Join Bridge Winners
Easier than Ten
(Page of 9)

In a Round of 16 match in the Open Trials, you face an interesting decision with information from a relay auction.

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

North
AJ10987
A
87
AQ93
W
N
E
S
?

Your strong 1 opening is defined as 16+, but of course you can upgrade or downgrade appropriately. Other opening bids are defined as 11-15. If you open 1, you will be in charge of the auction. If you open anything else, partner will be captain.

Your call?

North
AJ10987
A
87
AQ93
W
N
E
S
?

Only 15 HCP, but 3 aces, 6-4 shape, and minor honors in your long suits where they are likely to be working. This hand is easily a 1 opening. If you open 1, partner will never play you for anything resembling this much power.

You open 1. The bidding proceeds:

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
?

1: Strong, artificial

1: Game-forcing values, 4+ hearts, fewer than 4 spades, not 4-3-3-3 or 4-4-3-2.

At this point you do not have any natural bids. All your bids are relays. Normally you will bid the next step, after which continued relays will allow you to determine partner's exact shape at a relatively low level. You proceed to do so.

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

1NT: Relay

2: 5+ hearts, 4+ diamonds, no third 4-card suit. With 4+ clubs, partner would have bid 2. With 4 hearts and longer diamonds, partner would have bid 2. With no second suit, partner would have bid 2 or higher.

2: Relay

3: Exactly 2=5=4=2. With spade shortness, partner would have bid 2NT. With club shortness, partner would have bid 3 or higher.

Your options here are as follows:

3: Normal control ask. Partner will show his number of controls (ace = 2, king = 1) by steps (0-2, 3, 4, 5, etc.).

3: Weak relay. Partner will again show controls. However, if partner has 0-3 controls or if he has 4 controls but fewer than 13 HCP, he will bid 3. Higher bids show his number of controls, starting at 4. Note that these higher bids will coincide with the response he would have made had you taken the normal control ask route.

3NT: Signoff. Partner needs a very good hand to override.

4: Forces 4. Your follow-up call will be RKC for a specified suit.

4: Forces 4. Your follow-up call will be a signoff. Partner needs a very good hand to override with a bid higher than 4.

4 and higher: Natural slam try.

Your call?

North
AJ10987
A
87
AQ93
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

Slam is possible. You have plenty of maneuvering room, since you can always play in 4 if need be. Signing off immediately can't be right. It must be better to ask for controls.

Can 3 controls be sufficient? An ace and a king won't be enough. Give partner something like Qx xxxxx AQxx Kx, perfect cards, and slam still is far from cold. With three kings it is possible if partner has a couple of queens, but it takes a lot. If partner has 3 controls you aren't likely to find everything you need in time for that perfect hand, so it is probably best to give up on slam.

What if partner has 4 controls? Now slam could be there, but he needs something else. An ace, 2 kings, and no queens won't make slam a favorite. Partner will need to have something in the way of fillers.

Given that, this looks like a good hand for the weak relay. Partner will bid 3 with 3 or fewer controls, or 4 controls but nothing else, and you can quit. However, if partner has 4 controls with 13+ HCP or 5 controls he will bid higher, and you can probe for slam.

You choose to bid 3, normal control ask. The bidding continues

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

3: Control ask

3: 0-2 controls

If you wish to sign off in 4, you must bid 4. This forces 4, and your 4 call ends the auction. If you with to sign off in 3NT, you just bid it.

Your call?

North
AJ10987
A
87
AQ93
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
?

With partner having 0-2 controls, there is definitely no slam. You must choose the right game, which can only be 3NT or 4.

The numbers are very simple. For 4 to be meaningfully superior (i.e. more than a 1 IMP gain), it will need to take 2 more tricks than 3NT. If those numbers of tricks are 10 in 4 and 8 in 3NT, then choosing 4 will produce a game swing.

For 3NT to be superior, it will need to take the same number of tricks as 4. If that number of tricks is 9, then choosing 3NT will produce a game swing.

There are several factors which will allow the suit contract to take more tricks than notrump. They are:

A ruff in the short hand. This allows the trump suit to produce more tricks than it will produce in notrump. One nice feature of a 4-4 fit is that either declarer or dummy may effectively be the short hand.

A stopper. If there is an inadequately stopped suit, that suit may be established and run by the defense in notrump. If there is a trump suit, that will serve as a stopper.

Entry. In notrump, it is necessary to have adequate entries to establish and run a suit. If that suit is trumps, long cards in the suit will automatically take tricks if the opponents are out of the suit.

Side-suit establishment. A trump suit can be used to ruff out a side suit, making the long cards in that side suit good. In notrump, tricks may have to be lost in the suit in order to establish it.

Flexibility. A trump suit often gives declarer added entries and flexibility for various lines of play which are not available in notrump.

There are a couple of conditions where notrump may actually take more tricks than the suit contract. They are:

When the opponents can ruff what would otherwise be your winners.

When what would be the trump suit is not needed for tricks in notrump. You may be losing tricks in that trump suit which would not be lost in notrump.

Neither of these conditions favoring notrump appears to exist on this hand. The opponents don't figure to have any ruffs coming, and you will certainly be using spades as a source of tricks if you play in notrump.

Will playing in spades produce extra tricks? Let's examine the possibilities.

