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In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials, you have to find the best competitive move when partner's weak NT opener is overcalled.

None vul, West deals. As South, you hold:

South
Q10542
KQ985
J
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
?

1NT: 10-12

Your methods are:

DBL: Transfer to hearts, might be weak

3: Transfer to spades, might be weak

3: Negative double

4: At least 5-5 majors

4: Transfer

4: Transfer

Your call?

South
Q10542
KQ985
J
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
?

Ideally you would like to play in 3 of your best major-suit fit. Your methods don't allow that. You could guess and transfer to one of your suits, but you might pick the wrong suit.

If you are willing to go to the 4-level in order to find your best fit, 4 does the job. On a good day you might take 10 tricks if partner has the right cards and a key finesse is onside, but the odds are you have no game.

The 3 negative double doesn't make much sense unless you are prepared to pass 3NT. Otherwise 4 has to be better, since that will ensure the hand is played from partner's side which is definitely best. If you bid 3 you will be declarer if partner prefers spades.

Perhaps the percentage action is simply to sell out. You aren't likely to be missing a game. The opponents are at the 3-level, so you might be able to defeat them.

You choose to bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

3: Negative double

Your call?

South
Q10542
KQ985
J
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
?

This isn't good. Either partner doesn't have a fit with your majors or he has wastage in diamonds. Your chances of making game in a major were slim to begin with. Now they are non-existent.

You could bid 4, which would force partner to pick a major. This is very dangerous. Bidding 4 would give West a chance to double if he has some values, which may be all East needs to double your final contract. Also, if you run into a trump stack in West's hand he will not hesitate to double. On a bad day, you could go for 500 or 800 in 4 of a major.

You aren't going to make 3NT. In fact, 3NT will probably do a trick or two worse than 4 of a major. That doesn't matter. You aren't getting a plus score whatever you do, so your goal is to avoid a big minus score. If you pass West is unlikely to be able to double you, since for all he knows you have real values for your action and his partner is the one who is light. You can afford several undertricks in 3NT at 50 a trick. It is the 200 a trick in 4 of a major doubled which you can't afford.

You choose to bid 4. The auction concludes:

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

West leads the 3.

North
K873
432
AQ4
QJ5
South
Q10542
KQ985
J
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

What do you play at trick 1?

North
K873
432
AQ4
QJ5
South
Q10542
KQ985
J
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

In theory you could make this contract. Finesse the queen of diamonds, winning. Then discard a club on the ace of diamonds and pick up the majors losing only the major-suit aces.

In practice, that is unrealistic. East isn't bidding 3D on 6 small diamonds. If you finesse it will lose, and the club shift would be obvious. While it is usually a good idea to try risk an extra undertrick if there is a chance to make an undoubled non-vulnerable game contract, there isn't a real chance on this hand. Playing the queen of diamonds would just be throwing away a trick. 50 points is 50 points.

You win the ace of diamonds. East plays the 8 (standard carding). How do you start?

North
K873
432
Q4
QJ5
South
Q10542
KQ985
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

This may be your last time in dummy for a while, so you need to make the most of it. Leading a spade will work very well if East has a stiff ace of spades, but otherwise it won't accomplish much. A heart off dummy is more promising. You need to develop tricks in the heart suit in all variations, and it may be important to lead up the your heart honors twice.

You choose to lead a small spade off dummy. East plays the 6, and your queen loses to West's ace. West returns the 9, small, 7, and you ruff. What next?

North
K87
432
Q
QJ5
South
1054
KQ985
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

It is tempting to cross to the king of spades in order to lead a heart up, but there are pitfalls. If West has 3 spades and a club card, he will be able to get in and draw the third round of trumps. This will leave you a trump short in the end game.

It is better to hang onto the boss trump and go after your club trick. Even if both club honors are offside, this should be okay. The opponents won't be able to prevent you from ruffing another diamond and a club in your hand, which take care of dummy's minor-suit losers.

You choose to lead a trump to the king. West plays the 9, and East discards a diamond. You lead a heart towards your hand. East plays the 10, and you win the king as West plays the 7. Now what?

North
87
43
Q
QJ5
South
105
Q985
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

Leading another heart would be fine if East started with ace-doubleton. However, if East started with AJ10 you might not only lose two heart tricks but you can lose control and not get a club trick. It is better to lead a club. If East has both club honors, he won't be able to do any damage. If West has a club honor, at least you will set up a club trick.

You lead a club. West grabs his king, East playing the 2. West cashes the jack of spades, East discarding the 10. West leads a diamond to the queen, king, ruff. What do you do now?

North
8
43
QJ
South
Q985
3
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

You can set up a sure club trick by leading another club. East will win the ace, and tap dummy with a diamond. You can cash your club, but East will be left with the ace of hearts and a good diamond so you will be down 3.

Alternatively, you could try leading a small heart from your hand. If East started with A10

doubleton of hearts, you will get out for down 2. However, if East started with AJ10 of hearts, he will win the heart with the jack, force dummy, and his hand will be good for down 4.

