Join Bridge Winners
Impossible Response
(Page of 12)

In a round of 16 match in the open trials, you get a chance to employ one of your pet asking sequences.

N-S vul, East deals. As South, you hold:

South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
?

1: 16+ points. A 2NT opening would have been both minors, less than an opening bid, so you must open 1.

1: 9-14 points, no 5-card major, balanced. May have 5-card minor, but not 5-4-2-2.

1NT by you here would be an artificial ask about partner's shape and strength. Other calls would be natural.

Your call?

South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
?

It is clear to bid 1NT. This should work out very well. You are only at the 1-level, you have established a game force, and you are in position to find out all about partner's hand.

You bid 1NT. The bidding continues:

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

1NT: Artificial ask

2: 12-14 points, not 4-3-3-3.

2 now would be a continued ask about his shape, a Stayman-like call. Other bids would be natural.

Your call?

South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
?

It is clear to continue with the asks. You want to know what you can about his distribution. You almost certainly have a slam, but at this point it could be in any strain. You also might have a grand slam somewhere. You are in complete control of this auction.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

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

2: Artificial ask

2: 4 spades, fewer than 4 hearts

At this point there are two routes available to you. They are:

2 would ask how many controls partner has (ace = 2, king = 1). After that, you could then ask and find out his exact spade holding down to the jack. And after that, you could ask about his holding in any other suit, and keep asking until you run out of room.

2NT would ask about his shape, and his series of responses would tell you his exact shape. After that, you have the mechanism to place the contract, make a slam try in the denomination of your choice, or bid RKC in the suit of your choice.

Your call?

South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
?

It looks like the control-ask approach will be better for this hand. While knowing his exact shape might be nice, that isn't vital, and you may be able to get some of that information later. Knowing his exact number of controls and his exact spade holding looks more important.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

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

2: Asks number of controls

3: 4 controls (ace = 2, king = 1)

At this point, 3 would ask about his exact trump holding including the jack. 3NT would be to play. 3, 4, and 4 would ask about clubs, diamonds, and hearts respectively. If you choose one of the asks about a side suit, you cannot then go back and ask about spades.

Your call?

South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

Things are moving along very well. You know he has AK of spades and king of hearts, since those are the only controls out there. You will probably be winding up in 6, but there could be a grand if he has the perfect hand. Clearly the number one priority is his exact spade holding. If he has the queen of spades, you can try to work out his shape via asking bids in the other suits. It will be nice to find out whether he has AKQx or AKQJ of spades, since that jack of spades will considerably improve the prospects for a grand.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

3: Asks about spade holding

4: Exactly one top honor in spades (ace, king, or queen) plus the jack.

4, 4, and 4NT by you now would ask about partner's holding is clubs, diamonds, or hearts respectively. His response would show first, second, and third-round controls.

Your call?

South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
?

Uh oh. Something has gone wrong. Partner has made an impossible response. He has shown only one honor in spades, but he has to have AK of spades for his 4 control response.

What has happened? You are 100% sure what the bids are supposed to mean. You know partner's calls are inconsistent, but you don't know which call was in error. Is there any way to find out?

One thing is clear. You can forget about making any further asks. Partner is on a different page, and you won't be able to trust any answers. You are going to have to place the contract yourself based on the information you have.

There can be no doubt about the first response. Your partnership is 100% solid on your transfer responses. You can also be very sure about the 2 call showing the 12-14 range. You wouldn't expect there to be doubt about the other responses, but one of them is clearly a mistake.

If you could be 100% sure that partner has 4 spades, you could reasonably place the contract into 6. That might not be the perfect contract, but it can't be far off. But what if partner doesn't have spades? Suppose he thought he had shown 4 hearts. Then everything else would be consistent, since he could have AK of spades and KJxx of hearts. Thus, it looks too risky to bid 6.

You have 20 HCP. Partner has 12-14. Whatever partner has, 6NT figures to be a reasonable contract if not the best contract. At this point, bidding 6NT is the only sensible thing you can do.

You bid 6NT, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
6NT
P
P
P

West leads the jack of diamonds. Standard leads.

North
AKQ10
K43
73
8542
South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
6NT
P
P
P

Yikes! 6 is a far better contract than 6NT. 6 is almost cold, and even 7 might make, while you have only 11 tricks in notrump with no clear way to get a twelfth. Partner's misbid was his4 call. You have no idea what happened, but that can be discussed after the session. Right now, your job is to figure out how to make 6NT.

How do you start?

North
AKQ10
K43
73
8542
South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
6NT
P
P
P

Assuming the spades behave decently, you have 11 top tricks. Unless there is a miracle in the heart suit, your only chance for a twelfth trick is a squeeze. The problem is that you don't have a convenient way to correct the count.

You might decide it is right to duck an early diamond trick. But you have a ton of entries to your hand, so you can always do that later. Right now it is clear to win the first trick and cash a couple of spades to see what is going on in the spade suit. If one of the opponents has Jxxx of spades, that may alter your plans.

You win the ace of diamonds, and cash two top spades. Both opponents follow, West playing the jack. Now what?

