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Difficult to Duck
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In a round-robin match in the Open Trials, you must find the best approach with a minimal 2-suiter.

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

North
K8532
A10
10
KQ976
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
?

A 2 call by you would be assumed to be a 6+ card suit. A 3 call does not show extra strength, and may be made with only a 4-card club suit.

Your call?

North
K8532
A10
10
KQ976
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
?

You have an easy 3 bid. You could be less distributional and still make this call. If partner temporizes with 3, you will be able to show your doubleton heart.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

Your call?

North
K8532
A10
10
KQ976
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
?

Even though you have 5 clubs which you might not have and have decent heart support, there is no reason to override partner's decision. If he weren't confident you belonged in 3NT, he could have rebid his hearts, supported spades, supported clubs, or bid 3 to get more information from you.

You pass, ending the auction.

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

Over you go to partner's side to play it.

West leads the 4. Fourth best leads. UDCA.

North
K8532
A10
10
KQ976
South
A4
KJ986
AJ9
1084
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

East plays the queen of diamonds. Do you win or duck?

North
K8532
A10
10
KQ976
South
A4
KJ986
AJ9
1084
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Clearly you must win the trick. Your 9 guarantees you another stopper. If you duck and West has the king of diamonds, you will get only 1 diamond trick.

You win the ace of diamonds. What do you do next?

North
K8532
A10
KQ976
South
A4
KJ986
J9
1084
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You have only one more diamond stopper, and one of the opponents has at least 5 diamonds. This means that you can afford to lose the lead only once.

Suppose you go after hearts first. If you lose to the queen of hearts, the opponents will continue diamonds establishing their diamond tricks. You will have only 8 tricks -- 4 hearts, 2 spades, and 2 diamonds.

It is better to lead clubs first. If you can score 1 club trick, you will be able to go after hearts to establish your ninth trick. If the ace of clubs is onside and West takes the ace, you will now probably have 4 club tricks which will easily make the contract.

Best technique is to lead the 10 to dummy's king. The reason is that you would prefer East ducks the ace of clubs if he has it. If he believes the contract depends on the club suit, he might duck from ace-doubleton or AJx.

You choose to lead a small club to dummy's king. What will you do if East wins the ace of clubs, leads a diamond to West's king, and West plays a third diamond?

North
K85
A10
Q976
South
A4
KJ986
108
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

If you didn't have the 10, the contract would depend upon picking up the heart suit. 3 heart tricks would not be enough. Assuming the carding in the diamond suit indicated that West started with 5 diamonds, your percentage play would be to lead a heart to the 10. If the hearts are 3-3, then it is a tossup whom to play for the queen of hearts. However, if the hearts are 4-2 then West is more likely to hold the doubleton heart since he has more diamonds. It won't do you any good to finesse East for the queen of hearts if he has Qxxx, since you would still be a trick short. However, if West has Qx, a heart to the 10 will pick up the suit.

Since you do have the 10, it is better to try to drop the doubleton jack. If that works, you are home. If not, you'll have to hope for the best in the heart suit. You won't be in the right hand to lead a heart to the 10, but the gain from dropping the jack of clubs outweighs this cost.

In fact, your king of clubs holds the trick. What do you do next?

North
K8532
A10
Q976
South
A4
KJ986
J9
108
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You are in good shape. It would be difficult for East to duck the ace of clubs, since from his point of view that might be your ninth trick while the diamond suit might be running for the defense. However, you probably don't need another club trick. By going after hearts you can now ensure 4 heart tricks, so if the opponents persist in diamonds that will be your ninth trick. The only danger is that they shift to spades so you will be unable to get your second diamond trick, but even if this happens you will probably be okay.

You cash the ace of hearts, and led the 10 to your jack. It holds, both opponents following. What next?

North
K8532
Q976
South
A4
K98
J9
108
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

It is clear to continue hearts making sure you have a fourth heart trick. It will be difficult for the opponents to defeat you even if East started with Qxxx of hearts.

