Join Bridge Winners
Death Distribution
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In a semi-finals match in the Senior trials for USA2, you must decide whether or not to compete on a good hand with no clear action.

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

West
KQ5
Q1098
J4
AQ63
W
N
E
S
P
1
?

Your call?

West
KQ5
Q1098
J4
AQ63
W
N
E
S
P
1
?

If you choose to act, the possibilities are 1NT or double. Both of these actions have serious deficiencies.

Your spade stopper is fine for a 1NT overcall. But you are a little light. A 1NT overcall is perhaps the most dangerous overcall to make, as it can get doubled on sheer power. You are vulnerable, and if you are doubled you don't have a place to run.

A takeout double brings hearts into the picture, but has the disadvantage of having only a doubleton diamond. With some shapes partner will be forced to respond 2 on a 4-card suit, and that will not be happy since you clearly wouldn't be able to bid anything. While you are less likely to get doubled than if you overcall 1NT, it could still happen. Even if you aren't doubled, 100 a trick can be expensive.

One final factor in favor of passing is that partner is a passed hand. Since you open almost all 11-counts, it is unlikely that you will get blown out of a vulnerable game if you pass. If partner weren't a passed hand, then passing would be more dangerous.

All things considered, it looks prudent to pass.

You pass. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
?

If you choose to balance, your calls mean as follows:

DBL: Either hearts and clubs, 3-suited, or red suits with longer diamonds. After you double, if partner bids 2NT that would ask if one of your suits is diamonds. You would bid 3 if it is, 3 if you have hearts and clubs.

2NT: Diamonds and another suit. If diamonds and hearts, hearts are at least as long. If partner bids 3, you will correct to 3.

Your call?

West
KQ5
Q1098
J4
AQ63
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
?

Unlike your previous turn, you have the tools to avoid playing a disastrous 4-2 diamond fit, since if you double and partner has 4 diamonds he will bid 2NT and you will bid 3 to let him know you have only hearts and clubs. In addition, from the enemy auction you know that partner has at most two spades, which increases the chances of finding a decent fit in one of your suits. On the downside you will be committed to the 3-level, which might be too high.

Let's see what the Law of Total Tricks tells us. Assume partner has a doubleton spade. That means that we will have at least an 8-card fit somewhere unless he has the death distribution of 2-3-5-3, in which case we have no 8-card fit. If both sides have 8-card fits, the trump total is 16. Bidding at the 3-level over 2 contracts for 17 total tricks, 1 more than the trump total. This is okay, since one of the contracts is likely to make. If partner has a 5-card heart or club suit or a singleton spade the trump total will be 17, in which case it is almost certainly correct to compete. If he has the death 2-3-5-3 the trump total will be 15, in which case competing is almost certainly wrong.

It looks like a close call. A major factor arguing against competing is your spade holding. That queen of spades is a likely trick on defense, but may be worthless on offense. If that card were a small spade, competing would be much more attractive whether or not there were any more high cards outside of spades. On the actual hand, the percentage action is probably to sell out.

You pass, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

Your lead. Your agreements from interior sequences are that you lead the second highest of the interior sequence (which is the third highest card in the suit) from lengths of 3, 4, or 6. With a 5 or 7-card suit, if you choose to lead an honor you lead top of the interior sequence.

West
KQ5
Q1098
J4
AQ63
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

Nothing is attractive. A heart lead looks like the least of evils. It definitely won't cost a trick if partner has the king or the jack, and might not cost in other variations. In addition, it might establish a trick or two for the defense. Black suit leads are clearly more dangerous, and a diamond lead has plenty of risk.

You lead the 9.

West
KQ5
Q1098
J4
AQ63
North
987
AJ3
A1052
987
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

The jack is played from dummy. Partner plays the 7, and declarer the 5.

Your agreements are suit-preference at trick one. 2, 3, 4 (by priority) are defined as suit-preference low. 10, 9, 8 (by priority) are defined as suit-preference high. 6, 5, 7 (by priority) are defined as encouraging. If third hand doesn't have the spot card he would like to signal with, he gives what he judges is the least damaging signal.

At trick 2, declarer leads the 7 off dummy, Partner plays the 4, declarer, the 2, and you win the queen. What do you lead now?

West
K5
Q108
J4
AQ63
North
98
A3
A1052
987
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

You know partner couldn't signal suit-preference high, since you are looking at the 1098 of hearts. He signaled middle, encouraging, but you know he doesn't really mean that. He almost certainly has a low spot. Apparently he is doing his best to make it clear to you not to play him for anything in clubs.

