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For the Throat
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In a semi-final match in the Senior trials, you face an interesting decision vs. an enemy preempt.

N-S vul, North deals. As West, you hold

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
?

Your call?

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
?

It is often right to simply blast 3NT vs. a 3-level preempt if that is a reasonable possibility. Marginal 3NT contracts make more than usual when an opponent has preempted, since declarer can shut out the preempted suit with a hold-up play and then focus on getting his 9 tricks losing to the safer hand.

This hand might be another story. Partner is a passed hand, so it is quite likely your side doesn't have enough strength to make 3NT. In addition, partner is short in clubs. Since he is a passed hand, he will be inclined to re-open more freely han usual with his short clubs because he has already limited his hand, so you won't be playing him for more than he has. Thus, if partner sells out to 3, the odds are you don't have a game. This makes passing more attractive.

You pass. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
?

Your call?

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
?

Either 3NT or 4 might be right. Since partner did re-open he probably has a singleton club, which gives the nod to 4. Even if you are in a 4-3 fit the hand figures to play well, since dummy will be ruffing behind North's shortness.

What about going for the throat and passing the double? That could easily be right. You have 2 certain club tricks, perhaps a third with the help of the 7. Granted South figures to be sound for his preempt at this vulnerability, but you know that his trump suit isn't going to come home they way he would have liked. You have plenty on the outside, and partner has to have something for his re-opening double. It is hard to imagine 3 making, and down 2 or even 3 is a live possibility. At this vulnerability the numbers make passing look like a good bet, particularly since it isn't etched in stone that whatever game you bid is going to make.

You pass, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P

Your lead. A king lead could be from AK or KQ. With AK, you would lead the ace if you wanted an attitude signal, but lead the king if you wanted a suit-preference signal.

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P

While it might be right to get diamonds going in order to promote a trump trick, you figure to have plenty of time to do that if necessary. For now, the plan must be to establish your major-suit winners and then maybe get a trump promotion once your winners are established. Leading the king of hearts looks clear.

You lead the king of hearts.

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
North
932
9853
KQJ2
95
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P

Your king of hearts holds, partner playing the 2 and declarer the 4.

You play suit-preference at trick 1. A high spot card is suit-preference high. A low spot-card is suit-preference low. A middle spot card is encouraging.

After trick 1, UDCA.

What do you lead now?

West
AQ4
Q107
94
AJ74
North
932
985
KQJ2
95
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P

Partner's 2 is defined as suit-preference. He might not have had any choice if he had AJ2, but otherwise he is likely telling you he has the ace of diamonds.

What is declarer's shape? He has at least 6 clubs, maybe 7. He certainly has at least 2 spades, since if partner had 6 spades partner wouldn't have passed initially. He can't have more than 2 hearts, since partner wouldn't be making a takeout double with a doubleton heart.

It seems right to continue hearts. However, this may cost you your diamond ruff or trump promotion. If partner wins the ace of hearts he won't have any idea that a diamond ruff or overruff is the key to the defense.

Better is to make the diamond shift now. Partner should deduce that you don't have a singleton diamond, since with a singleton diamond and any interest in getting ruffs you likely would have led it. This will set you up for a potential third round ruff or overruff. The danger is that declarer has Ax of diamonds and will run the diamonds discarding a loser, but you will score a small ruff which you wouldn't have scored if you had cashed your major-suit winners so you will break even.

You shift to the 9. Dummy's king wins, partner playing the 3. Declarer leads a small club off dummy, partner playing the 6, and declarer the king. Do you win or duck?

West
AQ4
Q107
4
AJ74
North
932
985
QJ2
95
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P

You now know more about the hand. You know declarer started with 6 clubs. You know that partner has the ace of diamonds. You know that declarer has at least 2 diamonds. Of the unseen high cards, the ace of hearts and the king of spades, declarer has one of them and partner has one of them.

Is there any reason to win this trick? It is hard to see the urgency. Declarer is going to play another club anyway. He can't afford to play the queen, since that might allow you to score your 7 on a promotion. When he leads a small club and you win your jack, partner will know the exact club position. Also, declarer can't be sure you have AJxx of clubs. You might have started with Axx, in which case it would be disastrous for him to lead a small club. Thus, ducking can only give declarer headaches.

You choose to win the ace of clubs. What do you play now?

West
AQ4
Q107
4
J74
North
932
985
QJ2
9
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P

If you have a diamond ruff coming, it isn't going to run away from you. For now, it has to be better to play a heart. The danger with playing another diamond is that if partner has 5 diamonds and the ace of hearts, partner may wrongly continue diamonds. You can still get all your tricks, but you will have to be careful. Leading a heart now will resolve all ambiguities.

You choose to lead a diamond. Partner wins the ace and gives you a diamond ruff, declarer playing the 10 on the third round of diamonds. What do you do now?

West
AQ4
Q107
J7
North
932
985
Q
9
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P

It may seem like the hand is over, but there is still a danger. If you lead a small heart to partner's ace, partner may wrongly thing you want a trump promotion. He doesn't know you have a natural trump trick and the AQ of spades. The solution is to lead the queen of hearts. Partner will know not to overtake that, since if you wanted him on lead on the second round of hearts you wouldn't have led the queen. Now you can play a third heart. Declarer can ruff and play queen and a club, but you will have your 10 for an exit so you will get your spade tricks. If declarer started with a singleton heart he will ruff and put you in with a club, but since you have two heart exits you will always collect whatever spade tricks you have coming.

