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Duck High
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In a round-robin match in the Senior trials, you have one of your specialized 1 auctions.

Both vul, South deals. As South, you hold

South
AQ
A42
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
?

1: Strong, artificial

1: Artificial, either 9-12 HCP balanced or 5+ clubs, 9+ HCP.

A 1NT call by you would be artificial, asking partner to clarify his hand. Other calls are natural.

Your call?

South
AQ
A42
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
?

You have nothing particular to describe. It miust be right to bid 1NT and find out what partner's hand looks like.

You bid 1NT. The bidding continues

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

1NT: Artifial inquiry

3: Balanced 11-12 HCP, 4 clubs, another 4-card suit.

If you wish to find partner's other suit, 3 is available to find that out. Anything else is natural.

Your call?

South
AQ
A42
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P

You have a 5-4 club fit, but partner is balanced and you have a double stopper in your doubleton. It is hard to imagine that 3NT isn't a better contract than 5.

You bid 3NT, ending the auction.

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

West leads the 3. Standard leads.

North
J1073
K97
K4
KJ104
South
AQ
A42
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

What do you do on this trick?

North
J1073
K97
K4
KJ104
South
AQ
A42
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

If you are planning on ducking the first trick, it can't hurt to play the 9 from dummy. Who knows. Maybe West led low from QJ10xx. Stranger things have happened.

If you are planning on winning the first trick, playing small from dummy is probably better. This will block the heart suit if East started with two honors doubleton. If you play the 9, West will be able to overtake the second round of hearts.

You choose to play the 7. East covers with the 8. Do you win or duck?

North
J1073
K97
K4
KJ104
South
AQ
A42
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

If the opening lead is an honest fourth best, the hearts are 4-3 and you are in no jeopardy. You can set up at least 9 tricks with 4 clubs, 2 diamonds, 2 hearts, and 1 spade, while the opponents will get at most 2 hearts, 1 club, and 1 diamond. However, players have been known to make dishonest leads. You don't want to risk your contract based on trusting the opponents. You need to prepare for a 5-2 heart split.

Winning this trick and going after clubs is dangerous. If you lose to the queen of clubs and the hearts are 5-2, the opponents can set up enough heart tricks to defeat you if the ace of diamonds is with the long hearts.

A better idea if you win this trick is to knock out the ace of diamonds. If they win and set up hearts, you can duck, find out which opponent has the long hearts, and take the club finesse into the safe hand. If they duck the first diamond, you can continue diamonds. That will potentially set up 3 diamond tricks for them, but you can afford to lose 3 diamonds and 1 club. Their best defense would be to win the second round of diamonds and play a heart. You couldn't afford to duck this since they could then go back to diamonds and you would have to work out who had the long diamonds. You would probably get it right, but it wouldn't be a lock.

It looks better to duck the first trick. Now all you will have to do is take the club finesse into the hand with the doubleton heart, and you will be safe. It shouldn't be difficult to figure out who has the doubleton heart.

You duck. East returns the 6. Where do you win this trick, and what is your plan?

North
J1073
K9
K4
KJ104
South
AQ
A4
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

It looks like the hearts are 4-3, likely with West having Q53 and East J1086. Still, they might be 5-2, and it is worth being careful.

If West started with 5 hearts, That means he led low from QJ10xx. Unlikely but possible.

If East started with 5 hearts, that means West led low from a doubleton. It would make no sense for him to have led low from a doubleton honor, since that would block the suit if he hit partner. West could have led a deceptive 3 from 5-3 doubleton. However, would East have returned the 6 if he started with QJ1086? Not a chance. From his point of view West might have led a singleton, and leading back the 6 would give you an extra heart trick. If anybody has 5 hearts, it must be West.

The simplest plan is to win the heart trick in your hand and immediately lead a club to the jack. This will keep your communication fluid. If the finesse loses and East returns a spade, you can afford to finesse, since if that loses you will have 4 club tricks, 3 spade tricks, and 2 heart tricks, and the communication to take these tricks.

You choose to play small from your hand. West plays the jack, and you win in dummy. What do you do now?

North
J1073
9
K4
KJ104
South
AQ
A
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You could try knocking out the ace of diamonds, but the opponents will duck the first round. Now continuing diamonds won't work, since you would be in danger of losing 3 diamonds, 1 heart, and 1 club. You might as well set up your clubs now.

You must take the club finesse into East, the safe hand if the hearts are 5-2. That means leading a club to the ace and finessing. The clubs will be blocked, but since you have both major-suit aces you will be okay.

You lead a club to the ace and a club towards dummy, finessing when West follows small. East wins the queen, and shifts to the 4. Do you finesse or not?

North
J1073
9
K4
K10
South
AQ
A
QJ6
873
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You cannot risk this finesse. If it loses and West drives out your ace of hearts, you will be in trouble if the opponent with the long heart has the ace of diamonds. Apparently you have 4 club tricks and 3 spade tricks, but due to the blockage in both black suits you do not have the communication to take these tricks.

You win the ace of spades. West follows with the 2. Now what?

North
J107
9
K4
K10
South
Q
A
QJ6
873
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

The continuation is clear. You unblock the clubs, and lead the king of diamonds to set up your two diamond tricks. The opponents get their ace of diamonds and king of spades, but you have 4 club tricks, 2 diamond tricks, 2 heart tricks, and 1 spade trick to make your contract. The full hand is

West
982
QJ1053
1093
65
North
J1073
K97
K4
KJ104
East
K654
86
A8752
Q9
South
AQ
A42
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
7
8
2
2
0
1
6
4
J
K
1
1
1
4
9
A
5
3
2
1
2
6
J
Q
2
2
2
4
A
2
3
3
3
2
3
8
K
5
1
4
2
10
2
7
5
1
5
2
K
8

Playing the 9 at trick 1 would have worked a little better.

What do you think of West's opening lead?

West
982
QJ1053
1093
65
North
J1073
K97
K4
KJ104
East
K654
86
A8752
Q9
South
AQ
A42
QJ6
A8732
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
7
8
2
2
0
1
6
4
J
K
1
1
1
4
9
A
5
3
2
1
2
6
J
Q
2
2
2
4
A
2
3
3
3
2
3
8
K
5
1
4
2
10
2
7
5
1
5
2
K
8

Underleading QJ10xx is a common theme when an opponent is known to have a 4-card holding in the suit, but here West doesn't know that. Still, the lead is well thought out. It could strike instant gold if dummy has Kx and declarer 9xxx, since declarer will naturally go up king. In addition, consider the possibility that dummy has xx and declarer A9xx. If declarer has some fear of a shift, he will win the first trick, "knowing" that the suit must be blocked. The lead can cost only if East has nothing in the suit and declarer gets 3 heart tricks. Considering that the opponents appear to have at least 27 HCP between them (11 with North, 16 with South) and no real danger suit other than hearts, if the small heart lead blows a trick it is almost certainly just an overtrick.

Oren Kriegel gave us the following tip: If you are going to duck the trick, duck high. You never know what might happen when you play some seemingly meaningless high spot card. This hand was a perfect example. Had declarer ducked high the 9 would have held. Since there would be no danger hand, declarer would have gotten the clubs right and could afford to take the spade finesse, making 5 club tricks, 3 heart tricks, 2 spade tricks, and 2 diamond tricks for a total of 12 tricks.

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