Join Bridge Winners
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In third seat, with both sides vulnerable, I pick up a really nice hand:

South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
1
P
?

I start with a Precision 1 and partner responds with the expected and disappointing 1.  Now I have an interesting bidding problem.  Strong  4-4-4-1 hands are very awkward to describe, in any system.  Usually I just pretend that they are balanced, and show my strength.  This tends to work out quite well, particularly when, as here, the singleton is an honor.

Playing simple methods, that would certainly be best, but we do have a gadget available to show a three-suiter, so I have options.  Should I go that route?  Or stick with the pretend balanced hand?

Having such a gadget available is quite nice, and often useful, but unwinding the shape and strength in a limited auction is always awkward.  I probably won't have the room to get everything across to partner.  Describing my strength with some notrump bid is easy, and will probably serve just as well, particularly given the stiff queen.  I opt to treat the hand as balanced, via a 2NT rebid.  We have two ways to get to 2NT - through a 1 relay, or directly.  The slow approach would show 21-22, while a direct 2NT would show a better hand, and force to game. 

22 is what I have, but it is a pretty nice 22.  Is it worth an upgrade?

Nah.  The hand really isn't that strong, and part of the 22 count is a singleton queen, so ...

The auction continues: 

South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
3
P
?

The 1 waiting bid is done on most hands, but we will break the relay with constructive hands with exactly three hearts, or with long spades, and we also break to show very weak hands with a long suit.  Since partner could have shown a really awful hand with long hearts, we have to get to game.  The obvious choice is to simply bid 4.  Is that enough?  Maybe I should cue-bid along the way.  Your call?

You have a moose here, and slam is wonderful facing, say, the KQ of hearts and another queen.  You are much too good to simply bid 4.  Can we get across our hand with some cue-bid?

3 looks reasonable, and saves the most room, but we reserve bids like that, below 3NT, for game probes.  You would bid 3 on many hands with five spades, and no great heart fit.  

Cue-bidding 4 or 4 would be clear-cut.  Still, how is partner supposed to picture a slam facing a balanced 22-count?  Will partner really play you for all of these side suit controls?  

Maybe we have to push to the five-level ourselves - dangerous, sure, but partner won't get us to any slam without some real over-bidding on our part.  

I see two possible plans - 4, hoping partner can punt back with 4, quitting if partner doesn't move.   Or, we can drive this one to the five-level ourselves.

Your choice?

This really is a moose, and, if you are willing to venture to the five-level, you have a bid which will make everything crystal clear - 5!

What could be more descriptive than a splinter?  That seems perfect.

Except, of course, that you have already described a balanced hand.  Partner might work this out.  More likely, you will get to declare 5.  Splintering is a great idea, but not without some prior discussion.  Save that for another day.

There is one other bid, that won't risk landing in their best suit - five hearts.  That is a common call on hands that have too little or too much to cue-bid, and certainly fits here.  No danger of any accident, and partner will likely do the right thing.  If you must commit to the five-level, that has to be the practical choice.

At the table, I chose 5.  Partner giggled a little, and raised.  West asked for an explanation of all the bids, then led the club ace.  

West
North
1076
KQ972
6
10753
East
South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
3
9
Q
0
0
1
3
2

Partner puts down quite a suitable dummy.  This should be easy if they continue clubs, but no. 

Plan the play should West shift to a trump at trick two.  

With four side suit winners, it has to be right to cross-ruff.  Win in hand cheaply, cash our winners, and trump a diamond with the 7.  If those live, we have the rest on a high cross-ruff.  This line is clear.  However, does it matter in which order we cash our winners?

Probably not.  The only danger to the contract is a singleton in spades or diamonds, or a doubleton diamond with East, along with the trump eight.  We can't do anything about a singleton, and not much about that doubleton diamond on our right, unless the doubleton is the queen.  If the diamond jack will set up, we don't need to cross-ruff.  Diamond ace, king, diamond ruff high, spade honors, spade ruff high, club ruff, spade ruff high, draw trumps. 

West
94
3
987543
A864
North
1076
KQ972
6
10753
East
QJ32
854
Q10
KJ92
South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
3
9
Q
0
0
1
3
2
4
6
3
1
1
A
3
6
10
3
2
1
K
4
6
Q
3
3
1
2
5
K
2
1
4
1
7
2
A
4
3
5
1
K
9
10
3
3
6
1
5
7
Q
J
1
7
1
5
K
10
6
3
8
1
8
8
9
Q
1
9
1
7
11

For this line to work, we need to retain a spade entry to our hand, so we should cash both diamonds before cashing the second spade winner. 