You lead the queen of hearts. Declarer wins the ace, cashes the queen of clubs, and has to concede a club and 2 spades for down 3. The full hand is

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
North
932
9853
KQJ2
95
East
KJ1076
J62
A863
6
South
85
A4
1075
KQ10832
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
3X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
3
2
4
0
0
1
9
K
3
5
1
1
1
5
6
K
A
0
1
2
4
2
A
7
2
1
3
8
10
4
J
0
1
4
Q
5
6
A
3
2
4
Q
7
9
6
3
3
4
7

How was declarer's line of play?

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
North
932
9853
KQJ2
95
East
KJ1076
J62
A863
6
South
85
A4
1075
KQ10832
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
3X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
3
2
4
0
0
1
9
K
3
5
1
1
1
5
6
K
A
0
1
2
4
2
A
7
2
1
3
8
10
4
J
0
1
4
Q
5
6
A
3
2
4
Q
7
9
6
3
3
4
7

Ducking the heart lead was good technique. While at this point it is unclear that this will gain, cutting the defensive communications as much as possible has to be right. Declarer is expecting West to continue hearts.

What about East's defense?

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
North
932
9853
KQJ2
95
East
KJ1076
J62
A863
6
South
85
A4
1075
KQ10832
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
3X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
3
2
4
0
0
1
9
K
3
5
1
1
1
5
6
K
A
0
1
2
4
2
A
7
2
1
3
8
10
4
J
0
1
4
Q
5
6
A
3
2
4
Q
7
9
6
3
3
4
7

East did well to play the 2 at trick 1. The ace of diamonds had to be the card West wanted to know about most. Showing spade strength couldn't be important. In addition, if West started with AK10 East doesn't want hearts continued, and West would likely read the 6 as encouraging.

East also did well to duck the first round of diamonds. He doesn't know that his king of spades is an entry. He properly figured that if West had a singleton diamond and wanted ruffs he would have led the singleton.

How was East's auction?

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
North
932
9853
KQJ2
95
East
KJ1076
J62
A863
6
South
85
A4
1075
KQ10832
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
3X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
3
2
4
0
0
1
9
K
3
5
1
1
1
5
6
K
A
0
1
2
4
2
A
7
2
1
3
8
10
4
J
0
1
4
Q
5
6
A
3
2
4
Q
7
9
6
3
3
4
7

East did well to re-open with a double. East could see looking at his hand that there was a good chance his partner had a penalty pass, and if that were the case East's hand would not be a disappointment.

East was correct not to open 1. Even playing light opening bids you have to draw the line somewhere, and East's hand is below that line. However, why not open Multi? The suit is adequate, as is the hand type. Sure, partner will expect a weaker hand, but so what? Partner will expect a weaker hand if you pass. Opening Multi describes your hand type as well as making life difficult for the opponents if South has a good hand. The opponents may get blown out of a game, or they may step in at the wrong time. In addition, opening may allow West to get to the right contract whatever it is. Pass in no way describes East's hand, and doesn't make life difficult for the opponents. It was ironic that South got in trouble over the pass, while had East opened Multi South would have stayed quiet.

What do you think of South's 3 opening?

West
AQ4
KQ107
94
AJ74
North
932
9853
KQJ2
95
East
KJ1076
J62
A863
6
South
85
A4
1075
KQ10832
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
3X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
3
2
4
0
0
1
9
K
3
5
1
1
1
5
6
K
A
0
1
2
4
2
A
7
2
1
3
8
10
4
J
0
1
4
Q
5
6
A
3
2
4
Q
7
9
6
3
3
4
7

South has the right hand type for a preempt, and the suit is pretty good. However, there are two major strikes against the 3 call. One is the flatness of the hand. This indicates that whatever the opponents do it is likely to work. If the opponents defend, all their winners will cash. If they stretch to game, the hand will lie well for them. If they get to the wrong contract, they can probably survive since everything will split. A preempt is more effective if it has some bite. South's hand doesn't have that bite.

The other drawback is the vulnerability. Unfavorable vulnerability is not the time to be making marginal preempts.

At the other table, South wisely opened 1. E-W then had an unimpeded auction to 4, which made easily.

Most players do not understand the full impact of vulnerability with regard to preempts. Yes, you might go for a number, and the size of that number relative to the enemy game makes a difference. But that is a minor issue. The bigger picture is that when there is a preempt, that increases the chances tha somebody is going to have an accident. That accident might be going for a number, missing a game, getting to a poor game, getting to the wrong game, selling out in a part-score battle, over-competing on a misfit, or making a bad slam decision. It might be the preempting side which has this accident, or it might be the opponents of the preemptor. If you are non-vulnerable, the cost of this accident is generally about 5 IMPs. If you are vulnerable, the cost of this accident is generally about 10 IMPs. This is why vulnerability makes such a big difference. When you make some flaky preempt at favorable vulnerability, you are getting about 10 to 5 IMP odds in your favor on that accident. This is why those horrible preempts seem to come out winners. At unfavorable vulnerability the preempt is giving 10 to 5 odds, so you want to be pretty certain that you won't be having the accident. This hand is a good example. East should have opened Multi at favorable vulnerability, while South should not have preempted. If the vulnerability were reversed, East would be wise to pass, while preempting on the South hand would be clear.

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