In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you have an awkward hand vs. an enemy opening bid.
E-W vul, West deals. As East, you hold:
Your 1NT overcall range is defined as 15-18.
A takeout double can be eliminated quickly. You should never make a takeout double of a minor without at least 3 cards in each major, unless you have some hand which is too strong to overcall.
Overcalling 1NT can't be right. You have that dangerous singleton heart, and you are a little light. Partner is a passed hand, so game is unlikely.
While there are hands to overcall a 4-card suit, these are hands which figure to play okay in a 4-3 fit since partner will be raising on 3-card support. This hand doesn't look like one of them.
Passing is best. If the opponents land in a heart contract, you can consider getting into the auction later. If they land elsewhere, you will probably have done well to keep quiet.
You pass. The auction continues:
Your shape couldn't be more perfect for a takeout double of hearts. You have support for all suits. Even opener's club suit (which might be only a 3-bagger) is in play.
The danger is that you are outgunned and go for a number. Even if partner has 4+ spades it is very unlikely that you have a spade game. The opponents know where they are at, and if you are in trouble they will be able to punish you. The vulnerability is bad for a delayed action such as double.
Despite the danger, double looks like the percentage action. It is seldom right to defend at the 2-level when short in their suit, and this hand doesn't appear to be an exception. Passing runs the big risk of an adverse double part-score swing. That will happen far more often than going for a number.
You double. The bidding continues:
Clearly you are done. You have described your hand perfectly, and if there is more competing to be done it is up to partner. He knows the extent of the heart and spade fits far better than you do. You have done your job of pushing the opponents to the 3-level where you have a good chance of defeating them, and you avoided going for a number.
You pass, ending the auction.
Partner leads the ♠8. Third from even, low from odd.
Your carding is suit-preference at trick 1, UDCA after that.
Declarer plays the ♠9 from dummy. How do you defend?
Declarer cannot have a singleton spade, since with a 5-card spade suit partner would have led his smallest spade. Partner's spade holding is probably Q108x, although he could have 8764 and have decided that top of nothing would be most descriptive.
If you win the ace of spades, what will you return? That isn't clear at all. Since you can safely duck the spade, it is better to do so. Winning the ace just gives declarer better communication and puts you to an immediate decision. You do better to delay the decision until you find out more about the hand.
You have a strong club holding. Best is the suit-preference ♠2 to let partner know you have the clubs bottled up. That figures to be the most valuable information to him.
You play the ♠2. Declarer plays the ♠4. He plays a diamond off dummy. What do you play?
Declarer could have AJ8x of diamonds, and if you play small he might put in the ♦8 if he decides you would split from KQ. There is no need to take this risk. Splitting can never cost anything.
You play the ♦9. Declarer wins the queen, partner playing the ♦5. Declarer leads the ♠7 to the ♠6, jack, and your ace. What do you do now?
Declarer clearly has the ace of diamonds, so you pretty much need partner to have everything else for you to have a chance to defeat the contract. At any rate, you need to get that ace of hearts out of your hand. If partner gets in, you want him to be able to draw trumps so declarer can't score his trumps separately. Declarer's likely distribution (for you to have a chance) is 2-4-4-3. If so, declarer will be discarding a club on the third round of spades and then be trying to ruff a club back to his hand which hopefully partner will be able to overruff reasonably cheaply.
You cash the ace of hearts. It goes 2, 3, 7. What do you play now?
It probably doesn't matter much, but you might as well lead a diamond to cut down on declarer's communication. If declarer has the jack of diamonds, you aren't going to be able to prevent him from taking another finesse.
You lead the ♦6. Declarer wins the ace, partner playing the ♦8. Declarer leads the ♦3, partner plays the jack, and declarer ruffs with the ♥8. Which diamond do you play?
Your honors are equal. Declarer knows you have the king of diamonds, but he doesn't know where the ♦10 is. Playing the king, the card you are known to hold, is correct. It probably won't matter on this hand, but it is good technique.
You play the king of diamonds. Declarer cashes dummy's good spade, discarding a club. He then plays ace, king, and a club, ruffing. Partner overruffs with the jack of hearts, and as hoped plays king and a heart to dummy's queen. Since dummy is winning this trick naturally you keep your good club, and you get the last trick for down 1. The full hand is:
Could declarer have done better?
Declarer did well to play the ♠9 at trick 1. The third best ♠8 lead made this easier to find. But even if West's spot card lead had been smaller, it would still be correct to play the 9. Declarer can make use of the third round of spades to discard a losing club in all variations, so playing the 9 can only gain.
