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In a semi-final match in the Senior trials, you must decide what to do when partner's weak notrump is doubled.

E-W vul, West deals. As South, you hold:

South
Q7642
K42
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
?

1NT: 10-12

DBL: Penalty

Your runout methods are as follows:

Pass: Non-committal. Could be good hand, could be broke with no place to go. If fourth seat passes, opener is on his own whether or not to run.

Redouble: Forces 2, assumed to be a 1-suiter in clubs, diamonds, or hearts.

2, 2, 2: Assumed to show that suit and a higher suit, could be 4-4 or 5-4 either way.

2: To play

Your call?

South
Q7642
K42
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
?

Your side has at least half the deck, so there is some temptation to pass and go for a big score. However, it is better to bid 2. This is what you would have done if East had passed, and there is no reason to think that 1NT will be better than 2. In fact, the double might have been partly based on a running diamond suit.

Another reason for bidding 2 is that it puts more pressure on the opponents. If you pass and West has a weak hand with a 5+ card suit he will run to that suit, and the opponents will know where they stand. If you bid 2, they are more likely to have an accident. West might over-compete, or East might re-open with something. You would love to push the opponents to the 3-level with your hand.

You bid 2, ending the auction.

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

West leads the 5. Standard leads and carding.

North
A983
1097
K97
K103
South
Q7642
K42
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
2
P
P
P

Which heart do you play from dummy?

North
A983
1097
K97
K103
South
Q7642
K42
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
2
P
P
P

In theory, your play from dummy can't make a difference. But you might as well play the 10. This could plant a seed in the minds of the defenders that your heart holding is different from what it is. For example, suppose East has AJx of hearts. He might think you started with Qxx, and be afraid to continue the suit. Of course he shouldn't think that since if you had Qxx you would have played small, but it can't hurt to try.

You play the 7 from dummy. East wins the ace, and returns the jack. Do you win or duck?

North
A983
109
K97
K103
South
Q7642
K4
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
2
P
P
P

It is clear to win this trick. If West has the queen of hearts, he can always overtake if he wants to be on lead. East's jack of hearts doesn't have to be honest. East could have AQJxx, in which case ducking is a disaster. Also, there might be value in retaining the third heart for end-play purposes.

You win the king of hearts. West follows with the 8. What do you do now?

North
A983
10
K97
K103
South
Q7642
4
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
2
P
P
P

Assuming nothing unexpected in the trump suit, you have 7 sure tricks -- 4 spades, 1 heart, and 2 clubs. There are various chances for an eighth trick, particularly from the diamond suit.

You have many options. East is known to have most of the high cards, but there is room in West's hand for something. A natural play is to start on the trump suit with a trump to the ace and a trump back. If East has king-doubleton of trumps, he may have to lead something helpful. If you do play trumps, you should be careful to start with a middle trump. If the trumps are 3-1, your goal should be to wind up with a middle trump and the 2 in your hand, and the 3 in dummy. This gives you maximum entry flexibility if you need it. At present it isn't clear how this might make a difference, but it can't cost to keep all options open. It is just good technique.

Another possibility is to exit with the third round of hearts. You won't like it if West wins and leads a club through. But if West has the queen of hearts you can never prevent the defense from doing this. However, if East has the queen of hearts, he will have to break one of the other suits, and that will be to your benefit.

If you think about it, it should be clear that East has the queen of hearts. Suppose he started with AJx. Why would he return the jack? He would certainly have returned a small heart, which would give you a guess if you started with Qxx. Note that this is not a normal restricted choice situation, since presumably West wouldn't be underleading an ace on a blind auction such as this. East would always be winning the ace of hearts if he started with AKx(x) and was planning on returning a small heart. Thus you would have a real guess if you had Qxx, and you might well go wrong considering that East is marked with most of the high cards. Consequently, East's jack of hearts return marks him with the queen. Exiting with a heart looks best.

You choose to lead the 4. West plays the jack. You win the ace, and East follows with the 5. Now what?

North
983
10
K97
K103
South
Q762
4
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
2
P
P
P

If you continue spades, you should certainly lead the 9. This maximizes your flexibility in the spade suit.

There is something to be said for leading a diamond to the jack now. If you play a spade, West might have KJ doubleton of spades and East everything else. West could potentially shot a club through, which might or might not cause problems. But you will still have plenty of end-play potential. The danger with making a diamond play now is that West might have started with xxx in hearts and J10 doubleton of spades. Then the fourth round of hearts would get the defense a second trump trick unless you make a very good guess. So, it looks right to play another trump.

You choose to lead the 3 from dummy. East wins the king, as West discards the 2. East cashes the queen of hearts, West playing the 3. East now exits with the 10 to your queen, West discarding the 2. Where do you go from here?

