Join Bridge Winners
Marginal Balance
(Page of 16)

In a Round of 16 match in the Open Trials, you face a difficult balancing decision.

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

North
Q652
A1083
9743
Q
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
?

If you choose to act, the meanings of your bids are:

Double: Penalty oriented, likely a strong holding in opener's suit.

Suit bid: At least 2 suits, the suit bid and a higher suit.

Your call?

North
Q652
A1083
9743
Q
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
?

This is a marginal balance. If you do choose to balance, it is better to balance with 2 rather than 2, even though 2 appears to keep 3 suits in play. East is known to not have a major, and West doesn't have a 5-card major. This increases the chances of catching partner with a major. Also, if you balance with 2, partner will know what you have and can choose the best fit, while if you balance with 2, partner will think you have diamonds and a major but he won't know which major. What will partner do with a doubleton diamond? If he is 4-3 in the majors he will bid 2, pass or correct, but that won't get you to a 4-4 spade fit if his suit is spades. If he is 2-2 in diamonds and a major, he will have no idea what to do since anything he does could land you in a 4-2 fit. At least if you bid 2 and he is 2-2 in the majors he will know you are in a 4-2 fit from your failure to overcall at favorable vulnerability, so he may be able to scramble out to 2NT or 3.

Should you balance? Your side is probably outgunned. It may look risky, but there are several arguments in favor of bidding. You are non-vulnerable, so if you are going down it is only 50 a trick unless doubled, and it will be difficult for the opponents to double you in 2 of a major, particularly since East doesn't have a major. You probably don't have much defense against 1NT, so down 2 or even down 3 won't cost anything. You might catch a decent fit and be making 2 of a major. Finally, your singleton club along with East's 1NT bid is an indication that East may have a club fit, and your balance might push them to 3 which you might defeat.

One other way of looking at the problem is as follows: Suppose you are playing a 9-11 1NT opening (which is about the strength partner figures to have here), and partner opens 1NT. Even if there were no danger of being doubled in 1NT, you would probably choose to bid Stayman rather than play in 1NT, since with your hand a 4-4 fit will definitely do better than notrump and a 4-3 fit might be okay also. Well, by passing out 1NT you are in essence contracting to take 7 tricks in notrump, just as if you were declaring 1NT, since that is what is needed for a plus score.

All things considered, it looks like balancing is the percentage action. It's a bidder's game.

You bid 2. The auction concludes:

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

2: Both majors

You balanced yourself to 2, so you get to go to partner's side and prove that you did the right thing.

West leads the jack of diamonds. Standard honor leads. UDCA.

North
Q652
A1083
9743
Q
South
10983
52
KQ
KJ763
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

East wins the ace of diamonds. Which honor do you play?

North
Q652
A1083
9743
Q
South
10983
52
KQ
KJ763
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It isn't likely to matter, but the better technique is to play the queen. East knows where the queen is from the lead of the jack, but from East's point of view West could have led from KJ10. It is generally right to play the card you are known to hold if other things are equal.

You play the queen of diamonds. East returns the 6 to your king, West playing the 8. How do you start?

North
Q652
A1083
97
Q
South
10983
52
KJ763
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

Whatever else is going on, you must develop club tricks. If you can steal the queen of clubs, that will be great. If West wins his ace, at least you will have set up 2 club winners. Admittedly discards from dummy won't be too valuable, but winners are winners. Your trumps may run thin, so you will need every trick you can get.

Does it matter which club you lead? Probably not, but on general principles you should conceal the 3. This may foul up the opponents getting a count of the hand. It is usually right to conceal your lowest spot if you can.

You lead the 6. It goes 4, queen, 5. What next?

North
Q652
A1083
97
South
10983
52
KJ73
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

That was fortunate. You avoided an immediate club loser, and potentially can still get your two club winners via a ruffing finesse.

It is clear to play a diamond. The 8 fell from the West hand on the second round, so the 97 are equals against only the 10. If East doesn't cover with the 10, which he might or might not have, you will have to decide whether or not to ruff.

You lead a diamond from dummy. East plays the 5. What do you play?

North
Q652
A1083
97
South
10983
52
KJ73
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It appears that West started with either J8 doubleton or J108. If he started with J8 doubleton, you clearly do better to pitch a heart. If he started with J108 you do better to ruff.

