In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you face a delicate choice of games decision.
E-W vul, South deals. As South, you hold:
1♣: 16+, artificial
2♣: 5+ diamonds, 9+ points, GF
2♦ by you would ask number of controls, leading into an asking sequence where you would be in charge. Other calls are natural, with natural bidding following.
You don't have the right type of hand with which to go into asking bids. There are several possible strains, and you need a natural approach to find the right strain.
2NT is possible. But there is no reason not to show the 5-card heart suit. If you get heart support you certainly belong in hearts. If not, you will have a chance to get to notrump later. You are in a game force, so there should be room to get some decent information.
You bid 2♥. The bidding continues:
Partner is at least 5-4 in the minors, and doesn't have 3-card heart support since he didn't raise. But that still doesn't tell you what the best contract is. If partner is 2-2 in the majors with no spade honor, 4♥ in the 5-2 heart fit is probably better than 3NT. If partner is 5-5 in the minors with a singleton heart, 5♣ is likely best. If partner is 6-4 in the minors, 5♦ looks right. If partner is 3-1-5-4, then you belong in 3NT.
The best approach looks to be to bid 3♥. This will presumably show a 6-card heart suit, but that is fine. You probably want partner to be raising to 4♥ with a doubleton. If partner is 3-1-5-4 with nothing in spades he will hedge with 3♠, and now you can bid 3NT. If partner has 10 cards in the minors and not a doubleton heart, he will show his minor-suit shape. 3♥ looks to cover all bases.
You bid 3♥. The bidding continues:
You are not worth more. You have slightly more than a minimum 1♣ opener, but not enough to justify going above the 4♥ safety level considering that you have only a 7-card heart fit. If partner had the extras needed for a slam, he would have done more than bid 4♥.
You pass, ending the auction.
West leads the king of spades. Standard leads and carding.
East plays the ♠4. What do you do?
The simple approach is to win and draw trumps. If the trumps are 4-2 you can set up the diamonds for easily enough winners, losing only 2 spades and 1 diamond. If the trumps are 5-1, this approach will fail as you will have 4 top losers.
Can you guard against a 5-1 trump split without risking going down when the trumps behave? The obvious approach would be to duck the first spade, later ruffing a spade in dummy and losing only 1 spade, 1 heart, and 1 diamond.
There are plenty of dangers with this approach. Either the diamonds or the clubs might be 5-1. It isn't obvious that West would have led a singleton in a minor on this auction. You would have to play small on a club shift, and if West has a stiff club you are down. Diamond ace, diamond ruff, and a club knocking out the ace of clubs would not make you happy.
Suppose West shifts to a trump. You can win, ace of spades, and a spade ruff, but you may have difficult getting off dummy safely. You might be going down even when the trumps split.
Even if West continues spades, you aren't home when the trumps are 5-1. Ace of spades, spade ruff, and play trumps getting the bad news. You can go after diamonds and have a decent chance, but you still won't be cold.
The conclusion is that the simple approach is best.
You win the ace of spades, and start on trumps. Unfortunately, East discards the ♠7 on the second round of trumps. What next?
About all you can do is take two more high trumps and go after diamonds, hoping for the best. There is no reason not to do this, and leaving West with more than his natural winning trump risks possibly losing more than one trump trick.
You cash two more trumps, discarding clubs from dummy. East discards the ♠9 and the ♣9. Now what?
You may have some life. East's spade discards indicate that he might have started with 9874, and your 6-spot is going to hold on the third round of spades. At any rate, it has to be right to go after diamonds.
It looks best to lead a diamond to the jack. This may leave doubt in the enemy mind about the location of the queen of diamonds. If you lead out the queen, the defenders will know exactly what they are up against.
You lead the ♦5. West plays the ♦8. You play the jack from dummy, and East wins the ace. East returns the ♠8 to West's queen. West shifts to the ♣8. Your play?
Assuming East didn't needlessly throw away a winning spade by leading the ♠8, West is known to have started with 4 spades and 5 hearts. If West has 3 diamonds and 1 club, you need to go up ace of clubs and run the diamonds. It appears from the carding that East has the king of clubs, and if that is the case your only chance is to go up ace and hope West follows to the third round of diamonds.
Can West be 4-5-3-1? He played the ♦8 on the first round of diamonds. There is no way he would do this from 8xx, since it might cause his partner to miscount the diamonds and mis-defend. This can't be a position where it is necessary to deceive declarer. West's ♦8 should be an honest card.
Can West have the king of clubs? If he has a stiff diamond and Kxx of clubs, he would have shifted to the king of clubs to knock out the entry, since he will be able to ruff the second round of diamonds. This would only require his partner to have the jack of clubs. But if West has a doubleton diamond and Kx of clubs, shifting to the king wouldn't defeat the contract if declarer has the queen, since declarer would be able to discard his third club on the third round of diamonds. With that hand West would shift to a small club, hoping that either his partner has the queen or declarer gets it wrong. All this assumes that West has read what happened in spades, but this club shift indicates that he did work that out. Therefore, playing small is your only hope.
You play small. East has the king of clubs, and you are down 1. The full hand is:'
How was the defense?
West's opening lead looks pretty automatic. N-S don't figure to have much in spades since they refused to bid notrump.
East clearly blundered with his spade discards. Presumably he was trying to give his partner the spade count, and didn't realize that he might be discarding a winner.
East should have ducked a round of diamonds. Considering West's ♦8 on the first round, this can't cost and might help.
West did well finding the club shift. He worked out that his partner couldn't have the ♠6, since East would never card that way from 98764.
Do you agree with North's bidding?
North's first two calls were automatic. It is vital in these strong club auctions for the weaker hand to bid out his shape and let the strong hand make the decision with the right information.
North could have bid 3♠ on his third turn planning on passing 3NT. But his 4♥ call looks more accurate. South has rebid his suit so figures to have a 6-card suit, and 4♥ looks like it will be better than 3NT.
In the other room, N-S got to 3NT via 1♥-1NT;3NT. East led the ♠9. West won the queen, and continued the king of spades, East playing the ♠4. Declarer ducked again. West continued spades, and with the spades 4-4 declarer had 9 easy tricks.
Had West shifted to clubs, the hand would have been defeated. Declarer would have to duck or hold himself to 1 diamond trick, and now the defense could go back to spades and defeat the contract. Could West find this shift? It is difficult with the North hand concealed, but it is possible. The spade position is known. East had a choice of spots to play, so in theory his ♠4 should be suit-preference. Still, trusting partner this much is pretty difficult.
We were quite unlucky this hand. The 1♣ auction gave South a chance to find out a lot about the hand and get to the superior 4♥ contract which requires only a 4-2 heart split, while 3NT is down if the spades are 5-3 and the hand with the long spades has the ace of diamonds. The Standard bidders at the other table had no chance to find this information, and just took their best shot. But sometimes there is no justice.
Plus... it's free!