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Road to the GNT Final Four R8 Q1
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On the first day of GNT knockouts, our District 6 team (Gill/Shore, Pettis/Lo, Shi/Palmer) defeated a strong District 16 squad to earn a berth in the Round of 8. Our opponents from District 7 (Marks/Helms, Wilson/Hubert, Boyd-Bowman/Hudson) were coming off an impressive 100+ IMP win against District 25, last year's champions, so we weren't about to underestimate them.  

The opponents had seating rights and chose to exercise them in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. We didn't have a strong preference, and Noble and I ended up sitting down as East-West against Marks/Helms. Things started briskly when partner declared a tricky game contract:

North
AJ7
AQ97
AJ753
3
South
Q1064
K62
K82
752
W
N
E
S
P
1
2
X
3
P
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Over low enough (2 and below) interference to our strong club, we play negative free bids and positive doubles. We did a simulation a while back and this came out very close to even against double showing 5-7 and GF positive suits, so we kept it even though most of the rest of the Precision world does the opposite. We like that it allows us to play jumps as transfers, either 0-4 with a 7+ card suit or some shapely game force that's worried about a double being passed.

LHO leads the 8 (3rd/5th), and RHO wins the A and continues with the Q, LHO playing the K. After ruffing in the dummy how would you continue?

North
AJ
AQ97
AJ753
South
Q1064
K62
K82
7
W
N
E
S
P
1
2
X
3
P
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You have an almost certain loser in trumps to go with your club loser, and your trump control is precarious at best. None of the options really seem that great. If you cross to hand in a red suit, ruff a club, cash the A, and cross back to hand to try to draw trumps, you really have no way back to finish the job, and that's assuming that the hand with the K can't tap you and wrest away your trump control.

I have no idea what the best play is, but Noble found what looks like a good shot by leading dummy's J. RHO won with the K to tap the dummy again, and Noble crossed to hand in diamonds, drew two rounds of trumps (RHO turned up with 4), and tested hearts. When they played for 4 tricks, the potential diamond loser went away and he lost only a club and two trumps.

Lho
32
J8543
964
K108
Dummy
AJ7
AQ97
AJ753
3
Rho
K985
10
Q10
AQJ964
Declarer
Q1064
K62
K82
752
D

As it happened, the opponents could have made Noble's life much more difficult by ducking the K, but they couldn't be sure he was in a 4-3 and they knew they were promoting a second trump trick by forcing dummy. He could still get home double dummy if RHO ducks (it's a cute problem if you're bored), but in reality it probably wasn't happening. Our counterparts at the other table found their way to 4, and with the long hand being tapped and the bad trump break, this contract drifted off two to give us 11 IMPs.

The opponents got it back and then some on board 2. Noble brought home a tight non-vulnerable 3NT at our table, but at the other table:

West
AK3
K7
Q1053
Q953
North
864
J1092
K7
AKJ4
East
J1097
AQ84
A8
1087
South
Q52
653
J9642
62
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
X
XX
P
P
1
X
P
P
P
D
1X North
NS: 0 EW: 0

East's pass is surprising to me even playing standard with 4-4 in the majors, two aces, two tens, and being at favorable vulnerability. But here it worked out great when North got involved with a normal-looking takeout double. 1-X went for 1100, putting 12 IMPs in the opponents' column. Both teams scored this as 13, and I can't figure out how that could have been right. 

On Board 3, our opponent faced a bidding problem playing standard methods:

North
96
95
AJ10854
K96
W
N
E
S
1
1
?

North
96
95
AJ10854
K96
W
N
E
S
1
1
?

Our opponent chose to pass, and 1 passed out. It was always cold for 2, but it made 4 on the normal-looking club lead. I think I would have bid 2 but it's a bit of an overbid for sure. I just hate passing when there's a reasonable alternative, although I have sympathy for our opponent's choice. It didn't have to pass out, after all (responder held an almost raise to 2). Our teammates found their way into the auction and bought it in 3 making. 7 IMPs in the plus column gave us the lead back.

On Board 4, one of our opponents faced a difficult discarding problem in 3NT and guessed wrong, while our counterparts sold out to 3 and beat it a trick. This sent another 11 IMPs our way, giving us a 29-13 lead. 

Board 5 was a tricky defense to 1NT:

West
54
AK2
A8763
KQ3
North
10832
J107
52
J862
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
P
P
P

You lead the 6 (4th best), and partner's 10 is won by the K. Declarer plays the K, which wins the trick while you give a positive Smith Echo and partner drops the 6. Partner's A captures declarer's Q on the next trick, and his J is covered by declarer's Q and your A to leave:

West
AK2
873
KQ3
North
108
J107
J862
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
P
P
P

Now what?

West
AK2
873
KQ3
North
108
J107
J862
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
P
P
P

Declarer is marked with the 9, so if partner has a third spade all you have to do to beat the contract is continue diamonds. Declarer can't take more than 3 spades, 2 diamonds, and a club before you set up your diamonds and a club trick. If declarer has 5 spades, he has 7 tops, since he must hold the A, and your only chance is to lay down a high heart and find partner with Qxxxx. Unfortunately, if declarer has the Q he's now ahead in the race, so neither play is safe.