Perhaps East would have covered if West has J8 doubleton, and maybe he should. However, the hand is complex, and if he has that holding he may decide you will play West for the 10 if he plays small.

One important clue is the diamond spot East returned at trick 2. He returned the 6. That isn't the normal current count return if he started with A652. Players tend to card honestly when making an early return, since at that point the count information might be more important to partner than to declarer. Of course East might have intended his diamond spot as suit-preference, in which case he would return the 6 from both holdings.

More important is that if you discard a heart, you will be ready to ruff hearts small regardless of what happens in the diamond suit. You always have a heart loser, so you will not have given the defense a trick they didn't always have coming. In addition, even if West has the 10 your 9 will now be a winner for the future.

You discard a heart. West ruffs with the 7, and and leads the 4. You win the ace in dummy, East playing the 6. What next?

North
Q652
1083
9
South
10983
KJ73
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

Things are going very well. You have only lost 2 tricks so far, and you have forced out an enemy trump while keeping your trump holding intact.

It is clear to start ruffing hearts in your hand, scoring your small trumps. You know from East's 1NT response that West started with 4 hearts, so if you get to ruffing the fourth round of hearts he won't be able to overruff you. West's distribution must be either 3-4-2-4, 2-4-2-5, or possibly 4-4-2-3, although East probably wouldn't have bid 1NT with a singleton spade.

You lead a heart from dummy and ruff, East playing the king and West the 7. And now?

North
Q652
108
9
South
1098
KJ73
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It has to be right to take the marked ruffing finesse in clubs. The third round of clubs might not cash, but if it doesn't East will be ruffing from the long trump holding. It looks like you may make this hand, losing only the ace of diamonds and 4 trump tricks.

It isn't likely to matter, but you should lead the king of clubs. Both defenders know you have that card, but there may be doubt about the location of the jack of clubs. Once again, with equals, play the card you are known to hold.

You lead the king of clubs. West covers. You ruff, and East follows with the 2. Next?

North
Q65
108
9
South
1098
J73
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

Ruffing another heart is clear. You don't want to play a diamond, as that would get overruffed.

You ruff a heart, East playing the 9 and West the queen. And now?

North
Q65
10
9
South
109
J73
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It has to be right to try to cash the jack of clubs. If it lives, that is great. If East is ruffing, it will be from the 3-card trump holding so he may be ruffing with a natural trump trick.

You lead the jack of clubs. West follows. What do you discard from dummy?

North
Q65
10
9
South
109
J73
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

You know that West is out of diamonds, and East is out of hearts. It must be right to discard the diamond, so you will be in position to overruff West.

You discard dummy's last diamond. East follows. Now what?

North
Q65
10
South
109
73
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

Things are going very well. You need only 1 more trick to make the contract.

You have a full count on the hand, assuming East didn't bid 1NT with a singleton spade. West started with 3-4-2-4 shape, and East with 2-3-5-3. At this point both opponents are down to 2 trumps, with West having a heart and a club left and East having 2 diamonds.

You could try ruffing a club. East can overruff, but if East started with the ace or king of spades he will not be able to damage you. However, if West started with AKx of spades, that would not be good, as East would return a trump and West's hand would be high. West doesn't figure to have AKx of spades, as that would give him: AKx QJxx Jx A10xx, a model 1NT opening. However, it is always better to play safe if you can.

Suppose you lead a trump. What can they do? If they play a second round of trumps, you score dummy's small trump. If East wins and returns a diamond, you will always get another trump trick. If West wins and puts a club through you can ruff. East may overruff, but it will be with his last trump, so you will have to get one more trump trick. Leading a trump will always make.

You choose to lead a club. West covers. What do you do?

North
Q65
10
South
109
73
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It has to be right to ruff small. As discussed, East figures to have one of the high spade honors. He might be able to overruff with the jack, but you will still be in fine shape.

You ruff with the 5. East overruffs with the king, and returns the 10. Do you ruff or discard?

North
Q6
10
South
109
7
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

You know that West is down to AJ tight of spades. If you discard he will also discard, and he will get 2 trump tricks in the end. However, if you ruff there will be nothing he can do to prevent you from scoring 2 of the last 3 tricks.

