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Road to the GNT Final Four, R8 Q4
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After two quarters, our District 6 team (Gill/Shore, Pettis/Lo, Shi/Palmer) led District 7 (Marks/Helms, Wilson/Hubert, Boyd-Bowman/Hudson) 109-51. Once again, we sat out the third quarter and our teammates had a small loss 44-21, leaving us with a 35-IMP lead going into the final quarter. Noble and I were feeling good and running pretty well, so we went back in to play the 4th quarter against Marks/Helms again.

We were hoping for a nice, flat set of boards, but this was definitely not it, with 5 slam decisions in the first 8 boards!

On Board 16, I couldn't remember the exact auction at our table (and don't want to butcher it!), but our opponents subsided peacefully in 5:

West
J842
Q10852
K654
North
K10
AQJ1072
K10975
East
953
AK73
93
A643
South
AQ76
J964
8
QJ82
D

Slam is pretty reasonable here, probably a bit better than 50% a priori, since you can ruff a diamond first, then take a ruffing finesse on normal breaks. With the 4-0 trump break, there was no way to bring it home, and our teammates bid it to send 11 IMPs out the door. 

After a push in a 34-HCP 6NT, we had a relay auction to what seems like the best slam:

West
AQ973
AK73
A6
K9
East
K8
Q9
QJ3
A107654
W
N
E
S
 
2
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
3N
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6N
P
P
P

Our 2 opener is either 6+ or 4-5 in the minors with strong clubs and denies a 4-card major (we open 1 with clubs and a 4-card major). While this does make the 1 opener a bit more unwieldy, it has a number of advantages that we like. One of them is that we can play 2 as artificial and game-forcing instead of having to worry about finding 4-4 major suit fits on invitational hands. Knowing my shape and high honor location allowed Noble to place the contract in 6NT instead of 6, which seems like it will be better on most layouts of my remaining honors. On this layout, 6NT is definitely better, since it has additional chances even if clubs don't break, and it's 2 IMPs better even if they do. Today, clubs were 3-2 but we did pick up the 2 IMPs from the higher-scoring slam.

After a push in 3NT, I had a slam-level decision:

East
1083
KQ10865
A
K105
W
N
E
S
1
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
?

We play 2-tiered void splinters and send all of our singleton splinters through our Jacoby-like raise. We have been really happy with this agreement - voids are very different from singletons in terms of evaluation, and taking them out of the normal splinters really helps those auctions. The only real cost is that to make the system symmetric (and thus easy to remember), 2 is our strong raise over hearts because we need the extra step. 

After partner shows a minimum GF (probably something like 8-11 HCP) and a club void, you make a last-train 4 bid and partner signs off. Is this enough to bid on?

East
1083
KQ10865
A
K105
W
N
E
S
1
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
?

You need partner to be able to take care of 3 of your 4 losers in hearts and spades with approximately 9 HCP. Since you don't have a spade control, keycard probably won't tell you what you need to know, and you risk bidding a slam off two Aces if you make a control bid. Heck, the 5-level isn't even safe, since partner could have something like Qxx AJxxx Kxxxx -. All in all, it seemed like it would be difficult to reliably bid slam when it was right, so I passed. 

Should I have considered bidding on, since we were ahead and the opponents might be swinging? I really don't think this is the way to play with a lead, especially when the other table is surely having an entirely different auction. If you just get your decisions right you'll usually do fine. Sometimes they'll swing and beat you when the cards fall their way, but trying to guess what's going on at the other table is the way to beat yourself.

This time, partner had the right cards for slam:

West
A965
J7432
KQ32
North
K42
A
10754
J7632
East
1083
KQ10865
A
K105
South
QJ7
9
J986
AQ984
D

Partner had a close decision whether to bid on over the last-train bid. He definitely had some extra values, and the 5th trump might be big. But, it also might be redundant, the trumps aren't so robust, and he could have a lot more playing strength if he held a 5-card or longer side suit. I'm glad that he signed off in tempo, since that gave me a chance to get it right.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the other table also subsided in game. Opposite a normal minimum splinter in clubs, the East hand is probably not even worth a try. If partner has the expected singleton club, you need to find him with cover for all four of your other losers to make slam, and that seems unlikely. 

After two pushes in failing part-score contracts, I picked up one of the better hands I've held opposite an opening bid:

East
4
AKJ1096532
AK
4
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
?

My first two bids seemed pretty clear. Now what?

