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Memory Strain
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Developing a new partnership for Orlando was fun, but a huge amount of work.  We spent nearly a month solid on notes, and methods.  Happily, we had no mix-ups or misunderstandings.  Still, there were a few obscure sections in the notes that both of us prayed, "Please, don't come up, don't come up, don't come up ..."

So, naturally.

With their side vulnerable, East passes, and you pick up an obvious one spade opener:

South
QJ532
AJ
Q10942
K
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
3NT
P
?

OK, I know this one.  3NT shows some unspecified Splinter in a minimum game force, at most 12 high card points.  You can ask with four clubs, or simply quit at four spades.  Your choice?

 

Slam is awful opposite even a nice-fitting maximum like AKxx xxxx x Axxx, so you sign off with four spades, send the tray back, and await the opening lead.  However, the tray quickly comes back with a five club call from partner.  

South
QJ532
AJ
Q10942
K
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
3NT
P
4
P
5
P

Come on!  Give me a break.  What is he doing to me.  What sort of idiotic bid is ...  Oh, wait a minute.  This one is in the notes.  Yes, I remember.  If you start with a mini-Splinter auction, but bid beyond four of our trump suit, that shows an Exclusion Key Card hand, with bids coded in ascending order.  So 4NT would be a club void.  This one is Exclusion for diamonds!  Yes!  All that studying payed off.  

We respond 14-30 style, so you have to bid one step to show one key card.  Over a 5 exclusion, that means five hearts.  

Partner bids the slam, and West leads the club eight:

West
North
A986
Q8
AQJ10652
East
South
QJ532
AJ
Q10942
K
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
3N
P
4
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
1

Nice slam.  Looks easy unless we run into trump problems.  Plan the play.

We have no chance if West holds all four trumps.  Otherwise, the slam is cold, provided we start trumps from the table.  You should win the club ace and lead a low trump from the table.  If East wins the king, he can't hurt you, even with all four trumps.  If West has the king, there is no club ruff or over-ruff danger, and you can draw trumps and run clubs.  

Unfortunately, you woodenly call for a low club from dummy, and win the trick in hand.  Well that was dumb.  Now what?

 

You can lead a trump honor from hand, and run it, or you can play a trump to the ace, and a trump.  Trump to the ace works whenever East has the trump king or ten, but fails if West started with K10x (or K10xx) in trumps.  West will win and tap dummy, and you can't avoid a second trump loser.

Likewise, it looks like running an honor works whenever West has the trump king or ten (ignoring all four trumps).  If the trump loses to the king,  you will ruff the next club high, and finesse West for the ten.

 

So, who do you play for something in trumps? 

Counting cases, spade to the ace is clearly better.  That loses over the spade honor line, if West started with K10x in trumps, two cases.  Running the queen, and later playing West for the ten, loses immediately if East has all four trumps.  That K107 must score two trump tricks once you start with an honor, and he taps dummy.  Likewise, you lose to K10x or K10 tight with East.  Four cases.

Can we draw any inferences from the opening lead?  After a void-showing auction, you would expect West to try a heart or a club.  East had a chance to double five clubs, but didn't, so a heart lead feels indicated.  Of course, a singleton club lead might appear more attractive. 

If West is short in clubs, then West is more likely to hold either missing spade honor, so perhaps it is right to run the trump queen.  Still, leading a singleton would be very attractive if partner rated to have a key-card, and so a possible quick entry.  Leading a singleton would be futile, and dangerous, if West was looking at the trump king.  That is another argument in favor of the spade ace line.  So that looks best.

 

For what it is worth, three of the view-graph declarers in Orlando reached six spades on a club lead.  All three won the club in hand!  Two of the three chose to run the spade queen next.  Still, I don't know their auctions, and what inferences they could draw from the opening lead.

In contrast, after a diamond lead, it is still clearly best to start trumps with a low trump from the table. Every declarer but one got that right.

