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In a round-robin match in the Bermuda Bowl, you are faced with an unusual auction.

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

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
?

2: Both majors

Your call?

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
?

Whatever is going on, it has to be right to take a shot at 4. Partner will have something for his unfavorability 2 call, and if that something is in the right places 4 figures to have good play even if the opponents have half the deck. There is no reasonable way to find out, so just go ahead and bid it.

You bid 4. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
?

Your call?

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
?

First question: Are you in a force? It seems like you should be. You bid a voluntary game on an auction where it doesn't appear that preemption is necessary. In addition, the vulnerability is unfavorable, so you should have some expectation of making when you bid.

Should you double? Partner has spades. But he knows how good his spades are. You can probably defeat 4 with the help of your two aces and his spade holding. However, if partner has more in hearts than in spades it could easily be right to go to 5. Partner knows more about this than you do. He knows what his spade holding is and how many hearts he has. He should be in better position to make the decision than you are. You would not be happy if you doubled 4, defeated in a trick, and found that 5 was cold and partner would have bid it if you had passed.

You pass. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
P
5
P
5
?

Your call?

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
P
5
P
5
?

What is going on? It looks like North somehow must have mis-interpreted the 4 call as looking for a minor. Otherwise, his bid makes no sense at all. Apparently he didn't think that his partner could have a spade 1-suiter and start with double.

At any rate, your action is clear. You are certainly defeating 5, and you don't figure to have a play for 6. Furthermore, your partner heard your pass of 4, so if somehow defending 5 doubled is wrong he will know it. Doubling is clear. You don't want to encourage partner to bid further.

You double, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
P
5
P
5
X
P
P
P

Your lead. Third from even, low from odd.

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
P
5
P
5
X
P
P
P

While leading a minor-suit ace and trying to give partner ruffs could be right, it would be a shot in the dark. Partner might not be short in the suit you lead, or partner's trump holding might be such that he doesn't need ruffs anyway. It makes more sense to lead a heart and see what partner wants to do.

While count is often important, here it is better to lead the 9. Partner already knows you have heart length, and the difference between you having 4 or 5 hearts isn't likely to matter to him. The knowledge that you don't have anything in hearts will be more valuable to help him guide the defense.

You lead the 9.

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
North
K74
QJ6
KQ108
KQ2
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
P
5
P
5
X
P
P
P

The queen is played from dummy. Partner wins the king, declarer playing the 7.

At trick 2, partner returns the 9. Declarer plays the 5, and you win your ace.

What do you play now?

 

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
North
K74
QJ6
KQ108
KQ2
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
P
5
P
5
X
P
P
P

It appears as though partner has 5 hearts and 4 spades. Declarer almost certainly has 6 spades for his 4 call, and partner probably isn't entering the auction if he is 4-4 in the majors.

It looks like partner is returning a diamond because he has a singleton diamond and wants a diamond ruff. If he were 2-2 in the minors and wanted a ruff he would probably have returned a club. Dummy has fewer clubs, so from his point of view there is a greater chance that declarer has 3 or more clubs than 3 or more diamonds.

Is it possible that a forcing game is better? Yes, that is possible. Still, it seems as though if partner were 2-2 in the minors he would have returned a club to keep both options open.

Despite all of the arguments for playing partner for a singleton diamond, there is one overriding factor in favor of returning a heart. Partner knows what the correct defense is. He knows his distribution, his trump holding, and he can surely place you with both minor-suit aces for your 4 call. If partner wanted a diamond ruff, he had a very easy way of forcing you to lead back a diamond. All he had to do was to win the first trick with the ace of hearts, ostensibly denying the king. If he had done this, you would have no logical reason to do anything but return a diamond.

Since partner could have forced you to return a diamond by winning the ace of hearts, his failure to do so indicates that he believes the right defense is for you to return a heart. He knows a lot more about the hand than you do. You should follow his guide and lead a heart.

You woodenly return a diamond. After that, there is no way to defeat the contract more than 2 tricks. The full hand is:

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
North
K74
QJ6
KQ108
KQ2
East
A852
AK1042
92
97
South
QJ10963
7
5
J10843
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
P
5
P
5
X
P
P
P
D
5X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
Q
K
7
2
0
1
9
5
A
8
0
0
2
3
3

A heart return would have netted another trick for the defense. East could continue hearts when in with his ace of spades. If declarer draws trumps West is left with the ace of clubs and a good heart. If instead declarer plays a club, West can duck the first club and subsequently give his partner a ruff.

Should East have defended differently?

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
North
K74
QJ6
KQ108
KQ2
East
A852
AK1042
92
97
South
QJ10963
7
5
J10843
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
P
5
P
5
X
P
P
P
D
5X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
Q
K
7
2
0
1
9
5
A
8
0
0
2
3
3

East could see that after the diamond shift a heart return would definitely defeat the contract 3 tricks assuming both minor-suit aces cashed. Even if declarer had the stiff jack of diamonds he has no chance, since if declarer tries crossing to dummy with a club to lead diamonds East can ruff one of the diamonds and subsequently get a club ruff.  East could also know that West should know that if East wanted a diamond ruff East would have won the first trick with the ace of hearts. Therefore, East believed that his defense would work.

Might East have shifted to a club instead of a diamond? On the actual deal, a club shift followed by a heart back would not succeed, since declarer's clubs would be good. East could have gotten a club ruff by winning the first trick with the ace of hearts and shifting to a club. The problem with this approach is that there might not be a club ruff coming. South's shape could be 6-1-0-6. The diamond shift would still net an extra trick for the defense, as the forcing game would succeed. Or, South's shape could be 6-1-4-2, although with that shape is seems likely that he would have passed 5. Now there is no club ruff, but West will win the ace of clubs and return a club playing East for a singleton club.

The conclusion is that East's defense is 100% correct provided that his partner is on the same wavelength.

Do you agree with East's bidding?

 

West
9853
AJ7643
A65
North
K74
QJ6
KQ108
KQ2
East
A852
AK1042
92
97
South
QJ10963
7
5
J10843
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
X
4
P
P
4
P
5
P
5
X
P
P
P
D
5X South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
Q
K
7
2
0
1
9
5
A
8
0
0
2
3
3

The 2 overcall carries an element of risk, but the odds have to favor the call. Both 2 of a major and 1NT could easily be making, or N-S might have a minor-suit partial while E-W have a major-suit partial. E-W might even have a game, as the actual deal illustrates. If East had passed, E-W would probably have been defending 4 undoubled for a poor result. As is so often the case, passing is riskier than bidding.

East should have doubled 5. He has quick tricks, and no singletons. Also, West is likely to have a singleton spade, which is worth a spade ruff on defense. The danger with passing is that West will place East with diamond shortness and might wrongly compete to 5 if West doesn't have much in diamonds.

The question of whether or not West's pass of 4 is forcing is interesting. Every partnership should have unambiguous rules which determine for any auction whether or not a force exists. It doesn't matter what these rules are. What is important is that the partnership always be on the same page. If one partner believe a force exists and the other doesn't, a disaster may occur.

Should East have defended as he did, knowing that it is theoretically correct but West might go wrong even though West should get it right.  Winning the ace of hearts and leading a club will succeed unless declarer has either a doubleton club or 6 clubs, and West can't possibly fail to win the ace and return a club if East adopts this approach. This defense has such a high probability of success that perhaps East should just take the simple play and not put West under pressure. It is nice to win in the post-mortem, but winning at the table is a lot more important.

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