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Dominating Shift
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In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you have to decide whether or not to compete vs. an enemy 1NT opening.

Both vul, East deals. As West, you hold:

West
862
AQ
K103
AJ963
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
?

Your methods over a strong NT opener are:

DBL: 4-card major and a longer minor

2: Both majors

2: 1 major

2M: 5-card M, 4+ minor

Your call?

West
862
AQ
K103
AJ963
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
?

No action fits your hand. In addition, with this balanced hand and scattered values it is far from clear that it would be right to compete even if you could do so conveniently.

You pass. The bidding continues:

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

2: Transfer

Your call?

West
862
AQ
K103
AJ963
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
?

You do have a doubleton heart and some values, which argues for competing. Otherwise, everything favors passing. You have only 3 spades which is a very serious consideration, since your most likely partial is 2. Your hand is defensively oriented. Furthermore, both sides are vulnerable, which is the worst vulnerability for a marginal part-score competitive bid since it is 100 a trick whichever side is going down. While a takeout double could work well, the percentages appear to favor passing.

You pass, ending the auction

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

Your lead. Third and fifth leads.

West
862
AQ
K103
AJ963
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

You certainly don't want to be leading away from any of your honors into the notrump bidder. A spade lead looks clear.

Even though you have nothing in the spade suit, it is probably best to lead the right count card, the 2. If you lead a different spot partner isn't going to know what you have done and is sure to misread the position. It is seldom right to lead top from xxx unless you are sure that partner won't be misled.

You lead the 2.

West
862
AQ
K103
AJ963
North
953
109852
87
K75
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

Dummy plays the 3, partner the 10, and declarer wins the queen. At trick 2, declarer leads the 7. Your play?

West
86
AQ
K103
AJ963
North
95
109852
87
K75
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It looks likely that partner has the king of hearts since declarer isn't attempting to get to dummy for a heart play, but you can't be sure of that. Playing the ace is not without risk. Furthermore, it shouldn't be necessary. If partner has KJx of hearts, he should be able to work out to overtake, since he knows it is better for him to be on lead than for you to be on lead. This play doesn't have any real risk. Even if declarer started with Axxx of hearts and is playing the suit this way, there is no way declarer will later finesse and risk losing 2 tricks when the suit is 2-2.

You win the queen of hearts, partner playing the 6. What do you play now?

West
86
A
K103
AJ963
North
95
10985
87
K75
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

This is a difficult continuation. Almost anything could be very right or very wrong. It might be right to cash the ace of hearts to avoid a future end-play, but with declarer leading trumps that might only help declarer. It might be right to continue spades, which is safe enough but may cost a critical tempo. A diamond shift could be right if partner has the queen, but would be disastrous if declarer has AQ. A club shift could be right if partner has queen-doubleton, but could blow a trick in the suit if declarer has the queen.

Can you infer anything about the spade suit? Clearly declarer has the ace, but what about the king? Would partner have played the 10 from KJ10? He might very well do that. He knows you aren't underleading an ace on this auction, so playing the 10 won't cost anything in the suit. You might be misled if you have the queen, but when his 10 forces the king or the ace you will know he has the jack and can safely continue the suit. By contrast if he plays the king and declarer wins the ace you won't know where the jack is, and if declarer started with AJx(x) it won't be safe for you to continue.

All things considered, it looks best to continue spades. If partner has KJ10(x), that will be good. Partner doesn't have the king and not the jack, since with that holding he would have played the king because you might have the queen. If declarer has AKQ, the spade continuation won't cost anything except maybe a tempo, and that might not matter.

Partner knows from your opening lead that you started with an odd number of spades. You should continue with the 8, top of your remaining doubleton, to clarify that you had a 3-card holding. If you started with 5 spades, you would instead lead your smallest spade.

You lead the 8. It goes 5, jack, king. Declarer leads the 3. You win the ace, partner playing the 4. What now?

West
6
K103
AJ963
North
9
1098
87
K75
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

Now you know a little more about the hand. Declarer definitely started with AKQ of spades. In addition, he must have started with at least 4 spades, maybe 5. If partner had J10xx of spades he wouldn't have played the jack of spades on the second round, since your 8 would have been sufficient to force an honor.

What about the heart suit? It looks clear that partner has the king of hearts, since if declarer had that card he would have tried to get to dummy with the king of clubs for a heart play. Also, if declarer has the king of hearts he is ready to draw trump and run his spades, and your side can't get more than 2 diamonds, 2 hearts, and a club.

Who has the jack of hearts? Suppose declarer has it, limiting your trump tricks to 3. Where will you get 3 more tricks? If partner has the ace of diamonds you will defeat the contract whatever you do, so assume declarer has that card. You won't have time to knock out both the ace of diamonds and the king of clubs before declarer gets his spades going. Therefore, you must assume that partner has the jack of hearts. That gives you 4 heart tricks and a club trick. The setting trick might be your king of diamonds, or it might be a second club trick.

Suppose you shift to a diamond and are wrong. Declarer wins the queen, and starts running his spades. If partner started with 3 spades, declarer can discard a club on the fourth round of spades and later lead up to his king of clubs to make.