You don't have any clear clues. If you trust the opponent's carding to be honest (the 7 of hearts from 76 doubleton, the 2 then 10 of clubs from A102), then you should settle for down 3. It is a good general principle that most defenders will signal honestly (out of habit if nothing else) unless they can see a reason to be deceptive. Here the reason isn't particularly obvious, so it is probably right to settle for down 3.

You lead another club. East wins the ace, and forces dummy with a diamond. You cash your club while East discards his jack of hearts, and East's hand is high so you are down 3. The full hand is:

West
AJ9
76
953
K9876
North
K873
432
AQ4
QJ5
East
6
AJ10
K108762
A102
South
Q10542
KQ985
J
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
A
8
J
1
1
0
3
6
Q
A
0
1
1
9
4
7
2
3
2
1
4
9
K
2
1
3
1
2
10
K
7
3
4
1
4
K
5
2
0
4
2
J
7
10
5
0
4
3
5
Q
K
10
3
5
3
3
9
J
A
2
5
4
10
5
6
8
1
6
4
Q
J
11

How was the defense?

West
AJ9
76
953
K9876
North
K873
432
AQ4
QJ5
East
6
AJ10
K108762
A102
South
Q10542
KQ985
J
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
A
8
J
1
1
0
3
6
Q
A
0
1
1
9
4
7
2
3
2
1
4
9
K
2
1
3
1
2
10
K
7
3
4
1
4
K
5
2
0
4
2
J
7
10
5
0
4
3
5
Q
K
10
3
5
3
3
9
J
A
2
5
4
10
5
6
8
1
6
4
Q
J
11

The defense looks fine. On a double-dummy basis West would have done better to shift to a club after winning the ace of spades, since two rounds of clubs and then a diamond through would have locked declarer in his hand, but West couldn't know who had the ace of clubs. East didn't make the mistake of pitching too many "worthless" diamonds. He followed the fundamental principle of discarding -- keep winners, discard losers.

What do you think of East's 3 call?

West
AJ9
76
953
K9876
North
K873
432
AQ4
QJ5
East
6
AJ10
K108762
A102
South
Q10542
KQ985
J
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
A
8
J
1
1
0
3
6
Q
A
0
1
1
9
4
7
2
3
2
1
4
9
K
2
1
3
1
2
10
K
7
3
4
1
4
K
5
2
0
4
2
J
7
10
5
0
4
3
5
Q
K
10
3
5
3
3
9
J
A
2
5
4
10
5
6
8
1
6
4
Q
J
11

Presumably 2 would have been artificial. 3 was enterprising, and could have gone for a number on a bad day. Still, even when East has stepped out of line, it will usually be difficult for N-S to capitalize on the aggressive bid. More often than not this sort of action will turn a minus score into a plus score, either by winning the part-score battle or causing the opponents to have an accident. Had East gone quietly N-S would have bought the hand for 2 making 2 on a garbage Stayman sequence, with E-W cold for 3. As it was, N-S arrived at a terrible contract. Thus, the 3 call was worth 6 IMPs compared to passing.

Do you agree with North's 3NT call?

West
AJ9
76
953
K9876
North
K873
432
AQ4
QJ5
East
6
AJ10
K108762
A102
South
Q10542
KQ985
J
43
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
3
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
A
8
J
1
1
0
3
6
Q
A
0
1
1
9
4
7
2
3
2
1
4
9
K
2
1
3
1
2
10
K
7
3
4
1
4
K
5
2
0
4
2
J
7
10
5
0
4
3
5
Q
K
10
3
5
3
3
9
J
A
2
5
4
10
5
6
8
1
6
4
Q
J
11

North has 4 spades. However, with North's 4-3-3-3 shape, double diamond stopper, and the diamond lead coming up to him in 3NT rather than through him in 4, it looks like 9 tricks will be easier than 10.

At the other table North passed originally, but they got to 4 from the North side after South made a Michaels cue bid. East led ace and a club, and the contract was routinely down 2 tricks.

Standard negative doubles would have worked out better on this hand, provided that North bid 3? Holding a maximum and a double diamond stopper North might well have bid 3NT. We have found that 3-level negative doubles are usually ineffective. The main advantage of them is that you can stop at the 3-level when you have a fit. But is this really an advantage? Let's suppose South's hand is a little stronger, say the ace of spades instead of the queen, so South might have a decent shot at game if North fits one of the majors. What happens after the negative double? If North has a major he bids it, and if South is planning on stopping the game will not be bid. However, if North doesn't have a major he will have to bid 3NT with a diamond stopper, and with no fit the partnership is almost certainly overboard. Thus, the only time you can stop is when you might have a game, but when you definitely don't have a game, you can't stop. This is backwards from what you want.

The hand type where you are most likely to want to merely compete is a hand with a long suit where you would like to bid the third and final heart or spade. Playing standard methods, this cannot be done. With our methods, we can stop. Also, if we have a strong hand with two suits we can transfer and then bid the other suit, with no danger that partner will get in our way.

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