Join Bridge Winners
Nervous Moment
(Page of 6)

In the fourth session of the Cavendish pairs, you face an immediate opening bid decision.

N-S vul, West deals. As West, you hold:

West
1093
1085
A107432
A
W
N
E
S
?

A weak 2 opening is not available to you. 1 would show 11-15 with 2+ diamonds, if balanced 13-15 since your 1NT opening is 10-12 here.

Your choice?

 

West
1093
1085
A107432
A
W
N
E
S
?

Even though your partnership opens light, opening 1 is dangerous. Partner simply will play you for another high card and misjudge the auction. Since your balanced range for the 1 opening is 13-15, this amplifies the danger, since that is what partner will assume you have until proven otherwise. Pass isn't always a 4-letter word.

Still, you hate to pass this sort of hand and try to recover later. What about a 3 opening? The textbooks would say this is awful. Two aces for defense. Suit lacking in intermediates. 3-card support for both majors. Opening 3 on this hand violates just about every standard principle for preempts. Partner will play you for a likely 6-card diamond suit at this vulnerability, but not for this type of hand.

Preempting on this hand has one thing going for it which balances out a lot of ills. The vulnerability. Favorable vulnerability makes a big difference, but not for the reason most players think. It isn't a matter of the number you might go for being less than the value of the enemy game. That is relatively unimportant, since it is rare that you are left to play doubled in your opening preempt. It is a matter of risk and reward.

Suppose the preempt turns out badly. Partner misjudges and you miss a good game. Partner over-competes. You go for 800 against their game, or 300 against their partial. Nobody can make much, and you get a small minus instead of a small plus. Most of these losses are around 5 IMPs.

Now, look at the upside. Suppose the preempt turns out well. Opponents miss a game, get to the wrong game, have a slam accident, or misjudge the competition. Most of these gains are double-digit gains.

The conclusion is that on balance you gain twice as much when the preempt works as you lose when it doesn't work. These 2 to 1 odds are very good. In addition, you have only 1 partner who might go wrong, while you have 2 opponents who might go wrong, again 2 to 1 odds in your favor. These odds make the offbeat preempt quite effective.

You open 3. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
3
X
5
X
P
5NT
P
6
?

Your call?

West
1093
1085
A107432
A
W
N
E
S
3
X
5
X
P
5NT
P
6
?

We all know the reasons for not doubling a slam holding 2 aces. Unless the opponents have had a big accident, you aren't likely to set them more than 1 trick. If you are right you gain 100 points for a potential 3 IMP gain. If you are wrong you lose 170 points for a potential 5 IMP loss. The odds are bad and worse if they redouble, although they aren't likely to redouble on this auction. There has to be a good chance that North is void in diamonds for his actions.

There is, however, one overriding factor. Partner has already shown some interest in sacrificing. While you can't be certain you will defeat the slam, you sure don't want to be sacrificing when you might have two cashing aces. Even if your ace of diamonds isn't living partner might have a defensive trick. It is imperative to double in order to shut partner up. If you were in the passout seat it would be correct to go quietly, but on this auction you must protect yourself from the third opponent.

You double, concluding the auction.

W
N
E
S
3
X
5
X
P
5NT
P
6
X
P
P
P

Your lead. Third and fifth spot-card leads, standard honor leads.

West
1093
1085
A107432
A
W
N
E
S
3
X
5
X
P
5NT
P
6
X
P
P
P

If your A is living, it isn't likely to go away. Dummy is presumably short in diamonds, so where is the discard coming from? It is conceivable that dummy has a 2-suiter and has a discard, but would he have bid 5NT with clubs and a major and risk hearing his partner bid 6 of the other major? Probably not. It is also conceivable that declarer will be short in diamonds and a major and have a discard there, but again this is unlikely considering his double of 5. Leading the A could cost a trick if dummy is void and declarer has the king. Also, it could cost a tempo when a different lead would have been effective setting up a trick.

You might consider laying down the A. This will let you know whether your A is cashing. However, it is possible that this will resolve a club guess for declarer. More important, it will cost a tempo if a major-suit lead to set up a trick is better.

Partner did jump to 5. He has seen your favorable vulnerability preempts, so there is a decent chance he has a singleton somewhere. While that singleton might be in clubs, it also might be in a major. The opponents haven't been given much room to explore, so they could have a 9-card major-suit fit. Also, a major-suit lead could establish partner's king before the losers get discarded on the other major.

It isn't clear, but it looks like the odds favor leading a major. With nothing else to go on, you might as well lead a spade since you do have some kind of a sequence. A heart lead is more likely to give away a trick than a spade lead.

You lead the 10.

West
1093
1085
A107432
A
North
AJ652
QJ9
KQ987
W
N
E
S
3
X
5
X
P
5NT
P
6
X
P
P
P

Parner plays the 4 (definitionally suit-preference at trick 1), and declarer wins the king. Declarer leads the 2. You win, partner playing the 5 (definitionally suit-preference in trumps). What do you do now?