After that, declarer's plays were pretty much automatic. He would have liked to ruff another diamond in dummy, but he just didn't have the necessary hand entry. The danger was apparent, but from a technical point of view there doesn't appear to be anything declarer could have done. However, from a practical point of view there was a way declarer could have improved his chances. Do you see it?
Declarer can pretty much judge that the hand is what it is. If East had 5 diamonds and 3 clubs, he probably would have overcalled 1♦. And if the hearts are 3-2, the hand is always cold after all the spade and diamond finesses succeed. So, the only relevant layout is the actual layout. If declarer had realized this he would have been able to mentally play out the hand as it played out and give East a very interesting problem.
At the end, East could see that dummy was going to be winning the queen of hearts. Thus, East had no problem about which minor winner to keep. Suppose instead of playing the small hearts from dummy, declarer had unblocked the queen and the 10. Now East would have to have been paying attention to know where the 9-spot was. If declarer has kept it, East needs to keep his diamond. But if declarer has kept a smaller heart, East needs to keep his club. The best play is probably to play the ♥9 under the ace. This makes no difference from a theoretical point of view, but in practice East won't be paying much attention to the heart spots at this point and might not see that the ♥9 has been played. Thus, East may think declarer is winning trick 12 in his hand, and wrongly discard the good club.
The above ploy is a neat variation of the well-known "where am I going to end up" pseudo-squeeze. Of course in theory this ploy should never work if East is attentive. In practice, it has a good chance of succeeding. Whether it would have succeeded at the table we will never know.
What do you think about West's opening lead?
It seems normal at first glance. West has a good holding in the suit, and East is known to have support. Still, any lead away from an honor potentially blows a trick, so it is worth analyzing the hand before leading a spade.
A spade lead is necessary only when it is needed to establish a trick before a spade loser is discarded on something. That looks extremely unlikely on this hand, since the opponent with the doubleton spade probably has at least 3 cards in both minors.
East almost certainly has exactly 4 spades on the auction. The enemy spades are very likely to be divided 3-2. The spade lead could blow the second round of the suit if dummy has the king, East the ace, and declarer the jack. In addition, there are many combinations where a spade lead blows the third round of the suit. For example, look at the actual hand but give declarer 9x of spades. If the third round of spades might be important, West should avoid leading a spade if he has a decent alternative.
What are the likely shapes around the table? East's distribution is pretty easy to pin down. He almost certainly has a singleton heart and 4 spades for his delayed takeout double. If he had 5 diamonds and 3 clubs, he probably would have overcalled 1♦. Therefore, he figures to be either 4-1-4-4 or 4-1-3-5, with the 4-1-4-4 shape being more attractive for competing.
Dummy certainly has 4 hearts. He doesn't figure to be competing to 3♥ with 4-3-3-3 shape. This means he is probably 3-4-2-4 or 2-4-3-4. In the first case declarer would be able to use the third round of spades to discard a club from the 3-card holding. In the second case, declarer would be able to use the third round of spades to discard a diamond from the 3-card holding. The spade lead is starting to look quite dangerous.
A club lead, on the other hand, looks pretty safe. It isn't away from an honor, so it doesn't do anything declarer can't do for himself. Partner is known to have at least 4 clubs behind dummy's club length. The club lead might establish something in the East hand, or it may pave the way for a needed ruff or overruff in clubs. It looks like the club lead is better on all counts.
What do you think of the N-S bidding?
The 1♥ response looks right. South has a one-bid hand, so he might as well bid the major. It is more likely that North has 4 hearts than 4 diamonds, since with 4-4 in the minors North might have opened 1♦.
North's 3♥ call looks misjudged. True, he has good 4-card heart support. But he also has a fair amount of defensive strength against spades. In addition, it isn't etched in stone that E-W have an 8-card spade fit. Also, partner is still there. If South has 5 hearts and a doubleton spade, South will probably compete to 3♥ himself.
If N-S were playing a style where the raise guaranteed 4-card support, North wouldn't have been tempted to compete to 3♥ since South knows the extent of the heart fit. Since in their style the raise could be on 3, North wasn't sure. On this hand he got punished, since neither 2♠ nor 3♥ make.
The decision to duck the opening lead follows a very valuable defensive principle. Don't win a trick unless either you have to win it or you want to win it. Obviously a lot if not most of the time you will have to win the trick when you can. But if you are able to delay the decision about what to do then it is almost always right to do so.
Plus... it's free!