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In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials, you must figure out what to do opposite partner's minor 2-suiter.

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

South
AKQ32
J42
AK
A62
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
?

2NT: Both minors, less than an opening bid.

A 3-of-a-major call would be natural and forcing. 4NT would be Blackwood. Other than that, everything is to play.

Your call?

South
AKQ32
J42
AK
A62
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
?

Even though partner can be pretty frisky with the 2NT opener at this vulnerability, stopping below game is too conservative. You need very little to make game.

On the other hand, getting to slam is too optimistic. Even if partner has a stiff heart and KQ of clubs, there may be work to be done. Perhaps with more scientic methods you could find out, but with your actual methods you would just be guessing.

Which game to bid is not clear. If partner has 2 spades and 1 heart either 5 or 4 might be best. If he has 2 hearts and 1 spade 3NT might be best if partner has some help in hearts. At any rate, it looks right to start with 3 and see what partner does.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
4
4
P
?

Your call?

 

South
AKQ32
J42
AK
A62
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
4
4
P
?

Your must choose between 4 and 5. You have one more club than spade. However, 10 tricks are often easier than 11. Your spade suit should be able to handle playing a 5-2 fit. Partner will be raising on any hand with a doubleton spade, since he will be thinking that you have 6 spades. You may have difficulty dealing with your losing hearts, but the potential of ruffing in dummy is helpful. Playing in 5, there may be issues with either or both minors.

There is one other consideration. Partner is supposed to be 5-5 for the 2NT call, but you are at favorable vulnerability. It wouldn't be out of the question for him to take a shot with 5-4 in the minors. If partner happens to have only 4 clubs, 5 will be a lot worse than 4.

All things considered, passing 4 is probably the percentage action.

You pass, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
4
4
P
P
P

West leads the 8.

North
75
9
Q6432
KJ973
South
AKQ32
J42
AK
A62
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
4
4
P
P
P

East plays the 9. Which diamond do you win with? 

North
75
9
Q6432
KJ973
South
AKQ32
J42
AK
A62
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
4
4
P
P
P

You should win with the ace. That will leave West in doubt about the location of the king. If you win with the king, West will have a pretty good idea who has the ace.

You win the ace. What do you do now?

North
75
9
Q643
KJ973
South
AKQ32
J42
K
A62
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
4
4
P
P
P

West's 8 is very likely to be a singleton. You are in distinct danger of having your king of diamonds ruffed out.

One possibility is to simply draw trumps. If they are 3-3, you are cold. The problem is that if the trumps are 4-2 you may be in trouble. You will have 3 losing hearts in addition to a losing trump. You can discard one of the hearts on the queen of diamonds, but you need to get to dummy immediately. You will have to get the clubs right without being able to find out anything else about the hand.

It looks better to try to ruff a heart in dummy, even though this exposes you to a diamond ruff. Let's say you lead a heart. East wins, and gives West a diamond ruff. West's best return is a trump. You win and ruff a heart. You cross back to the ace of clubs, and draw trumps. If they split, you are cold. If East started with 4 trumps, West's likely shape is 2-7-1-3. You exit with a trump. East wins, and must lead a diamond. You win the queen discarding a club, and ruff a diamond coming down to a heart and a club in your hand and KJ of clubs in dummy. West will be squeezed in hearts and clubs.

You might as well lead the jack of hearts. If West has AK he might be afraid to duck.

You lead the jack of hearts. West plays the queen. East overtakes with the king, and leads the jack of diamonds which West ruffs with the 9. West leads a heart, which you ruff with the 7. Unfortunately East overruffs with the 8 and leads another diamond. What do you do?

North
5
9
Q64
KJ973
South
AKQ32
4
A62
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
4
4
P
P
P

If you discard and West can ruff, you are down. And if West can't ruff that means East has a natural trump trick. Your only chance is to ruff high and find the spades were initially 3-3.

How will things look if the spades are 3-3? Very good. In fact, you will be cold. West's shape will be known to be 3-8-1-1. You run the rest of your trumps, coming down to Qx of diamonds and Kx of clubs in dummy. East will be squeezed in the minors.

If the spades aren't 3-3 you will be down at least 1. West's distribution will be 2-8-1-2 (unless West started with a stiff spade, which is worse). You can avoid a club guess by exiting with a spade, keeping all of dummy's diamonds. East will have to return a diamond. You win the queen discarding your last heart, ruff a diamond, and cash your last trump discarding a club from dummy. East will be squeezed in the minors.

You mistakenly discard your last heart. West ruffs, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
J9
AQ1087653
8
Q5
North
75
9
Q6432
KJ973
East
10864
K
J10975
1084
South
AKQ32
J42
AK
A62
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
4
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
2
9
A
3
1
0
J
Q
9
K
2
1
1
J
K
9
3
0
1
2
A
7
8
2
2
1
3
5
4
J
5

It turns out that 5 would have been easier. Even if declarer ruffs the second round of hearts and get overruffed, the clubs come home and East gets squeezed in spades and diamonds.

Do you agree with North's bidding?

West
J9
AQ1087653
8
Q5
North
75
9
Q6432
KJ973
East
10864
K
J10975
1084
South
AKQ32
J42
AK
A62
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
4
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
2
9
A
3
1
0
J
Q
9
K
2
1
1
J
K
9
3
0
1
2
A
7
8
2
2
1
3
5
4
J
5

North's hand is a model 2NT opener at favorable vulnerability. Just about what would be expected.

The 4 call looks clear. South will normally have 6 spades for the 3 call, and he is expecting to be raised on a doubleton. West's 4 call shouldn't change anything.

While we have had reasonably good results with the 2NT opening showing both minors, that isn't the reason we play it. We simply don't like the 2NT opening showing a strong balanced hand when we can go slowly with our 1 opening. The 2NT opening is a bulky bid. The bidding starts at a high level, and the weak hand has to make most of the decisions. This is inefficient, and leads to awkward slam auctions. Any pair who says they have a great structure after their 2NT opener are kidding themselves. There simply isn't room for a decent structure when the bidding starts that high and the weak hand has to make the decisions.

After 1-1, we partition our balanced ranges as follows: 1NT shows 17-19 (or 16-19 non-vulnerable). 2NT: 20-21. 2 (artificial, several possibilities) followed by 2NT: 22-24, followed by 3NT: 25-27. On the 20-24 hands when responder has a negative response we are equivalent to standard 2NT and 2 followed by 2NT sequences. We lose Kokish on the 25-27 hands, but they are so infrequent the loss is tiny.

Our gain comes when responder has a positive response. A game force is established at a very low level, responder has started to describe his hand, and the strong balanced hand is in control of the auction. Our slam auctions are a lot more efficient than those pairs who start with the bulky 2NT opening. This gain is so large that we would rather never open 2NT than open 2NT with a strong balanced hand.

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