Okay, Steve, nice point, but, as a practical matter, that can't really matter, can it?  In the hand above, say we cash the spades first.  For the cross-ruff to work, we need to trump one card in dummy with the trump seven, and, obviously, we can trump the spade, rather than the diamond.  So, in practice, when we see that diamond queen drop, we just change directions slightly, and trump a spade low.  Yes?

That should work, unless your opponents are clever, and this is the layout:

West
QJ42
3
87543
A64
North
1076
KQ972
6
10753
East
93
854
Q109
KJ982
South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
3
9
Q
0
0
1
3
2
4
6
3
1
1
A
2
6
3
3
2
1
K
4
7
9
3
3
1
A
3
6
10
3
4
1
K
4
10
Q
3
5
1
5
7

If we fall for the trap, and lead a third spade, we are dead.

How should the hand be played on an initial trump lead?

West
North
1076
KQ972
6
10753
East
South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
1

It is clearly right to win in hand and lead a club next.  If the person winning that trick doesn't (or can't) play another trump, we will cross-ruff.   If, though, they can play another trump, it feels like we will need to hook the diamond, scoring three diamonds before cross-ruffing.  That is certainly true if trumps are 3-1.  If trumps are 2-2, we have a second option - we could play to develop the spades:

Ace, king of spades, diamond ace, diamond ruff, club ruff, diamond king, throwing a spade, and then trump a spade.  This will work if the diamond queen drops in three rounds (around 22%), if the spade QJ drop, or, thanks to our spade spots, if East holds J9 or Q9 alone.  We will also make if spades are three-three (though we lose to QJ9 with East).  The spade suit will produce three tricks better than 40% of the time, and the added chance of the diamond queen dropping makes this better than the 50-50 diamond finesse.

Once again, order matters.  The best line, assuming trumps are 2-2, is to lay down one high spade, and see if anything interesting drops.  If nothing fancy happens, shift to diamonds - trumping a diamond, a club, and the last diamond.  Then, finally, spades.  Perhaps the hand will look like this:

West
Q942
53
108
AJ642
North
1076
KQ972
6
10753
East
J3
84
Q97543
K98
South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
2
4
6
3
1
0
Q
2
3
K
2
1
1
8
10
5
7
3
2
1
A
2
6
3
3
3
1
A
8
6
3
3
4
1
K
10
7
4
3
5
1
2
4
9
5
1
6
1
5
8
J
6
3
7
1
J
9

That last diamond squeezes West, and we can establish whichever suit is discarded.

So, the plan is to play a club, and go after spades if they return a trump, and trumps are two-two.  If trumps are 3-1, we will bank on the diamond finesse, and then cross-ruff.  Good plan, but there is a hitch.  Do you see it?

Suppose this is the full hand: 

West
Q942
3
98754
A86
North
1076
KQ972
6
10753
East
J3
854
Q103
KJ942
South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
1

We must win that second trump lead on the table to take our diamond finesse.  If this requires overtaking a trump, then East may be able to over-ruff the trump seven.  Nice hitch!  And the solution is trivial - simply win the opening trump lead in hand with any trump except the 6.  Then we can win the second round on the table with the 7. 

At the table, West shifted to the 9 at trick two, covered by the ten and jack. 

West
North
1076
KQ972
6
10753
East
South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
3
9
Q
0
0
1
9
10
J
K
3
1
1
2

Suddenly I had a new option - winning four spade tricks.  The cross-ruff line was still available, but risked a spade ruff.  Trusting the spade shift would cost the contract if West had found this play from some Q9 holding.  Was that possible?

Not in any universe I inhabit, so I drew trumps and played for four spade winners.  The full hand was the hand from page 5:

West
94
3
987543
A864
North
1076
KQ972
6
10753
East
QJ32
854
Q10
KJ92
South
AK85
AJ106
AKJ2
Q
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
3
9
Q
0
0
1
9
10
J
K
3
1
1
2

Why in the world did West shift to the spade?  No idea.  Maybe he took the club nine to be some sort of suit preference signal. 

It was interesting that East held that key doubleton diamond queen, and care would have been necessary on a trump shift.  Meanwhile, an initial trump lead would have done me in - I could make it, double-dummy, but, in practice, I'd have gone down.

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