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Polish Up Your Bridge 2: A Small Loss
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For those who haven't seen the first entry in this series, you can find it (with pre-amble) here: https://bridgewinners.com/article/view/polish-up-your-bridge-1/.

Sitting in 4th seat at IMPs, all vulnerable, you pick up the following hand:

South
983
62
A107643
A8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
?

Partner opens 1, which shows 5+ hearts with a maximum strength of around 17 HCP in a Polish Club context. Stronger hands would open 1, weaker ones a Multi 2 with 6 hearts or 2 with 5/5+ in hearts and a minor.

You do not play 2/1 GF, so a 2 response would show 9/10+, F1 and promising a rebid. 1NT would be non-forcing. A 3 response would be a strong jump shift, with single-suited diamonds or diamonds and a heart fit.

Your call?

The book bid is 1N. Is this hand worth an upgrade to 2, given it's not GF? You do have two aces and a 6-card suit, but while one ace is in your suit the other is in your short side-suit. Were the ace in partner's suit it might be a different matter. Your intermediates are completely average.

You choose to bid 1N, and partner rebids 2. Natural rebids, but this doesn't promise 6 hearts as partner could have a 4-card spade suit and lack the values to reverse.

South
983
62
A107643
A8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
?

Now what?

You're not introducing your diamonds into the auction now. 3 would be a weak bid. Hearts are likely just as good a place to play as diamonds, and a level lower. If you wanted to show your diamonds you should have bid 2 immediately instead of 1N. Do you pass, or make a move?

With partner's max being 17, the values required for jumps and reverses are slightly lower than in standard, roughly 15-17. Not every hand in that range will do so, as partner still ought to have a good suit to jump rebid. If partner had rebid 2/ they would still be wide-ranging, but with a 2 rebid you know partner is either on the weaker end or has poorly placed values. Game seems unlikely.

You pass, ending the auction. Now over to the North seat to play it! The 2 is lead (4th highest from strength, 2nd from rubbish), and partner has the following:

West
North
107
KQ10985
K9
KQ10
East
South
983
62
A107643
A8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 North
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
1

What's your plan?

This looks to be an honest 4th highest lead, from QJx2 or Hxx2. The only other holdings consistent with this lead are Qx2 or Jx2, but they do not look at all attractive on this auction. There is no reason to think the opponents would falsecard here.

Given that, do you let it run or go up with the ace? You'd prefer to be in dummy to lead a heart, but even if you do what then? While there are two entries to take two finesses, things need to sit right to make that the correct line. Should you play for that?

A diamond ruff appears to be looming, with West having an assumed singleton. Can you do anything about that? Not if the defence goes smoothly. If East has the A a ruff can be given immediately (West is highly unlikely to be singleton in both red suits on the auction), and if not then all West needs to do is find the spade switch.

You almost certainly have 4 heart tricks, if not 5, with 5 top tricks in the minors if you're allowed to take them without them being ruffed away. If others are in game, you can't do much about that. It either makes or doesn't. You should just make as many tricks as possible, whilst ensuring you make your contract. Is there a risk of 2 going off?

The opponents can take two spade tricks, but all other tricks would have to come from hearts. Four heart tricks for the defence seem unlikely, unless East has falsecarded by leading the 2 from QJxx2. What you definitely should not do is win in dummy and lead a heart to the ten. If hearts split xxx/AJ then East will score both of his high hearts and West can get two ruffs.

Winning in dummy and leading to the heart king seems safe, and better than playing hearts from hand. Is there any damage from tangling up the diamond suit? Not if the opponents take their spade tricks promptly. You cannot ditch spades before drawing trumps, and so those losers are unlikely to go away. Going up with the ace seems best.

At the table, you play low, which runs round to your nine.

West
North
107
KQ10985
K9
KQ10
East
South
983
62
A107643
A8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 North
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
3
8
9
1
1
0
1

Now what?

Obviously you play hearts from the top. The ruffs are still looming, and you want to stop a second one.

East wins their ace and as expected gives West a diamond ruff, but then West returns a club instead of a spade.

West
North
107
KQ10985
K9
KQ10
East
South
983
62
A107643
A8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 North
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
3
8
9
1
1
0
Q
A
2
7
2
1
1
5
4
3
K
0
1
2
9
4

What's the plan now?

This is going better than expected. Unless clubs are 7-1 you have an entry to dummy to discard a spade loser. You should win in hand, cash a top trump, then cross over using the A.

When you cash the K the remaining two trumps fall. You concede one spade trick at the end for +2.

West
KQJ5
J73
8
J9743
North
107
KQ10985
K9
KQ10
East
A642
A4
QJ52
652
South
983
62
A107643
A8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 North
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
3
8
9
1
1
0
Q
A
2
7
2
1
1
5
4
3
K
0
1
2
9
K
6
8
1
2
2
K
4
6
J
1
3
2
10
2
A
4
3
4
2
A
3
7
J
3
5
2
7

Could you or the defenders have done better?

Clearly the defenders could have taken their spades. Should they have?

West has a difficult decision. North has one obvious diamond discard, and one entry to get to it. If North doesn't have the K then leading a club now will rob him of that.

Is there any possibility of beating 2 if declarer has the K? Yes, if partner has the T and declarer has three low spades. You could have three spade tricks, ending with East (so you'll want to play K, Q, 5) and a diamond through, with your ruff promoting partner's heart.

What about if declarer had Axx/KQTxxx/K9/xx say? This time for the most tricks you need to play a club to knock out the entry to dummy, but that still only holds declarer to 8. Declarer needs at least one honour in the black suits to have an opening bid at the one level. xxx/KQTxxx/K9/Qx? It's important that partner has the T, but that will work. A club through stops the discard, and you have 4 black suit winners.

At first glance both the K and 9 seem reasonable choices. What does that leave partner? Axxx/Ax/QJxx/KTx, with which they clearly would have acted. Playing partner for Axxx/AT/QJxx/xxx, though depending on a specific heart doubleton, is far more likely. So the K is the best play.

At my level I would never have thought through all of this at the table, and were I defending I would likely have lead a club too. As it happens it gives away an overtrick, but nothing beats the contract on this layout so it's a small loss.

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