Anyway, back to our table.  None of this actually happened.  As you probably figured out, five hearts was not a one-step response, but two steps.  You had forgotten that partner had shown an Exclusion-Diamond ask but actually bid five clubs.  First step was five diamonds!  So you showed no key cards, and partner signed off.  Turns out all that studying melted your brain.  Anyway, you now get to declare five spades on the club eight lead:

West
North
A986
Q8
AQJ10652
East
South
QJ532
AJ
Q10942
K
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
3N
P
4
P
5
P
5
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
1

When you see dummy, it hits you what you have done.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  There goes 11 easy IMPs.  In the midst of this fog of self-recrimination, can you plan the play?

Is it right, once again, to win on the table and lead a low trump?

 

No!  Absolutely not.  The contract is only in jeopardy if West has all four trumps, so you may as well assume that.  Leading a trump to the queen and king, when West started with all the trumps, loses an early trick, and a tempo.  You will need miracles to make eleven tricks after the obvious diamond shift. 

 

So, you win the club king in hand, and lead the spade queen.  At the table, the trump queen held, as, sure enough, East showed out, discarding an encouraging diamond three:

West
North
A986
Q8
AQJ10652
East
South
QJ532
AJ
Q10942
K
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
3N
P
4
P
5
P
5
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
2
3
K
3
1
0
Q
4
6
3
3
2
0
2

Now what?

Claim eleven tricks.  You'll play a trump to dummy and run clubs, giving up two trump tricks.

Friendly defense.  Let's make the defense a little tougher, and have West cover the spade queen:

West
North
A986
Q8
AQJ10652
East
South
QJ532
AJ
Q10942
K
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
3N
P
4
P
5
P
5
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
2
3
K
3
1
0
Q
K
2

Do you win or duck?

 

Win, of course, for the same reasons that we didn't start trumps with a low trump to the queen.  We can't afford to let West in yet, if trumps are really 4-0.

 

So, you win with the ace, and start on clubs, in this position:

North
986
Q8
AQJ1065
South
J532
AJ
Q10942

 

What do you discard from hand?

Count winners!  We'll play clubs until West ruffs.  West must play a diamond to tap dummy, or the play is trivial.  Another club ruffed and another diamond trumped on the the table.  That kills our club suit, but we can shift gears and trump a third diamond in dummy.  Cross to hand, diamond ruff, cross back to hand, and draw the last trump.  In that way, we will score five trumps in hand, three diamond ruffs in dummy, at least one club and at least one heart - ten tricks minimum.

If a second club is cashing, we can afford to discard the heart, and take eleven tricks with only one heart winner, but, if the second club is getting ruffed, we will need a heart finesse for trick eleven.  So, we may need that jack of hearts, and we must discard a diamond on this trick.

 

Sure enough, West ruffs the second club, and we exchange diamond and club ruffs:

West
North
A986
Q8
AQJ10652
East
South
QJ532
AJ
Q10942
K
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
3N
P
4
P
5
P
5
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
2
3
K
3
1
0
Q
K
A
3
1
2
0
A
4
2
4
0
2
1
6
6
5
4
1
3
1
Q
7
9
7
0
3
2
7
8
8
10
1
4
2
6

We have reached this position:

North
9
Q8
J1065
South
J532
AJ
Q

Time for the heart finesse.  Which heart do you lead from dummy?

The eight.  We need two hand entries, and, if we start with the queen, East can set us by refusing to cover. 

 

This is a common textbook theme:  a suit like

North
Q8
South
AJ

poses interesting entry problems.  East can deny a second hand entry by refusing to cover the queen, or, if we lead the eight from dummy, rising king.  Flying king can't help on this hand - we simply draw the last trump and return to dummy with the heart queen, to run clubs.  

So, eight of hearts to the jack, (please win), diamond ruff, heart to the ace, claim.

Well played.

Suppose, instead of trumping the second club, West discards a diamond.  Why would he do that?  How do you continue?

