In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you face an overcall vs. double decision.
None vul, North deals. As West, you hold:
You play an equal-level conversion style. This means that if you make a takeout double of 1♣, you can covert any diamond bid by partner to hearts without showing any extra strength. Of course there is the danger that partner will compete too high in diamonds since he will be expecting diamond support, but you wouldn't be over-stating your hand.
Making a takeout double is relatively safe. You can convert 2♦ to 2♥ without showing anything more than you have. Partner is a passed hand, so he isn't likely to have such great diamond length that he will be competing to 3♦ on his own.
On the other hand, hearts is mostly where you live. You definitely prefer a heart lead to a spade lead if partner is on lead against notrump, and you are better suited for competing in hearts than in spades if you strike a fit.
Overcalling 1♥ pretty much loses the spade suit, particularly if you have a 4-4 spade fit. Partner knows that you play equal-level conversion, so he won't be introducing a 4-card spade suit after you overcall. This hand could play considerably better in spades than in hearts if partner has 4 spades. You have enough strength that you may be able to out-compete the opponents.
It is a close call, but it looks like the percentages favor double.
You double. The bidding continues:
You were planning on introducing your heart suit, but North beat you to it. Partner had a chance to bid spades, and he failed to do so. Your strength is minimal for your takeout double. It is clear that you have no more business in this auction.
You pass, ending the auction.
Your lead. From an AK holding, you may lead either the ace or the king. If you lead the ace, partner will give a standard attitude signal. If you lead the king, partner will give a suit-preference signal.
It is almost always right to lead from an AK holding vs. a suit contract. The lead is relatively safe, and you retain the lead so you can find the best defense with the help of seeing dummy and partner's signal.
With dummy having bid hearts, the most important information you can get is partner's heart holding. Partner won't have enough heart spots to give a meaningful suit-preference signal.
You lead the ace of hearts.
Partner plays the ♥4 (standard attitude), and declarer the ♥7. UDCA after trick 1. How do you continue?
Partner must have started with a singleton heart, Qx, or Qxx. He doesn't have a small doubleton, since he would have played high from that.
If partner has a singleton heart, you will do better off shifting to a trump and let declarer play the hand. That doesn't seem likely. Partner has a little strength, and if he had 4 spades he would have bid 1♠. A singleton heart would give him more length in the minors than he figures to have on the auction. It looks right to continue with a small heart to partner's expected queen. If declarer has a singleton heart this may start a worthwhile force, and if the hearts are 2-2 this untangles the heart suit so you can lead the suit safely later.
You have a choice of small spots to lead. You have the king of diamonds and not much in spades, so it looks right to lead the smaller spot card for suit-preference.
You lead the ♥2. Partner plays the queen, and declarer ruffs with the ♣2. Declarer leads the ♣6 to dummy's ace, partner playing the ♣3. Now a small diamond off dummy, ♦2, jack, king. Your play?
Any spade tricks can wait. It is clear to continue hearts. Forcing declarer may accomplish something. Partner's ♦2 indicates an even number of diamonds, giving declarer 4 diamonds. It is possible that declarer's shape is 3-1-4-5 and he chose 2♣ as a least of evils rebid. If that is the case, the forcing game may be very effective. Once again, you should lead the lower heart honor as suit-preference for diamonds.
You lead the jack of hearts. Partner follows, and declarer discards the ♠7. Now what?
Things are going very well. Clearly declarer has only a 5-card club suit, or he would have ruffed this trick. Of course you continue hearts, forcing declarer and giving partner a chance to discard.
You lead the king of hearts. Partner discards the ♠10, and declarer ruffs with the ♣10. Declarer leads the queen of clubs, pitching a spade from dummy. Partner wins the king, and leads the ♦3. Declarer plays the ace, and you ruff. Now what?
Things couldn't be going better. Naturally you lead your good heart, giving partner another discard while declarer gets forced again.
You lead the ♥5. Partner discards the jack of spades, and declarer discards the ♦7. You lead a spade, which partner ruffs. Partner leads the ♦10 to dummy's queen. Declarer leads a spade from dummy, and partner ruffs this for down 3. The full hand is:
How was East's defense?
The important play came at trick 1. Many players mistakenly encourage in this position, since they hold the queen of hearts. That works particularly badly when the opening leader has AKxx. Opening leader will continue the suit expecting partner to have a doubleton and be ruffing declarer's queen, but it will be declarer who is ruffing partner's queen and dummy's ♥10 will be established. It is correct for East to play small, discouraging, and let West work out the position. On the actual hand this was very helpful, as West was able to underlead at trick 2 and retain heart winners.
After that, East's defense was straightforward. He discarded his losing spades when he could, and declarer never scored a spade trick.
Where could declarer have improved?
Declarer goes in with 4 trump tricks, 2 spade tricks, and 1 diamond trick off the top. If he can get a second diamond trick, that will be #8. It won't matter how many trump tricks he loses. He can afford to lose 3 trump tricks and he will still make.
West's low heart lead at trick 2 is a tipoff that the hearts are 5-3. If West had only 4 hearts, how could he possibly afford to lead a small heart? From his point of view, declarer could have queen-doubleton. Only if West has 5 hearts could he afford to make this play. Therefore, declarer can be confident that West has 9 cards in the majors.
Declarer's start was reasonable. The idea is to knock out West's entry first, so the defense won't be able to play a fourth round of hearts. This will make even if the diamond finesse is offside and East has king-fifth of clubs, since East won't have any more hearts to lead. Declarer could ruff the heart return, and play a club. East would get his 3 trump tricks, but that would be all.
Discarding a spade on the third round of hearts was an error. That is a trick declarer can't afford to lose. He should ruff and lead a club. It turns out he would have gone down 1 anyway because West can ruff the second round of diamonds and force declarer which sets up 2 trump tricks for East. If the diamonds had been 3-2 the contract would have made even with a 5-2 club split.
Going up ace of diamonds cost a final undertrick. There was no need to do this. The ace of spades would be an entry to draw another round of trumps provided West isn't ruffing.
Do you agree with the N-S bidding?
There are players who would open 1♦ on the South hand. That would have worked better this time. The danger is that if you rebid 2♣ partner will wrongly take a preference to diamonds, and if you don't rebid 2♣ the suit is lost. Since the clubs are chunky, opening 1♣ looks better.
North's 1♥ call is fairly normal. Even with the 4-4-4-1 shape it doesn't pay to go looking for a penalty at the 1-level with that hand. 1♥ is the bid he would have made if there were no takeout double, and there isn't much of a reason to do differently.
South probably should have rebid 1NT. He has the club suit to establish and aces on the side. It is hard to imagine a hand where 2♣ will make but 1NT will fail.
At the other table, West overcalled 1♥. North doubled, showing 4 or 5 spades, and East raised. South made a support double, and North judged very well to bid 3♦. After some scrambling that contract came home.
Many years ago, the distinction between an overcall and a takeout double was strength. Hands of 15 or more HCP were considered too strong to overcall, so these hands were handled by a takeout double followed by a bid of the suit. Logically, this sequence showed extras. Today players are willing to overcall on very strong hands if the shape is right for an overcall but not a takeout double, so there is no need for double followed by a suit bid to show extras. Yet, for some reason, the concept of this sequence showing extras has carried over for most players, and they lose the ability to get both majors into play immediately with a hand such as the West hand.
Plus... it's free!