Spades has to take 2 more tricks than notrump to be a significant winner, and that doesn't looks likely. It is certainly easy to see how notrump might take the same number of tricks. North's jack of diamonds opposite some soft diamond holding in South's hand may be the critical card which makes 3NT the winner. It is a close call, but the odds appear to favor 3NT. On this hand it didn't matter, as both contracts were doomed.

Should East have acted differently?

 

West
KJ2
J65
85
QJ974
North
Q1096
A72
J3
A532
East
85
KQ94
K109742
10
South
A743
1083
AQ6
K86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
3
3NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
J
K
A
3
1
0
8
4
2
10
2
1
1
10
Q
5
3
3
2
1
3
K
6
5
0
2
2
7
3
8
5

Passing then entering is losing bridge. East gave North a chance to describe exactly what he has. This makes it a lot easier for N-S to take a winning action, which might be bidding either 3NT or 4, competing to 3, doubling 3, or simply selling out. South has a good picture of the hand, and is quite likely to go right.

Suppose East had overcalled 2. South would probably try a negative double, and hear 2 from North. South could then bid 4, but he couldn't sensibly give North a choice between 3NT and 4 as he was able to do on the actual auction.

Suppose East had overcalled 3. This makes life even more difficult for South. He would probably just bid 3NT. That is okay on this hand, but on different layouts missing a 4-4 spade fit would be very costly.

Quite possibly East was unable to overcall 2 or 3, since these were conventional calls. I believe using these calls as conventional vs. a potentially short minor is very costly. If you have a Michaels hand you can always overcall 1, bid hearts later, and you won't lose much. But if you have a natural overcall which you can't make because the opening bidder mouthed the suit, that costs a lot.

At the other table North didn't open, and East reasonably opened 3 third seat at favorable vulnerability. South passed, and North chose to enter with a takeout double. South had a difficult decision, and tried 4. This went the expected down 1.

Regardless of your methods, you are going to get to some bad games. Here we have a good 4-4 fit, 24 combined HCP, and all primes which are working. Yet, 4 is very poor. When both partners are minimal for their actions and the mesh is bad, game can be poor. Don't worry about it. You aren't always going to get it right. Just play these contracts the best you can.

 

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