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Road to the GNT Final Four R16 Q2
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In the first quarter of our GNT Round of 16 match, we guessed well and had some good luck to give our team (Gill-Shore, Pettis-Lo, Shi-Palmer) a 44-15 lead against a strong D16 squad (Passell-Wold-Bramley-Hamman-Compton). As expected, our opponents switched up their line-up, and Noble and I sat down as North-South against Bramley and Wold, with Compton-Passell at the other table also playing Precision.

The action did not take long to get going:

North
Q63
AK
AJ2
J9875
W
N
E
S
1
?

Do you or don't you?

North
Q63
AK
AJ2
J9875
W
N
E
S
1
?

I'm normally conservative about 1NT overcalls, especially with a borderline stopper like this. We were favorable, though, and I did have a "5-card suit" to run to if necessary. Often in these situations when bidding is risky, passing is risky too. You could end up defending a part-score contract cold for game. I figured I didn't come all the way to Toronto to play scared:

North
Q63
AK
AJ2
J9875
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
2NT
3
P
P
3
4
P
?

Partner asked about 2NT and they had no specific agreement, so it seemed likely to be a strong raise that didn't want to double or maybe a distributional freak. I stared at 3 for a while to make sure none of our agreements about competition over 1NT applied, and I concluded that partner would double with a good hand and that 3 was just natural and non-forcing. These are the sorts of situations where it's nice to be in a long-standing partnership. Even though I'm confident I've never seen this bid before playing with Noble, I was pretty sure we'd be on the same page.

Partner's 4 was a magical bid. It turned probably the worst 1NT overcall I've ever made in my life into a mountain. Our style is not to make bids like 4 at IMPs planning to go minus, so he had to have some values and a whole lotta shape. That plus the fact that my LHO might have doubled 1NT with a good hand and only 4-card support made partner a huge favorite to have a spade void. Partner could bid 3NT to show 6-4 minors (given he'd already bid a non-forcing 3) so it seemed like he had to be at least 5-5. Clubs pretty much had to be 2-1, since the vulnerable opponents couldn't find a game bid after inviting. Opposite - xxx Q10xxx xxxxx game is on a hook through the opening bidder, and partner rated to have more than that. I bumped to 5 which was (not surprisingly) doubled by my LHO since this auction had to sound fishy.

Move over to partner's seat to declare on the 2 lead (3rd/5th), with RHO covering dummy's 3:

North
Q63
AK
AJ2
J9875
South
J83
Q9863
Q10632
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
2NT
3
P
P
3
4
P
5
X
P
P
P

North
Q63
AK
AJ2
J9875
South
J83
Q9863
Q10632
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
2NT
3
P
P
3
4
P
5
X
P
P
P

On the expected 2-1 trump break, the contract depends on not losing a diamond. Partner ruffed the spade and played a trump, with LHO winning the K and returning a heart. Since the spade honors were split and the club honors split, the K is marked onside. Hearts pretty much have to be 4-4, since it seems like LHO would have bid either game or 3 over 3 holding 5521, and RHO would have bid game with 5512. That gives RHO 5422 with the black aces and LHO 5431 with three kings and at least one other high card. Unfortunately, that means you have a straight guess for the 10 since each opponent holds two unknown diamonds. Partner guessed to double hook and when you're running well you get these sorts of guesses right!

West
K10842
Q962
K104
K
North
Q63
AK
AJ2
J9875
East
AJ975
10754
75
A4
South
J83
Q9863
Q10632
D

At dinner, we realized that there was a line that solved the 10 guess on the assumption that one of the opponents had a singleton trump honor, which seems nearly 100% given that LHO didn't lead a trump. In that case, the best line is to eliminate hearts and spades by ruffing three spades in hand while cashing the AK and ruffing a heart to reach:

North
AJ2
J987
South
Q9863
Q10

Now exit a trump and claim. Whichever opponent wins his singleton trump honor is forced to give a ruff-sluff or lead a diamond, absolving declarer of guessing the 10. Since LHO held the K, this is actually a winkle, since RHO could overtake to exit a trump, but at the cost of their second trump trick. I'm not sure I've seen one in play before, much less at trick 7 and in trumps. The other table stopped in a minor-suit part score so we scored up 9 IMPs for +550.