Suppose you shift to a club and are wrong. Declarer wins the queen, and starts running his spades. If partner started with 3 spades or if declarer has the 10, declarer can discard a diamond on the fourth round of spades and make the contract.

Is there a clue? Perhaps. Partner did play 64 of trumps. This should be suit-preference. If partner's side strength were in clubs, he should have played his trumps up the line.

What about continuing spades? Declarer gets a discard on the fourth spade as partner ruffs, but that still leaves declarer a trick short regardless of his minor-suit holding. He can discard a diamond, but you will be looking at 2 club tricks. What if declarer has 5 spades? Partner ruffs your spade continuation, and leads a diamond. Declarer wins the ace and leads a spade, discarding a diamond. Partner ruffs, leads a diamond, and you sit and wait for your two club tricks, making sure that declarer doesn't get to his hand for the fifth spade. The spade continuation covers all bases. It even defeats the contract when declarer has both minor-suit queens.

You choose to shift to a small club. Declarer wins the 8, and leads a high spade. Partner ruffs, and leads the queen of diamonds. Too late. Declarer wins the ace, discards a diamond on a spade, and has 8 tricks. The full hand is:

West
862
AQ
K103
AJ963
North
953
109852
87
K75
East
J10
KJ64
QJ652
42
South
AKQ74
73
A94
Q108
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
3
10
Q
3
1
0
7
Q
2
6
0
1
1
8
5
J
K
3
2
1
3
A
5
4
0
2
2
3
5
2
8
3
3
2
A
6
9
J
2
3
3
Q
A
3
7
3
4
3
7
6
8
8

Could declarer have handled it better?

West
862
AQ
K103
AJ963
North
953
109852
87
K75
East
J10
KJ64
QJ652
42
South
AKQ74
73
A94
Q108
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
3
10
Q
3
1
0
7
Q
2
6
0
1
1
8
5
J
K
3
2
1
3
A
5
4
0
2
2
3
5
2
8
3
3
2
A
6
9
J
2
3
3
Q
A
3
7
3
4
3
7
6
8
8

It isn't clear which spade declarer should win the first trick with. Winning with the ace is more deceptive to West, since East will know declarer has the king to back it up as West would have led the king from KQ. Winning the queen is more deceptive to East, since he may think his partner has the king in which case it would be important to continue spades. Since East is likely to be winning the first round of trumps deceiving him is more important, so winning with the queen looks right.

Declarer was a little careless on the second round of spades. He should have won with the ace, which would leave some doubt as to where the king is. Furthermore, when the 8 was led he should have covered with the 9. He knows it doesn't matter, but the defense doesn't know that and might think the layout is different.

Should East have doubled the transfer bid?

West
862
AQ
K103
AJ963
North
953
109852
87
K75
East
J10
KJ64
QJ652
42
South
AKQ74
73
A94
Q108
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
3
10
Q
3
1
0
7
Q
2
6
0
1
1
8
5
J
K
3
2
1
3
A
5
4
0
2
2
3
5
2
8
3
3
2
A
6
9
J
2
3
3
Q
A
3
7
3
4
3
7
6
8
8

East knows the only lead he can stand is a diamond lead, whether the enemy contract is hearts or notrump. This argues strongly for doubling. Furthermore, if West has some cards, the double may allow E-W to compete to 3.

There is always the danger that N-S may be able to redouble and wrap it around your neck. This can happen, but if it does N-S can almost certainly make 3NT, so the downside of doubling is somewhat limited. It is very unlikely that N-S will be able to redouble even when they should be doing so. South would just about have to have a big stack in diamonds, and North would have to have enough to be able to sit it. It could happen, but it won't very often. The potential gain from doubling is quite real. The actual hand is typical. If East doubles West might compete to 3, which makes comfortably. If West doesn't bid 3 he will certainly lead a diamond, and the hand will be down before declarer gets started.

Do you agree with the 1NT opening?

West
862
AQ
K103
AJ963
North
953
109852
87
K75
East
J10
KJ64
QJ652
42
South
AKQ74
73
A94
Q108
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
3
10
Q
3
1
0
7
Q
2
6
0
1
1
8
5
J
K
3
2
1
3
A
5
4
0
2
2
3
5
2
8
3
3
2
A
6
9
J
2
3
3
Q
A
3
7
3
4
3
7
6
8
8

It isn't clear. The hand is quite spade-oriented, with the strong spade suit and the worthless doubleton in hearts. On the other hand, opening 1NT does avoid any rebid problems. If South opens 1 and North responds 1NT, South is probably too strong to pass, but bidding a minor one doesn't have is never appealing. On the actual hand opening 1 is the winner, since 2 makes comfortably.

At the other table, the bidding and play were identical up to the point where West was in with the ace of hearts. Here West accurately continued spades. East ruffed, and led a diamond, leading to down 1.

On defense, it isn't good enough to picture a layout where a play would be successful. There may be another play which dominates the play you are considering, meaning that it succeeds when your play succeeds as well as on some other layouts. It is important to look for these dominating plays. This hand is a good example. The diamond shift succeeds when East has the queen of diamonds. The club shift succeeds when East has the queen of clubs. However the spade continuation dominates both the diamond shift and the club shift, since it succeeds regardless of which (if any) queen East holds.

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