This looks like more friendly defense.  With a club in, we no longer need that heart finesse, and can simply play to trump three diamonds on the table.  Still, one thing is certain - looking at the heart king, West would trump the second club.  So why throw a diamond?  Almost certainly, the full hand looks something like this:

West
K1074
97542
KJ6
8
North
A986
Q8
AQJ10652
East
K1063
A8753
9743
South
QJ532
AJ
Q10942
K
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
3N
P
4
P
5
P
5
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
2
3
K
3
1
0
Q
K
A
3
1
2
0
A
4
2
6
1
3
0
Q
7
4
4
0
3
1
J
6
5
9
1
4
1
J
9
J
7
0
4
2
K
8
8
10
1
5
2
7

After exchanging ruffs, and discarding the heart jack, we will have reached this ending:

West
10
97542
North
9
Q8
1065
East
K1063
A7
South
J532
A
Q
D

When we try to trump our last diamond, West will get to trump in with the ten - the setting trick.

 

No reason to trump three diamonds, once we get a second club trick.  The heart finesse has to be on, and we should keep the heart jack, and finesse hearts at the end.

 

What do you think of North's bidding?

Not much.  Exclusion, with no heart control, seems pretty foolish.  This is particularly true when the hand can be described easily with a strong jump shift.  Unfortunately, in the modern game, three clubs is not a strong jump shift.  We play three clubs as invitational, so that bid is out.  2 was an option, but that shows a game force, balanced, or clubs, and it will be very hard to catch up after a two club start.  Jacoby 2NT?  Splinter?  Nothing really appeals.

 

The auction chosen certainly makes it easy to investigate seven - if opener shows two with the queen (via 5NT), North can continue with six clubs, asking for kings.  Opener would bid seven with both, bid six hearts with the heart king, and punt with six diamonds with the club king.  Easy.

 

Here was the actual hand:

West
K1074
K9754
J76
8
North
A986
Q8
AQJ10652
East
10632
AK853
9743
South
QJ532
AJ
Q10942
K
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
3N
P
4
P
5
P
5
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

So, the contract had no chance if West had covered the trump queen.  That looks like a serious blunder.  Could the hand have been made with a different line?

Maybe.  There was an interesting swindle line available.  What would happen if South had led a low trump at trick two?  If West followed low, North can insert the eight, guaranteeing eleven tricks.  Still, if West does put up the ten, the contract has no real chance.  Would West, holding all four trumps, put up the ten?  I doubt it.  That defense is right only if South had no high diamond honor.   Still, inserting the ten won't set the hand either if declarer has a high diamond honor.  So, maybe, if West really trusted South's declarer skills, and trusted declarer to be thinking straight after the blundered auction. 

 

What do you think of West's opening lead?

Looks perfect.  Clearly, N-S stopped below slam because they were missing two key cards, and so East has an ace.  Leading the singleton will almost certainly set five spades.

 

Of course, East did not hold an ace.  Was West misinformed?

 

Tough question.  Picture what would have happened without screens.  One of the N-S players would explain the auction, and say "Five hearts showed x- number of key cards outside diamonds."  The other N-S player would pipe up, "No, it showed y".  Soon the  mix-up would become clear, and West would know not to play partner for an ace.  That makes a club lead much less attractive, and a diamond lead much more attractive. 

 

To put it another way, West was told, incorrectly, that five hearts showed one key card.  East was given the correct information on the other side of the screen.  That seems like damage to me.

 

Should E-W have been given some redress?

I don't think so.  A diamond was led against six spades, and the contract settled off three tricks.  Five spades was going down two had West covered the trump queen (assuming declarer tried to land the contract and finessed a heart late in the play).  The lead did not matter.  The swing came because of a defensive blunder - not covering the trump queen. 

 

In contrast, suppose declarer had tried the sneaky swindle line - low trump to the nine at trick two.  If West did not put up the ten, I would give E-W the result on a diamond lead - +100.

 

Unfortunately, I took a bit of literary license in this write-up.  Declarer did not figure out what had happened as soon as dummy appeared.  We did not talk about this hand until dinner, well after the match was over.  Only then did we realize the screw-up.  As a result, I don't think that West knew that he had been mis-informed.   And I did not realize that their was potential damage until reviewing the hand for this article.  It all makes me feel quite a bit guilty.

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