You cash the king of hearts, discarding a spade. Both follow. And now?

North
K853
Q976
South
A4
98
J9
108
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You might as well cash your good hearts. You can comfortably discard a spade and a club from dummy. Maybe the opponents will have some discarding problems.

You cash your good hearts, discarding a spade and a club. West discards the 2 and 5. East discards the 3 and the 7. What do you do next?

North
K85
Q97
South
A4
J9
108
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

While you could knock out the queen of diamonds to set up your tenth trick, it is perfectly safe to try the clubs. Even if you get the clubs wrong, you can always set up another club trick if the opponents shift to spades.

You lead the 10. West follows small. Which way do you go?

North
K85
Q97
South
A4
8
J9
108
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

As discussed, it would be difficult for East to duck the ace of clubs, as from his point of view he might be ducking the setting trick. West has already shown up with 3 hearts and presumably 5 diamonds, so the odds are against West having AJxx of clubs. Going up queen is clear.

You go up queen of clubs, dropping East's jack. You play another club, and have 11 tricks. The full hand is:

West
96
753
K8542
A53
North
K8532
A10
10
KQ976
East
QJ107
Q42
Q763
J2
South
A4
KJ986
AJ9
1084
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
10
Q
A
3
1
0
4
3
K
2
1
2
0
A
2
6
3
1
3
0
10
4
J
5
3
4
0
K
7
2
Q
3
5
0
9
2
6
3
3
6
0
8
5
3
7
3
7
0
10
5
Q
J
1
8
0
9
9

How was the defense?

West
96
753
K8542
A53
North
K8532
A10
10
KQ976
East
QJ107
Q42
Q763
J2
South
A4
KJ986
AJ9
1084
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
10
Q
A
3
1
0
4
3
K
2
1
2
0
A
2
6
3
1
3
0
10
4
J
5
3
4
0
K
7
2
Q
3
5
0
9
2
6
3
3
6
0
8
5
3
7
3
7
0
10
5
Q
J
1
8
0
9
9

It looks right for West to duck the ace of clubs. West knows that declarer has the jack of diamonds, since with QJ East would have played the jack. It is unlikely that declarer has AJ doubleton of diamonds, since with that holding declarer would probably have found some other call than 3NT. Even if that is declarer's diamond holding, the club trick probably isn't his ninth trick.

How was South's bidding?

West
96
753
K8542
A53
North
K8532
A10
10
KQ976
East
QJ107
Q42
Q763
J2
South
A4
KJ986
AJ9
1084
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
10
Q
A
3
1
0
4
3
K
2
1
2
0
A
2
6
3
1
3
0
10
4
J
5
3
4
0
K
7
2
Q
3
5
0
9
2
6
3
3
6
0
8
5
3
7
3
7
0
10
5
Q
J
1
8
0
9
9

It looks fine. With a probable double diamond stopper, there is no need to go searching for another contract. North would have rebid 2 with a 6-card spade suit and would have raised hearts with 3-card support so there are no 8-card major-suit fits. There might be an 8-card club fit, but 9 tricks figure to be easier than 11.

Back in the days when 2/1 showed only 10 HCP and was not game-forcing, it was necessary for a sequence such as 1-2;3 to have considerable extras, as otherwise the partnership will propel to game on a misfit with inadequate strength when the 2 call is minimal. Today, with 2/1 game-forcing, it is not necessary for the 3 call to show extras. That concept is a holdover from many years ago. Yet, many pairs play that 3 shows extras, and that with a minimal hand not suitable for a 2NT rebid one must rebid the already shown 5-card major. This has never made sense to me. Having a 2 rebid show a 6-card suit, telling responder something he doesn't already know, is very valuable. Also, knowledge of opener's second suit can be important. Consider the actual hand and auction. After a 2 rebid, responder has no idea where the contract belongs, since from his point of view clubs might be unstopped or it may be necessary to play notrump from opener's side. After the meaningful 3 rebid, however, responder has little doubt about the best contract.

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