A push in game was followed by our teammates chalking up a win for judging well and being the only pair in the match that was playing standard:

West
AQJ5
832
A9
AQ73
East
K6
AJ9
J64
K10984
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
6
P
P
P

At the risk of being off two heart tricks, West simplified the auction by asking for keycards once the game-forcing checkback auction uncovered a club fit, and the good slam was duly reached.  

At our table, East opened a Precision 1, and West rebid 3NT over 1NT not knowing of the club fit, so another 10 IMPs came our way. After an IMP gain in a normal 3NT contract, we picked up another 12 on an opening lead swing on board 20:

West
J42
Q9864
A1082
Q
North
K1083
K2
J74
A863
East
65
J5
Q953
109752
South
AQ97
A1073
K6
KJ4
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

My LHO led a diamond, which made my life easy - I wasn't going to play my opponent to underlead the A without a strong reason. They ducked the lead to my J and I played back a diamond to cut their communications in the event of a bad trump break. Once I got in, I tested trumps and when they broke, I just took my 10 tricks. At the other table, the 10 was led, and when declarer covered with the J, he found himself with 4 unavoidable losers.

The 12 IMPs we gained on that board didn't last long. The very next board, I was declaring 3NT (deal rotated for convenience):

Dummy
KJ7
10642
Q82
A52
Declarer
AQ42
Q9
AK9
10863
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

How would you play 3NT on the fourth-best 3 lead?

Dummy
KJ7
10642
Q82
A52
Declarer
AQ42
Q9
AK9
10863
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

From a technical perspective, chances are rather poor. Even if a trick can be developed in clubs, the opponents can almost certainly take 3 heart tricks and 2 club tricks, and they can even afford to waste a lead realizing that your spades and diamonds are a brick wall along the way. This seemed like quite the parlay, and I thought I could do better by leading hearts myself. This line retains some legitimate chances (such as RHO holding AJx or KJx) and also has the advantage that the opponents might not realize hearts is their main trick source. I put up the Q since I wanted to lead hearts from dummy and I figured RHO wouldn't know the diamond story this way. When I led a heart, RHO played the 8 (I believe Reverse Smith), and I figured with the AK he would probably have skied to play back a diamond, so I played the 9. This is also the normal play if I had AQ9 or Q9x and I wanted to act like a man with one of those holdings.

LHO won the J and plunked down the K. At the table, I won this trick. My thinking was that my best shot might be that their clubs were blocked (with LHO holding KJ, KQ, or KQxx) and that I could force a heart trick. In retrospect, I believe this was an error, since with 4-2 in the minors LHO would have probably have led a 4-card major suit, and from KQxx, LHO probably would have led low. Plus, if the AK were divided the opponents could theoretically sort it out anyway. Ducking and ducking again if they continued would have made life much harder for the opponents on a 3-3 club break, since they then need to play back the suit I had attacked to set the contract.

After winning, I didn't have much of a chance. I played another heart, but LHO won the K, cashed the Q, and led a club to RHO's J. He cashed his A to put me down 1:

West
863
KJ3
J1063
KQ4
Dummy
KJ7
10642
Q82
A52
East
1095
A875
754
J97
Declarer
AQ42
Q9
AK9
10863
D

I'm happy with my initial analysis and heart play, and I think I would have had a shot had I correctly ducked twice in clubs. But who knows, these guys are really good! At the other table, declarer played on clubs, and our teammates switched to hearts but misread the end position and let it make for 12 IMPs out. This was followed by 6 flat boards that the opponents won 1-0.

Then, on board 28 I had to make a decision in a strong club auction:

North
AK1098x
KJx
Kxx
Q
W
N
E
S
P
1
3
3
P
?

Your choice?

North
AK1098x
KJx
Kxx
Q
W
N
E
S
P
1
3
3
P
?

On one hand, this is a bare minimum 1 opener with a stiff queen in the opponents' suit. That argues for a simple raise to 4, but the 3 strong trumps and a singleton club argue for 4. It doesn't take all that much to make a slam almost cold (xx AQxxxx Ax xxx, say). Still, 4 should probably be reserved for hands with some significant extras since the range of 1 is so wide.