You ruff with the 10. West overruffs with the jack, and you overruff with dummy's queen. You ruff dummy's last heart, and all West scores is his ace of spades. You wind up with a most unexpected overtrick. The full hand is:

West
AJ7
QJ74
J8
A1094
North
Q652
A1083
9743
Q
East
K4
K96
A10652
852
South
10983
52
KQ
KJ763
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
3
A
Q
2
0
1
6
K
8
4
3
1
1
6
4
Q
5
1
2
1
7
5
2
7
0
2
2
4
A
6
5
1
3
2
3
K
3
7
3
4
2
K
A
2
2
1
5
2
8
9
8
Q
3
6
2
J
10
9
8
3
7
2
3
9
5
K
2
7
3
10
10
J
Q
1
8
3
10
2
9
12

How might the defense have improved?

West
AJ7
QJ74
J8
A1094
North
Q652
A1083
9743
Q
East
K4
K96
A10652
852
South
10983
52
KQ
KJ763
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
3
A
Q
2
0
1
6
K
8
4
3
1
1
6
4
Q
5
1
2
1
7
5
2
7
0
2
2
4
A
6
5
1
3
2
3
K
3
7
3
4
2
K
A
2
2
1
5
2
8
9
8
Q
3
6
2
J
10
9
8
3
7
2
3
9
5
K
2
7
3
10
10
J
Q
1
8
3
10
2
9
12

West's opening lead is difficult. Nothing is attractive. East figures to have some diamond length for the 1NT response, but declarer could have a good diamond holding and the lead could easily blow a trick. Clubs are obviously unattractive, and a heart lead isn't appealing with hearts being dummy's second suit. Probably best is a small trump lead. Considering West's heart holding, declarer is likely to want to ruff losing hearts in his hand. The trump lead might blow a trump trick, but it might not.

East knows the diamond position after winning his ace of diamonds, since declarer wouldn't have falsecarded from KQ8 -- declarer doesn't know that West hasn't made a more normal lead from J10x. East can see that a diamond return will set up dummy's diamond spots. A heart return is risky, but a club return looks fine. If West can win and shift to a heart, that will simplify the defense.

There was no reason for West to duck the ace of clubs. A trick is a trick, and he would be capturing dummy's queen with the ace. West should win and shift to a heart, which would solve all problems.

East had a difficult problem on the third round of diamonds. He can see that if he covers that will establish dummy's fourth diamond, and if he ducks in tempo, declarer might ruff, playing West for J108 of diamonds. Still, he probably should cover. The distribution of the hand figures to be what it is or close to this, and East knows that declarer has at least one heart he will want to discard. Had East covered, West could overruff and return a heart and the defense would get 6 tricks.

At the end, East lost the thread. He could and should have prevented the overtrick by returning a trump.

Do you agree with the E-W bidding?

West
AJ7
QJ74
J8
A1094
North
Q652
A1083
9743
Q
East
K4
K96
A10652
852
South
10983
52
KQ
KJ763
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
3
A
Q
2
0
1
6
K
8
4
3
1
1
6
4
Q
5
1
2
1
7
5
2
7
0
2
2
4
A
6
5
1
3
2
3
K
3
7
3
4
2
K
A
2
2
1
5
2
8
9
8
Q
3
6
2
J
10
9
8
3
7
2
3
9
5
K
2
7
3
10
10
J
Q
1
8
3
10
2
9
12

East's 1NT response looks right. If partner has a balanced minimum there doesn't figure to be a game, and 1NT will be the right partial. Bidding 1 only gives the opponents room to overcall a major at the 1-level.

Over 2, East has a problem. He knows his side has the balance of strength, but where is he going? If a double would be takeout that is a reasonable course of action, but it still might be best to simply defend 2 undoubled. Any plus score will be par.

At the other table, on basically the same auction (the opening bid was a Precision 1), North was unable or unwilling to balance over 1NT. There were no problems for declarer, and he eventually took 8 tricks. Even if the defense had been accurate against 2, the balance would have gained a couple of IMPs. When 2 was allowed to make, the balance reaped big dividends.

The concept of a delayed 2-level call vs. an enemy 1NT contract showing 2 suits, with a double being penalty-oriented, is dependent upon the premise that if you have a 1-suiter you would overcall and that you would make a takeout double of 1 with the right shape even if light. This is a good philosophy. When you have something to say, say it immediately. Given that, it makes sense that a suit bid must show at least 2 places to play.

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