North
Q10
K43
7
8542
South
98
A106
KQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
6NT
P
P
P

You now know you have 4 spade tricks and will not have to take a spade finesse in order to run the spades. West's jack of spades figures to be honest, since if he had Jxx he wouldn't have played the jack and led you know the suit is running. He doesn't know you have 4 spades.

Running the spade suit isn't likely to do any good. The opponents don't figure to have too many discarding problems, and that would rip away an important dummy entry.

How can a squeeze operate? The entries don't look right for a squeeze without the count unless one of the opponents guards all three suits. In order to create a normal squeeze, it will be necessary to lose a trick to correct the count.

If you hadn't gotten a diamond lead, ducking a heart could work if one opponent has 5 clubs and 4 diamonds. After the diamond lead, if you duck a heart the opponents can continue diamonds which will break up your communication for a minor-suit squeeze.

Another possibility is the unattractive play of ducking a diamond. After than you can cash your minor-sit winners discarding a heart and a club from dummy, and run the spades. If one opponent has 5 clubs and the QJ of hearts he will be squeezed. But this is an unlikely parlay.

There is one other approach to consider. You might be able to correct the count by giving up a club trick. This will work if an opponent has Qxx of clubs and fails to unblock the queen. The unblock will be far from obvious, and the defenders are unlikely to see the importance of doing this. There is the additional tiny chance that the clubs are blocked, with one opponent having J109 tripleton.

If you are able to lose a club trick without being down immediately, your squeeze chances go way up. You will know which defender has the long club. If West has the long club and East has the diamond guard, you will have a standard double squeeze with hearts being the middle suit. There are other possible squeeze positions if one of the opponents has QJ of hearts.

If you are going to try to give up a club trick, you should not cash a third round of spades. You want to unblock the clubs, cross to the spade, and lead a club. The problem with cashing the third spade first is that you will have to cross to dummy with the fourth round of spades in order to play the third club. Not only will this give the opponent with Qxx of clubs a chance to wake up and unblock the queen, but a heart return will destroy your entries for the squeeze in many variations.

You choose to cash a third round of spades. West discards the 3. What do you do now?

North
10
K43
7
8542
South
9
A106
KQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
6NT
P
P
P

The club discard changes everything. Now if somebody has Qxx of clubs left, the fourth club will be good. All you have to do is unblock the clubs, cross to the spade, and lead a club.

Did West really make the mistake of discarding a club from a 4-card holding? He might have. If he started with 4 diamonds he couldn't afford to discard a diamond. His heart holding might be dangerous to discard from. In fact, if he has J10xx of diamonds and QJx of hearts along with his 4-card club holding he was legitimately squeezed on the third round of spades. He also might have wrongly discarded a club when he has a weaker heart holding if he felt keeping the heart guard was more important. Dummy's 8xxx of clubs doesn't look that menacing.

The club heart squeeze is still possible by giving up a diamond. West might have had an easy club discard from a 5-card suit. However, it looks more likely that West discarded from a 4-card club holding, either mistakenly or because he had no choice.

You cash the AK of clubs. East follows with the 9 and 10, and West with the 6 and 7. When you cross to dummy with the last spade, West discards the 6 and East the 2. And now?

North
K43
7
85
South
A106
KQ5
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
6NT
P
P
P

Hold it! What is this diamond discard from West all about? You had been hoping that the reason West discarded a club was because he started with 4 diamonds. But now he is discarding a diamond.

What is going on? If West started with 5 diamonds, he certainly would have discarded a diamond on the third spade rather than a club from a 4-card holding. And if West started with 4 diamonds, not only has he made an incredibly bad discard but your diamonds are now good and there is no need to play a club.

The conclusion is that West must have started with only 3 diamonds. East's discard of a heart rather than a diamond confirms this. If East started with 3 diamonds, he surely would have discarded a diamond rather than a heart since his diamonds couldn't be of any value.

The picture isn't what you were playing for. West is 2-3 in spades and diamonds. If he were 4-4 in hearts and clubs he would have discarded a heart rather than a club, since he is looking at the 4-card club suit in dummy and you might not have 4 hearts. And if he were worried about his heart holding, he could always have discarded a diamond. The conclusion is that West started with 5 clubs, and your plan isn't going to work.

Is there a possible recovery? Yes, there is. The club-heart squeeze will still operate if West started with QJx of hearts. All you have to do is cash your diamonds and play a fourth diamond, discarding a club and a heart from dummy. West will be squeezed, and East won't have anything to return but a heart. Also, maybe there will be an end-play against East if he started with QJxx of hearts.

Suppose you do cash your diamonds and exit with a diamond. On the third diamond both dummy and West discard clubs. On the fourth diamond West discards a heart, and of course you discard the now worthless club. Both your hand and dummy have 3 hearts left. East also has 3 hearts, and West is down to a doubleton.

How will you play if East returns a small heart? What about if he leads back an honor?

North
K43
South
A106
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
6NT
P
P
P

On a small heart lead, if the heart honors are split, you have no chance. You must assume that one opponent started with both of them. If you play East for QJ of hearts, you must play the 10. If you play West for QJ of hearts, you must play small.