East
4
AKJ1096532
AK
4
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
?

If you only got one more bid, it would probably be 6, which will make if partner has both black Aces, or opposite one Ace when trumps break or they lead the wrong black suit. Bidding more slowly risks allowing RHO the chance to double (or not double) a black suit for the lead. So the question is whether you can hope to improve on that by bidding more scientifically. 

Partner's 3NT bid is interesting - since he has extra shape or strength, he must have either 5035 shape, 5125 and Qx exactly, or 5134 and a maximum. I thought there were a few possible wins for bidding scientifically. If he has the 5134 max, you could easily have a biddable grand, and if he has 5-5 in the blacks, he could easily have no Aces and you want to avoid slam since you might not even make a 5-level contract if the trumps don't break. These are pretty tangible gains and I thought they warranted taking a slow approach. 

This is another situation where it's nice to have a long-standing partnership - I knew 100% partner would take 4 as a slam try in hearts. I think by bridge logic this is what 4 *ought* to mean in a scientific-minded partnership. I could have bid 3 at my last call with a hand that wasn't a heart one-suiter, and if I just wanted to bid Kickback in clubs, I wouldn't have stopped along the way to show extra hearts and confuse the issue, at least not at IMPs. Still, it's definitely nice to have seen or discussed this sort of bid before making it in a high-leverage situation. Having 4 be a heart slam try is much better than having to bid 5 or 6, since it lets you stop at 4 if partner rejects, and it lets responder bid keycard in hearts unambiguously with a slam-going hand like this. 

East
4
AKJ1096532
AK
4
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
?

As expected, partner bid 4, so he certainly doesn't have a maximum with a singleton heart, and probably doesn't have a maximum at all. Maybe he still could have the 5152 min, but that seemed like a long shot. Either way, I still wanted to avoid slam if he had no Aces, and I was lucky that we were playing 1430 Kickback so if partner showed one Ace, they wouldn't be able to double for the lead. Partner tanked over 4 (presumably just to give me a heart attack!) but eventually showed his Ace with 4NT and I bid 6, figuring that it would make if hearts broke or if they didn't find the right lead.

West
AKQ83
J93
QJ1085
North
J1065
Q74
876
A62
East
4
AKJ1096532
AK
4
South
972
8
Q10542
K973
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3N
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
4N
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 East
NS: 0 EW: 0

I'm not sure if there's much of a choice between the black suits, but South found a club lead almost instantly, and with trumps not breaking I went down one. At the other table, they just blasted 7 at some point with my hand (they were down 35 I suppose!), and so we gained 3 IMPs when our teammate found the club lead as well. 

The next hand (Board 24), I had a competitive decision I'm not sure I'd seen before:

East
KQ642
2
J103
Q872
W
N
E
S
1
3
?

How many spades?

East
KQ642
2
J103
Q872
W
N
E
S
1
3
?

Directly over 1, you'd just bid 4 without thinking too hard, but you don't normally preempt over a preempt. In theory, 4 should be a strong invitation or a minimum game-force, while 3 is a good competitive hand or a light invitation. This hand is ostensibly worth around 11 but in reality the Q is probably wasted if partner holds the A. To make game, you need partner to cover 4 of your top losers, and if he has anything wasted in hearts he almost certainly won't be able to. That argues for bidding only 3, but there are opponents to consider as well. Surely if the opponents bid 4 over 3 you wouldn't let them play it with no defense and 10+ trumps, so it seems like you should just suck it up and bid 4 now, figuring that it might make or might be an advance save. Partner might expect more values, but this might let you get away undoubled in 4 since you're showing a decent hand.

The auction continues:

East
KQ642
2
J103
Q872
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
P
P
?

By our agreements this was clearly not a forcing pass situation, so partner's pass was just a pass. He can't know that I have such a high offense-to-defense ratio so does that mean I should bid 5? I did consider it - if partner thought he had 3 pretty sure tricks he might have doubled them expecting me to contribute *something* for my 4 bid. It sure didn't look like I was likely to add much to the defense.

Still, they say the 5-level belongs to the opponents for a reason and I did have a queen and a jack that might contribute defensively. While my offense-to-defense ratio was pretty high, my offense itself wasn't actually that great, particularly if the opponents had a 7-3 heart fit and my hand was only taking one ruff. I decided to just go peacefully and hope we'd pushed them too high - after all, part of the reason I bid 4 was as an advance save against 4. I was sort of expecting -450 much of the time, though.