Partner is 2-2 in the blacks, so there is potential for ruffing a club in the short hand. Unfortunately, the auction has told this to the opponents, and it will not be difficult for them to find a trump lead. Worse, due to the oddities of relay partner will be declarer in spades, so that opening trump lead will be coming through your strength.

Stopper. Possibly, But you probably won't need the trump suit as a stopper. You know partner has 5 hearts and 4 diamonds, which means the opponents have no 8-card fit they can establish and run.

Entry. You have plenty of entries to your spades in notrump. That shouldn't be a problem.

Suit-establishment. It is unlikely that you will be able to establish and run one of dummy's red suits.

Flexibility. There won't be much flexibility from having spades as trumps. You will be setting up that spade suit, not using it for communication between the two hands.

In addition, there is the lead to consider. The auction has given the the opponents a blueprint for a trump lead against 4. Against 3NT, it is another story. All they know is partner's distribution, and that makes a red-suit lead somewhat unattractive. Your hand is a compete mystery. You might even get a spade lead.

The bottom line is that it is hard to see how playing in 4 is going to produce the necessary 2 tricks better than playing in notrump, while one can see there being no extra trick coming from the trump suit. It looks like this is a hand where 9 tricks are easier than 10.

You choose to play in 4, which you do by bidding 4 and then 4 over partner's forced 4 call. The auction concludes:

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

Partner's artificial 1 call has made you the dummy, but not in Kit's Korner. Over you go to declare.

West leads the 2.

North
AJ10987
A
87
AQ93
South
Q6
KJ984
K1094
65
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

Do you win the ace or finesse?

North
AJ10987
A
87
AQ93
South
Q6
KJ984
K1094
65
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

West could easily be leading away from the king of spades. There is no reason not to take the finesse.

You play small. East wins the king, and returns a spade, West following. Where do you win this trick?

North
AJ1098
A
87
AQ93
South
Q
KJ984
K1094
65
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

The trump lead was a killer. Since you are limited to 5 trump tricks, you will need 5 tricks in the side suits. That means you will have to score the king of diamonds and AK of hearts, so the ace of diamonds will have to be onside for you to have any chance. Unless the queen of hearts happens to fall doubleton, you will also need to get 2 club tricks.

The optimal play for two club tricks is to lead from your hand and insert the 9. If that loses to the 10 or jack, you can lead a club to the queen. However, you do not have the luxury to try this. East might shift to a diamond, knocking out the entry to the king of hearts. If that happens, you would go down even when both the ace of diamonds and the king of clubs are onside.

Since it appears that you will need the club finesse to win, is there any reason to take it now? No. You may survive a losing club finesse if an opponent has J10x, but not if your diamond entry gets knocked out prematurely. You should overtake the trump, draw the last trump, unblock the ace of hearts, and lead a diamond up.

You overtake and draw the last trump, West discarding a heart. You unblock the ace of hearts, and lead a diamond from dummy. East plays small. What do you play?

North
1098
87
AQ93
South
KJ98
K1094
6
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

You have no choice. The ace of diamonds simply has to be onside.

You go up king of diamonds. It holds. You cash the king of hearts, discarding a diamond as both opponent follow small. When you lead the club from your hand, West plays small. What do you play?

North
1098
AQ93
South
J98
1094
6
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

If West has 3 clubs, it won't matter whether you play the queen or the 9. If West has the king or West has J10x, either play will succeed. Otherwise, both plays fail.

If West has 4 clubs, then if he has the king you must play the queen to make. If East has the king, you must play the 9 and later the king will fall making your queen good.

It is simply a matter of percentages. The player who holds longer clubs is more likely to have the king. That makes playing the queen the percentage play.

You play the queen. It holds, and you make. The full hand is:

West
52
Q10763
Q6
K1087
North
AJ10987
A
87
AQ93
East
K43
52
AJ532
J42
South
Q6
KJ984
K1094
65
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
7
K
6
2
0
1
3
Q
5
A
1
1
1
J
4
5
3
1
2
1
A
2
4
6
1
3
1
7
2
K
6
3
4
1
K
6
8
5
3
5
1
6
7
Q
7

Looking at the N-S hands, it is clear that 3NT is a better contract.

How was the lead and defense?

West
52
Q10763
Q6
K1087
North
AJ10987
A
87
AQ93
East
K43
52
AJ532
J42
South
Q6
KJ984
K1094
65
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
7
K
6
2
0
1
3
Q
5
A
1
1
1
J
4
5
3
1
2
1
A
2
4
6
1
3
1
7
2
K
6
3
4
1
K
6
8
5
3
5
1
6
7
Q
7

The lead was perfect, and effective. The auction gave West a blueprint of the South hand.

East was correct to duck the ace of diamonds. From his point of view declarer could have had KQ of diamonds, and going up ace would give declarer a second diamond trick.

In the natural vs. relay dispute, one of the arguments in favor of natural is that for choice of game decisions the weak hand can contribute. Suit quality and stoppers can be important for these decisions. While there is truth in this argument, it is the strong hand who holds most of the high cards and is usually better placed to make the right decision. In addition to the value of knowing partner's exact shape for slam purposes, that knowledge can be very helpful for choice of games decisions. This hand is a good illustration. While normally the North hand would want to choose 4 over 3NT when discovering partner has a doubleton spade, the knowledge that the opponents do not have an 8-card fit tips the balance in favor of 3NT. This would be an impossible decision to make without knowing partner's exact distribution.

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