North
9
K97
K103
South
76
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
2
P
P
P

West is known to have started with a stiff spade. His carding in hearts indicates that he started with 3 hearts. He wouldn't have discarded down to a doubleton in a minor, so he is 5-4 in the minors. That could be either way, but most players tend to discard from their 5-card suit first. Also, if West had 5 clubs he might have been inclined to lead a club. So, the evidence is that West started with 1-3-5-4 shape, leaving East with 3-4-3-3. West may have one high card, but he can't have much more or East wouldn't have his double.

One possibility is to go for an end-play by playing two top clubs and leading a third club. This will work fine if East has both club honors. However, if West has one of the honors he can win the third round of clubs and put a diamond through, perhaps giving you a guess and perhaps leaving you with no play if East has both honors. You can be sure that if East started with Qxx of clubs he will unblock on the second round, as he can see the end-play coming.

Another possibility is to go after diamonds. This can be done in several ways. Obviously leading a diamond to the king is wrong, as that only works when the ace is onside. You might try leading a diamond to the 9. This works when West has the 10. If East has the 10 he can exit with a club (low if he has one honor, an honor if he has both), and you won't be able to do much other than play West for the ace of diamonds.

A third possibility is to lead the jack of diamonds. If this rides to the queen East can find a safe club exit, and you will need the 10 onside (or the ace, but you would have to guess that). If it goes queen, king, ace again East can get out with a club, and then you would have to guess whether to play West for the 10 or 8.

The best bet is to cross to dummy with a spade and lead a diamond to the jack. If East has the queen, you are home. If West has the queen, you can later lead a diamond to the 9. This will not be a guess, since East wouldn't have a double of 1NT without one of the diamond honors. Consequently, this line makes unless West has the queen and East the ace and the 10, which is as good as you can do.

You choose to lead clubs and go for the end-play. East has both honors, so you are home. The full hand is:

West
J
853
A10652
9742
North
A983
1097
K97
K103
East
K105
AQJ6
Q84
QJ5
South
Q7642
K42
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
7
A
2
2
0
1
J
K
8
9
3
1
1
4
J
A
5
1
2
1
3
K
2
2
2
2
2
Q
4
3
10
2
2
3
10
Q
2
8
3
3
3
A
4
3
5
3
4
3
6
7
K
J
1
5
3
10
Q
8
9
2
5
4
9

How was the defense?

West
J
853
A10652
9742
North
A983
1097
K97
K103
East
K105
AQJ6
Q84
QJ5
South
Q7642
K42
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
7
A
2
2
0
1
J
K
8
9
3
1
1
4
J
A
5
1
2
1
3
K
2
2
2
2
2
Q
4
3
10
2
2
3
10
Q
2
8
3
3
3
A
4
3
5
3
4
3
6
7
K
J
1
5
3
10
Q
8
9
2
5
4
9

The opening lead is pretty much a guess. Which spot to lead is a matter of partnership style.

East should probably play the jack of hearts at trick 1. If declarer has the king, it isn't going to matter. But if partner has the king, this will give East more control of things to convince partner to shift to a club when partner gets in with the king of hearts. If his jack holds, he will know his partner started with K85. He can then cash the ace and put partner in with the 6, and the 6 will be a clear suit-preference signal for clubs.

East should have continued with the queen of hearts instead of the jack. As discussed, the jack gives away the location of the queen, since East would never make this play from AJx. He might play ace and then queen from AQx.

West could discard a club first, looking like a player with 5 clubs. He can work out that there is no value in his fourth club.

Should E-W have bid differently?

West
J
853
A10652
9742
North
A983
1097
K97
K103
East
K105
AQJ6
Q84
QJ5
South
Q7642
K42
J3
A86
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
7
A
2
2
0
1
J
K
8
9
3
1
1
4
J
A
5
1
2
1
3
K
2
2
2
2
2
Q
4
3
10
2
2
3
10
Q
2
8
3
3
3
A
4
3
5
3
4
3
6
7
K
J
1
5
3
10
Q
8
9
2
5
4
9

East has a pretty normal penalty double of the weak NT. West has a real problem. Defending 2 holding a singleton spade and with the strength probably about evenly balanced is often a losing proposition. However, there is no guarantee of a good fit and no guarantee that the best fit will be found if West acts. It might depend upon their methods. Double would be okay if permissible on a singleton. 2NT would be okay if it is takeout for minors.

At the other table, North passed and East opened 1NT, playing it there. Spades were led, and declarer won the third round. Queen of diamonds was ducked, and the second round of diamonds was ducked to North's king. North came back the 10. Declarer could have cashed for down 1, and he probably should have done so since he was always down 1 if the defense took their black suit tricks. But he finessed trying to make, and that was down 2 for a 3-IMP loss.

When there are several options available, it isn't good enough to just pick a reasonable one. All possibilities must be examined carefully to find the option which gives you the most chances. Declarer failed to do so on this hand, but with the favorable lie of the cards there was no punishment.

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