As it turns out, it's a good thing I didn't bid 5:

West
108753
K3
AK52
54
North
J1098654
Q987
A10
East
KQ642
2
J103
Q872
South
AJ9
AQ7
64
KJ963
W
N
E
S
1
3
4
5
P
P
P
D
5 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

The 3 bidder had a spade void and extra shape and yet 5 was still down and 5 was going for 500. At the other table, our counterparts passed the West hand, then later pushed the opponents to 5 and West had a double since he hadn't opened. We lost two IMPs but avoided a much bigger loss if I had bid on.

After a push in 1NT making 2, we scored 5 IMPs on a part-score swing when our opponents got a trump queen guess wrong, then:

East
K6
A965
102
AKJ109
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
?

Double would be lead-directing in your methods, and 2 would be Michaels, so realistically you could overcall 3 now or plan on balancing with 3, double, or 2NT two-suited.  Your choice?

East
K6
A965
102
AKJ109
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
?

There's a lot to consider here. You'd like a club lead against any contract the opponents bid, and a direct 3 does make the opponents' life a bit more difficult. But getting hearts into the picture might get you to a making game if partner has some values, particularly if LHO is trying to create some action with a light or unorthodox 1NT bid. That argues for waiting to show two suits, since if you overcall 3 you might not get another chance. Passing also has the advantage that if RHO has the rest of the values, you can choose to stay out and avoid a big penalty.

I decided passing for now was the more prudent course, but it turned out getting a club lead was the winner this time:

West
J105
QJ82
973
742
North
A98432
43
Q8
853
East
K6
A965
102
AKJ109
South
Q7
K107
AKJ654
Q6
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
P
X
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

On a normal-looking heart lead from partner's hand, declarer had no trouble scoring up 9 tricks with the aid of a heart ruff. In the other room, the auction started identically, but my hand chose to overcall 3. South naturally bid 3 over that and our teammate took a shot at 4 with a fitting Q and 6 spades. That didn't quite fetch so we dropped 4 IMPs.

We picked up 2 IMPs when we competed to 3 failing by a trick non-vulnerable over the opponents' making 3 contract. After a push in game, I had one last decision on Board 30:

East
43
Q754
K6
Q8542
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
P
3
3
P
?

Raise or pass?

East
43
Q754
K6
Q8542
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
P
3
3
P
?

It's certainly possible to construct hands where game is a good contract. But, partner was kind of under the gun, and he pretty much has to bid 3 on any hand with 7 spades and a heart singleton or void. The Q seems like it's not worth anything, and if partner thought he could make game opposite a few random high cards he probably would have bid it. There is a hand type that partner could have where game would likely be consistently good - a strong hand with 6 or 7 so-so spades where my doubleton spade is a big deal, say AJxxxxx void Axx KJx. It's hard to see how partner could do more than 3 with this hand, and game is almost cold. This seemed against the odds when set against all the merely competitive hands he could have. 

I didn't really think too hard about bidding game, especially since we were white. As it turns out, game was a pretty reasonable contract and also had the virtue of making:

West
AK8652
Q105
KJ93
North
Q107
AJ1093
A92
A10
East
43
Q754
K6
Q8542
South
J9
K862
J8743
76
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
P
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 West
NS: 0 EW: 0

I suspect I'm resulting myself to some degree here to think about bidding game, but partner didn't even have THAT good a hand and game was at least reasonable. We actually gained 2 IMPs on the hand when our teammates bought it undoubled in a heart contract and failed by two tricks. 

Coming out of the set, we were not feeling too confident that we'd held our lead. We knew that our teammates probably bid a failing slam on the first board, we guessed wrong to stay out of a cold (though hard to bid) slam, and then went down in a third one. On top of that, we'd made the wrong lead on a part-score, missed a game on the last board that the 35-IMPs down opponents could easily have shot out, and we didn't really have much in the way of plus positions. We hadn't done anything we thought was clearly wrong, but it just felt like there could easily have been enough swings against us to lose. 

We were very happy to find on comparison that we'd lost an (amazingly!) low-scoring set 17-14, and won the match by 144-112. We'd be facing the perennial contenders from District 9 (Meckstroth-Rodwell, Dwyer-Ekeblad, Coren-Bathurst) on Vugraph the next day, as they won their quarterfinal match comfortably over a strong team from Las Vegas. 

To be continued...

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