For now, it has to be right to punt safely with another heart and let declarer play the hand. You clearly can't play a black suit, and there isn't a rush to touch diamonds.

You lead the queen of hearts. Declarer wins the ace in dummy. Partner plays the 6 (standard current count), and declarer the 2. Declarer leads a spade from dummy, partner plays the 10, declarer the jack, and you win the king. What next?

West
5
108
J4
AQ63
North
9
3
A1052
987
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

It looks natural to simply exit with another heart. But this is not right. Declarer could be 5-4 in the majors, and if that is the case it is essential to return a trump so declarer doesn't ruff the fourth round of hearts in dummy. Declarer probably would be misplaying the hand if this is the case, but you have nothing to lose by playing a trump. In addition, leading the third round of trumps takes an entry out of dummy, cutting down on declarer's options.

You choose to lead the 8. Partner follows with the 4, and declarer wins the king. Declarer leads a trump to dummy, partner discarding the 3. Now declarer leads a small diamond from dummy. Partner wins the queen, and leads the 2. Declarer plays the 5, and you win the queen. What do you do now?

West
10
J
A63
North
A105
98
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

The count of the hand is clear. Declarer presuably started with 2 diamonds and 3 clubs. He could in theory have started with 3 diamonds and 2 clubs, but if that is the case you will always get another diamond trick and your ace of clubs.

You can't tell exactly what the club position is. However, the simplest defense is to return a diamond. This takes care of dummy, and declarer will have to make his club play and whatever happens happens. Returning a heart might not be safe. This leaves the ace of diamonds as a link to dummy, and partner might be under some pressure if the last trump is cashed.

You choose to play a heart. Declarer ruffs, crosses to the ace of diamonds, and leads a club to jack, king, and ace. Partner started with J10x of clubs, so the contract is down 1. The full hand is:

West
KQ5
Q1098
J4
AQ63
North
987
AJ3
A1052
987
East
104
764
KQ873
J102
South
AJ632
K52
96
K54
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
J
7
5
1
1
0
7
4
2
Q
0
1
1
Q
A
6
2
1
2
1
8
10
J
K
0
2
2
8
3
4
K
3
3
2
3
5
9
3
1
4
2
2
Q
6
4
2
4
3
2
5
Q
7
0
4
4
10
8
8
6
3
5
4
9
J
A
7
1
6
4
9
J
K
A
0
6
5
11

It may appear that declarer could have made had he cashed his last trump. East would have had to keep the diamond guard, so would have to come down to stiff club honor which would be squashed by declarer's king. However, dummy would also have to come down to a stiff club in order to retain the diamond threat, and in the end West's 6 would have beaten declarer's 5. Of course had West properly led a diamond, none of these potential complications would have occurred.

Should East have returned the 2 or the jack of clubs?

West
KQ5
Q1098
J4
AQ63
North
987
AJ3
A1052
987
East
104
764
KQ873
J102
South
AJ632
K52
96
K54
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
J
7
5
1
1
0
7
4
2
Q
0
1
1
Q
A
6
2
1
2
1
8
10
J
K
0
2
2
8
3
4
K
3
3
2
3
5
9
3
1
4
2
2
Q
6
4
2
4
3
2
5
Q
7
0
4
4
10
8
8
6
3
5
4
9
J
A
7
1
6
4
9
J
K
A
0
6
5
11

East can see that declarer has 7 tricks, so he needs West to have AQ of clubs to defeat the contract. However, he could see that if that is the case a small club return should suffice provided West leads back a diamond. If declarer started with KQx of clubs, the small club return would save an overtrick.

It is to be noted that East did, in fact, have the death distribution, so had West reopened the partnership would have arrived at an uncomfortable 3-level contract in a 7-card fit and almost certainly would have gone down at least one trick.

At the other table, West chose to make an immediate takeout double of the 1 opening bid. North bid 2 showing a good spade raise. East temporarily kept silent, but when 2 got passed back to him he reasonably competed with 3, expecting more trump support. The defense failed to get hearts going in time, so declarer escaped for down 1.

The reason we play these leads from interior sequences is so declarer won't always know what is going on. Pairs who play coded leads where jack denies and 10 or 9 show zero or 2 higher give away the position to declarer if he has a problem in the suit. Our approach doesn't necessarily give the position away to declarer, while third seat can almost always figure out what is going on. It is easy to remember, as we are leading the same card (low from 3 and third best from even) that we would be leading if we were making our normal count lead.

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