 

 

West
93
1085
A107432
North
AJ65
QJ9
KQ98
W
N
E
S
3
X
5
X
P
5NT
P
6
X
P
P
P

This is a nervous moment. If partner has a stiff spade, you better continue spades. On the other hand, if partner has the A it may be necessary to shift to a heart before declarer's heart losers get discarded on the spades. What do you have to go on?

For the heart shift to be necessary, declarer would have to have at most 5 cards in the majors. That is possible. Declarer could be 3-5 in the minors, or he could have 6 clubs.

For the spade shift to be necessary, partner would have to have a singleton spade and not the A. Also possible. Declarer simply picked his longest suit for his 6 call. He could easily be 4-2-2-5 or 4-1-3-5. He wouldn't have been that excited about bidding 5 with KQxx.

Does the bidding tell you anything? Declarer might have pretty much anything, since all he did was double 5 under pressure in order to tell his partner that he wasn't broke. What about partner? He knows your favorable vulnerability preempts might be quite frisky. Would he have bid 5 without shortness somewhere, particularly if he has an ace? He would be hesitant about doing that. Of course his singleton might be in clubs. Still, the bidding appears to indicate that a spade continuation is your best bet.

Do partner's cards tell you anything? You can't read much into the 5, since partner is limited in his choice of spots and the 5 could be either his highest club or his lowest club (or his only club). However, the play at trick 1 gives you more information. Partner's 4 is his smallest spade. Surely he would have played a higher spot if he held the A, particularly since he can work out that you must have the ace of trumps for your double -- what else could you possibly have?

Could partner have been forced to play the 4 from Q4 doubleton? No, that doesn't make sense. If declarer had K87 he surely would have played the J at trick 1 to spare himself a later guess when you have the 9, since if you have led a singleton or the 10 from 10x he wouldn't have a chance anyway.

The conclusion is that if partner has the A you would have seen something different at trick 1, unless partner also has a singleton spade. It must be right to continue spades.

You lead a spade and hold your breath. A big sigh of relief when partner ruffs. Partner cashes the A, and declarer claims the rest. The full hand:

West
1093
1085
A107432
A
North
AJ652
QJ9
KQ987
East
4
AK7643
QJ86
54
South
KQ87
2
K95
J10632
W
N
E
S
3
X
5
X
P
5NT
P
6
X
P
P
P
D
6X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
2
4
K
3
1
0
2
A
7
5
0
1
1
3
5
4
7
2
1
2
A
4

It turned out that both defenses would have defeated the contract. Still, +500 is better than +200. Imagine how declarer must have felt when you led the second spade. He could see making a doubled slam off 3 aces, only to have his hopes dashed when your partner ruffed the spade.

Partner did his best with the 5, although you couldn't read it. It was partner's forced 4 play which was most readable. This was luck, of course. If partner's singleton spade had been the 8, you would have had a much more difficult problem.

Do you agree with partner's 5 call?

 

West
1093
1085
A107432
A
North
AJ652
QJ9
KQ987
East
4
AK7643
QJ86
54
South
KQ87
2
K95
J10632
W
N
E
S
3
X
5
X
P
5NT
P
6
X
P
P
P
D
6X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
2
4
K
3
1
0
2
A
7
5
0
1
1
3
5
4
7
2
1
2
A
4

It looks clear. He will always be bidding 5 over 4, and the opponents are likely to be in 4 if he does anything else. 5 figures to be a decent save. It might even make (as it does), turning it into a good save (a good save is a save which gets a plus score, either by making or pushing the opponents up to where you can defeat them). The gain of bidding some number of hearts for a heart lead isn't as great as the gain from forcing the opponents to guess at a high level. Of course if the opponents get to 5 or 6 he may be the one guessing, but that hasn't happened yet.

Many players are unwilling to open a preempt with a hand such as the West hand. They say: How can partner do the right thing when I preempt with 2 aces? There is validity to this, particularly with an aggressive preempting style where one might open 3 with Q10xxxx of diamonds and out.

The answer is that we don't worry about it. Partner assumes a normal preempt, on the order of KQ10xxx and perhaps a side card. If partner gets it wrong, so be it. He will be right more often than not simply knowing that you have a long suit and less than an opening bid. If you pass initially, is he necessarily any better off? Meanwhile, the opponents have a free ride instead of being forced to guess at a high level.

The actual deal is a good illustration. East thought he was taking a sacrifice when he bid 5, yet 5 is a make and a N-S 5-level contract in either clubs or spades can be defeated. The high-level action coupled with some unfortunate decisions by North caused N-S to both lose their spade fit and get too high. Wide-range preempts can be quite effective.

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