Are there any inferences from partner's defense? Partner might have held up the A a second time from Axx. That would be fatal if declarer held Qxxx (he could switch to hearts), and you really can't tell whether partner can rule that out or not. Also, with you giving positive Smith, he might want to play a diamond through ASAP to clarify the defense for you. As an additional inference from the bidding, declarer might have opened 1 with 5 good spades and nothing in hearts.

Noble made what seems like the right guess and continued diamonds, but declarer had 7 tops:

West
54
AK2
A8763
KQ3
North
10832
J107
52
J862
East
A6
Q8653
J104
1054
South
KQJ97
94
KQ9
A97
D

At the other table, our teammate did open 1 with the South hand and the opponents were able to get into the auction with our cards and make 3 to send 6 IMPs out the door. The action continued on the next board when both tables faced this bidding decision:

South
A53
A3
Q8
J98765
W
N
E
S
2
?

Would you overcall?

South
A53
A3
Q8
J98765
W
N
E
S
2
?

The suit's a bit ratty, but you do have 6 of them, and partner may have a balanced opening hand with length in their suit that will have to pass it out if you pass. I think I would have gotten in there. Our teammate agreed, and the overcall let them easily find the making 6NT when partner turned up with a 19-count and AKQx. At our table, they chose to pass and settled in 3NT, giving us another 11.

On Board 7, I had a nauseating lead problem (rotated to West):

West
Q72
A106
Q103
AQ106
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

West
Q72
A106
Q103
AQ106
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

I think tactically a minor suit lead doesn't make sense with diamond length on your left and likely club length on your right, so the choice seems like it's between the majors. Partner probably didn't have enough to overcall a major, so it seemed like there weren't too many inferences there. I thought with only one spade honor I was less likely to pickle our holding - from A10x I could blow a trick because I led away from the Ace, or because I led the 10. Accordingly, I guessed to lead the 7 (we lead 2nd from suits like this). I don't know if my logic is correct, but today partner had 4 spades and only 3 hearts, so this worked better than the heart lead made at the other table, and we picked up 2 IMPs from holding the contract to just making.

After a push in 3NT making, we lost 9 when our teammate made an unfortunate lead that solved a guess in 1NT. At our table, the opponents had the tempo to set up two suits on a different lead, and I later got the guess wrong to go down 3 vulnerable. After that, things quieted down a bit. We picked up 6 when the opponents produced a soft defense to a part score, then lost 3 back when I lost my mind to go down in a non-vulnerable 2 contract when our teammates had bought it for -50.

On board 13, I had an interesting defensive problem:

West
AJ65
K8532
Q9
105
Dummy
Q109872
Q764
85
J
W
N
E
S
1
1
1
P
3NT
P
P
P

It seemed like they were ready for a heart lead, so I led the 10. The J held in dummy, partner playing the 2, Standard count. Declarer led a diamond to the J, partner playing the 6 (Standard Smith). Now what?

West
AJ65
K8532
9
5
Dummy
Q109872
Q764
8
W
N
E
S
1
1
1
P
3NT
P
P
P

Partner has to be giving positive Smith, since the 6 can't be his lowest unless declarer hooked from a 7-card suit. I thought for a while about what could be going on - it looked like partner was holding 7 clubs for his Smith signal, since he might not know I know he has 7. He probably had 3 diamonds, and thus 2-1 in the majors. That gave declarer 1363 or 2263, which fit, but it just didn't seem like it would matter what I did. If partner held the A and the K, either a club or a spade would beat the contract a trick. If he just had the A, it seemed like the contract was ice cold, since we couldn't take more than a trick in each suit.

I was worried that if partner has the A and the singleton K, we may have trouble sorting out our 5 tricks. If I play a club, partner can win the A and clear clubs with the K as an entry. I thought that this might not be clear to partner, but in retrospect I think I could have figured out that it would be. Even if I held AJ109x and had declined to lead one, it seems impossible from partner's perspective that declarer wouldn't have 9 tricks on a heart switch, and that the only chance was to clear clubs and hope the K was an entry. Technically, a low spade could also give declarer a guess, but he's almost certain to go right. I couldn't really think of any ways that a club could be better at the table, so I played a spade, hoping partner would win and switch to hearts to develop our 5th trick. 

It turns out there definitely was a way for a club to be better. Declarer had an off-beat 3NT bid and partner had not only the K and the A, but also another diamond stopper!

West
AJ65
K8532
Q9
105
Dummy
Q109872
Q764
85
J
East
K3
10632
A987432
Declarer
4
AJ109
AKJ74
KQ6
D

A club would have led to down 4 instead of the down 2 we got. As it was, we won 3 when our teammates stopped in 3 failing by a trick.

All told, we got the better of a high-scoring quarter 52-32. To be continued... 

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