We are pretty big on supporting partner with support, especially in a competitive auction. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked bidding 3 instead of raising. It seemed like the opponents were done, so I could always support hearts the next round. My spades were strong enough to handle bad breaks and I didn't necessarily have a late entry to my hand playing in hearts to take spade tricks. Plus, this allowed me to see partner's response before making a decision about how strong a hand to show. When partner just raised to 4, it seemed like slam was a bit over the horizon.  

Dummy
J5
A10853
AJ106
82
Declarer
AK10986
KJ6
K73
Q
W
N
E
S
P
1
3
3
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

LHO leads the 5 and when you put up dummy's jack, RHO covers with the queen. How would you declare 4 from here (deal rotated for convenience)?

Dummy
J5
A10853
AJ106
82
Declarer
AK10986
KJ6
K73
Q
W
N
E
S
P
1
3
3
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

The 5 lead smelled like a singleton, but maybe it was from 2 or 3 cards in a hand that couldn't lead anything else. There really wasn't a safe way to get to the dummy to take a trump finesse, as it would expose me to losing two ruffs, a club, and a major-suit Q. Playing trumps from the top essentially guaranteed the contract unless something very strange was happening, so I did that, figuring at worst I might give up an overtrick.

RHO turned up with Qx, so I drew the last trump and led a diamond to dummy. LHO pitched an encouraging club, marking him with 3316 or 3217. If LHO was 3316, that would mean RHO didn't raise on 4-card support, so I placed him with 3217 and took the heart finesse through RHO. Despite my best efforts to play safe for the contract, I wound up with all the tricks:

West
742
42
5
AJ109643
Dummy
J5
A10853
AJ106
82
East
Q3
Q97
Q9842
K75
Declarer
AK10986
KJ6
K73
Q
D

At the other table, our teammate holding the West cards took full advantage of the vulnerability and position to preempt 4 over the opponents' strong 1. North made a value-showing double/pass (I forget which), and East bumped to 5. The opponents were semi-forced to just double this since they were unsure of the degree of their fit. 5 lost the obvious 5 tricks for -500 and a 5-IMP gain.  

On board 29, partner and I had our worst result of the day:

North
QJ96
8
KJ1052
K92
W
N
E
S
P
1
1NT
2
X
P
2
P
?

On this hand, I could have unambiguously shown a game-forcing hand with four spades and no stopper by going through 2NT instead of doubling. I'm not really sure why I didn't do that, to be honest. Doubling felt like a "safe" enough action - I wasn't really worried about partner passing the double, although arguably I should have been with offensive values and a singleton. When partner responded 2 to double I was about to bid 4 when I stopped to think. This is usually a good thing, but not this time!  

I was thinking that maybe partner chose to bid 2 with only 3 on a hand like AKx Kxx AQx Qxxx, angling for the safest part-score. After all, he didn't know I was about to bid a game. Partner's 2NT after my double would have been pick-a-minor, so 2 is certainly reasonable given that any of the options could end badly. It seemed like it couldn't hurt to probe with 3 - partner will bid 3 unless he has only 3 or has the hearts totally locked, in which case 3NT might be better anyway. Really, I just wanted to avoid a silly 4 in a 4-3 where the wrong hand has the shortness in their suit. Unfortunately I got to a silly 3NT instead:

West
842
10943
64
6543
North
QJ96
8
KJ1052
K92
East
105
AK762
A9
Q1087
South
AK73
QJ5
Q873
AJ
W
N
E
S
P
1
1NT
2
X
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Partner reasoned that I wouldn't be doubling without at least two hearts for fear of being passed. With 2 top losers in hearts and me being a passed hand, he thought we might have 4 unavoidable losers in 4 but 9 tricks in 3NT. Seems like a smallish target but not totally crazy either, and I think I get at least half the blame for doubling in the first place instead of just showing my hand. The opponents happily took their 5 tricks against 3NT and collected 13 IMPs when the normal spade contract made 5 at the other table.

The last board was a normal push in 2 going down two, leaving us with a 37-27 win for the quarter, but our team definitely left some IMPs on the table. Even though I was happy that we padded our lead up to 39 IMPs, I was also a bit uneasy. I feel like you can't give strong teams much for free, since they're going to get you a few times when the luck swings their way.

To be continued...

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