If there were nothing else to go on, you would play the 10. East started with 4 hearts. There are more QJxx holdings than there are QJx. But there is something else to go on. If West started with 3 small hearts he surely would have discarded a heart on the fourth round of spades rather then the tell-tale diamond. It was the diamond discard which made you realize that the clubs weren't splitting. If he had discarded the expected heart you would have led a club, playing him for an initial 2-3-4-4 distribution. That inference is strong enough to overcome the apriori percentages.

If East returns a heart honor, it gets very tricky. You may wonder why East would ever return a heart honor from any holding? If he knew your heart holding, he wouldn't. But he doesn't know your exact holding. For example, suppose East started with J97x of hearts. He can assume you have the 10, since if West has it nothing will matter. But he can't be sure about the 8. If you have it and he leads small, you may put in the 8 and later finesse. By leading the jack, he may convince you that he started with QJxx. But if you don't have the 8, then he has a sure set by leading small.

So, what is going on? It isn't clear at all. My guess is that there some game-theoretic optimal strategy for both sides, where East should be leading an honor some percentage of the time from both QJxx and Hxxx, and when he does declarer should play him for QJ some percentage of the time and play to drop West's honor some percentage of the time. I have no idea what these percentages are.

Unfortunately, you blindly continue with your original plan and lead a club. West started with 5 clubs, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
J3
QJ8
J106
QJ763
North
AKQ10
K43
73
8542
East
754
9752
9842
109
South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
6N
P
P
P
D
6NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
3
2
A
3
1
0
2
3
A
4
1
2
0
K
5
6
J
1
3
0
Q
7
8
3
1
4
0
2
9
K
6
3
5
0
A
7
4
10
3
6
0
9
6
10
2
1
7
0
5
8

As can be seen, the unlikely club-heart squeeze would have succeeded.

Could the defense have been improved?

West
J3
QJ8
J106
QJ763
North
AKQ10
K43
73
8542
East
754
9752
9842
109
South
9862
A106
AKQ5
AK
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
6N
P
P
P
D
6NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
3
2
A
3
1
0
2
3
A
4
1
2
0
K
5
6
J
1
3
0
Q
7
8
3
1
4
0
2
9
K
6
3
5
0
A
7
4
10
3
6
0
9
6
10
2
1
7
0
5
8

West's idle fifth club discard was helpful information to declarer, but it really couldn't be avoided. A diamond discard would have also given declarer a lot of information, and declarer probably would have tested the diamonds and then fallen into the successful squeeze by giving up the fourth diamond.

At the end, instead of discarding a diamond on the fourth spade, West should have discarded a heart. This lets declarer run the hearts, but declarer doesn't know that. Declarer will assume that the reason for West's heart discard is that West started with 4 diamonds, so declarer will try to split out the clubs. The diamond discard should have given the show away if declarer had been alert. Admittedly this is a very difficult position for West to envision.

What went wrong in the auction? North had a mental blackout, and meant his 4 call as showing 4 controls, the controls which he had already shown. These things happen to all of us.

Suppose North had responded correctly. His call would have been 4, which shows AKQ of spades but no jack. Our asks are now coded up-the-line. South's most efficient ask is now 4NT, which asks about clubs. North would bid 5, showing nothing in clubs (not even third round control). South's next ask would be 5, asking in hearts. North would bid 6, which would show just second round control (but not third round control), thus the king but not the queen or a doubleton. Since North's 2 call denied 4-3-3-3 and his 2 call denied 4 hearts, South could now work out that North's only possible shape is 4-3-2-4. North's hand must be AKQx, Kxx xx xxxx with definitely no queens but possibly some red jacks. Is this enough to make the grand a good bet? Probably not. For starters the spades would have to split, and even then there are only 12 sure tricks (5 spades, 2 hearts, 3 diamonds, 2 clubs). There is plenty of potential for the thirteenth trick, but the odds don't look quite good enough.

At the other table South opened a strong 2 and showed a balanced hand. The 4-4 spade fit was located via a Puppet Stayman sequence. North bid RKC, asked for kings thus showing all the key cards, and South chose to gamble out the grand played by North. An opening trump lead fetched West's jack, after which it should have been trivial to ruff 2 clubs in dummy and take 6 trump tricks, 2 heart tricks, 3 diamond tricks, and 2 club tricks. But declarer had a blind spot and only ruffed one club in dummy, instead playing for one of the squeezes. His luck was in, as the heart-club squeeze worked.

I have always wondered why most Precision pairs retain a strong 2NT opening. Slam auctions are necessarily awkward no matter how good the structure is since the auction is starting at a high level and the weak hand has to make most of the decisions. Our actual auction illustrates how much better it is to start with 1. When responder has a positive response the auction is at a very low level and the strong hand is in control as it should be. If it hadn't been for the mistaken response to the ask, we would have had an accurate auction.

This deal illustrates how important it is to keep in focus throughout the entire hand, being willing to change course when new evidence comes to light. The initial approach of cashing 3 spades might not have been best, but it was reasonable. When West discarded a club, declarer took note of this and reasonably switched his tactics. However, declarer failed to recognize the inferences from the diamond discard at the end, and that cost the contract.

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