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Small Trumps
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In a semi-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you must find the best way to handle a strong 1 opener opposite a weak hand.

Both vul, East deals. As South, you hold:

South
AJ643
K864
A6
KQ
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
?

1: 16+

1: 0-8

Double by you would be takeout. Pass would not be forcing.

Your call?

South
AJ643
K864
A6
KQ
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
?

You are relatively minimal, but with a doubleton club and 5-4 in the majors it can't be right to risk defending 2 undoubled. While you have a 5-card spade suit, bidding 2 is too unilateral. You might miss a good heart fit and play in a terrible spade fit. A takeout double, bringing hearts into the picture, has to be better. If partner happens to have a penalty pass, that will be great.

You double. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
?

A 2 call by you would not promise extras.

South
AJ643
K864
A6
KQ
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
?

While passing 2 could be right, that is too big a position. You could be playing a 4-2 diamond fit. Bidding 2 is better. Partner won't be playing you for anything other than the hand you hold. If he has a stiff spade and long diamonds he will go back to 3. He knows you don't have a self-sufficient spade suit, since with that you wouldn't have made a takeout double.

You bid 2, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

West leads the 4.

North
1082
J93
K954
972
South
AJ643
K864
A6
KQ
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

East wins the ace of clubs. Which club do you play?

North
1082
J93
K954
972
South
AJ643
K864
A6
KQ
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

While it probably won't matter on this hand, the proper technique is to play the queen. East presumably has the count on the club suit from the opening lead. If you play the king of clubs East will know that you have KQ doubleton, and can defend accordingly. If you play the queen, East won't know who has the king. Often the best falsecard is to not falsecard.

You play the queen of clubs. East continues with the 5. You win the king, West following with the 6. Now what?

North
1082
J93
K954
9
South
AJ643
K864
A6
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

You are going to have to develop at least one heart trick in all variations. Since it is unclear what you want to do with trumps, you should be attacking hearts first.

One possibility is to lead a heart towards dummy, guessing whether to play the 9 or the jack if West plays small. The problem with this approach is that if the hearts are 4-2 the defense will be able to win the first two rounds of hearts and ruff the third round, and that will probably leave you a trick short.

It looks better to lead a heart to the king. East appears to have overcalled on a 5-card suit, so there is a good chance that he has the ace of hearts to justify his overcall. If the ace of hearts is onside you will have a heart trick in your pocket, which will leave you better placed. If the ace of hearts is offside you can still lead up to the J9 later and probably develop a heart trick which you can cash if the hearts are 3-3. This will squander your only dummy entry, but you don't have any great need for a dummy entry for anything else.

If you are crossing to dummy, it is probably better to cash the ace of diamonds first. This will force the opponents to let you score one of your small trumps. Your plan is not to keep control of this hand. You want to scramble as many small trumps as necessary and hope to come out well in the end-game. Dummy's trump spots are powerful, and will come in handy when you lead the fourth round of hearts.

You choose to cross to the king of diamonds without cashing the ace. West plays the 3, and East the 8 (UDCA). You lead the 3 off dummy to your king, and your king holds with West playing the 2 and East the 5. What next?

North
1082
J9
954
9
South
AJ643
864
A
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

Clearly you are going to exit with a heart. Once again, you are better off cashing the ace of diamonds in order to force the opponents to let you score one of your small trumps.

You choose to lead a heart without cashing the ace of diamonds. West wins the queen, East playing the 7. West leads the 7, East playing the 2, and you win your ace of diamonds. What next?

North
1082
J
95
9
South
AJ643
86
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

It must be right to continue your plan of setting up the hearts. If the hearts are 3-3 your long heart will be good and you will be in position to bang away at trumps, since the trumps would likely be 3-2. If the hearts are 4-2 at least East will have the long heart, so he won't be able to overruff dummy.

You lead a heart. West discards the 8. East wins the ace of hearts, and puts the 10 through. What do you do?

North
1082
95
9
South
AJ643
8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P

This isn't so good. West is now out of clubs, and is in position to overruff you.

What do you know about the hand? It is certain that East started with AJ10xx of clubs and A10xx of hearts. The carding in diamonds and the opening lead make it very clear that the diamonds are 4-3, since with QJ10xx of diamonds West probably would have led a diamond. That means the spades are 4-1.

What about the spade honors? East is a passed hand, and you can see he is knocking on the doors of an opening bid. If East has any diamond honor he can't have a singleton spade honor or he would have opened. Even with no diamond honor and the singleton queen of spades he might have opened, and with the singleton king of spades he would have opened. It looks like West has KQxx of spades.

Ruffing small can't work. West will overruff, and exit with a diamond. You can ruff and lead a heart, but West will ruff high, exit with his last diamond, and score his other trump trick. It is fatal to let West score one of his small trumps.

What about ruffing with the jack? That has promise. West will overruff, and lead a diamond for you to ruff. You now lead your last heart. If West ruffs high you have the rest of the tricks, so he must discard. You ruff, and lead the 10 off dummy. If East's singleton spade is the 7 or the 9 West will be end-played and forced to lead away from his 95 or 75 into your A6.

You mistakenly ruff small. As expected West overruffs and exits with a diamond. You ruff and lead your last heart, but West ruffs high, exits with a diamond, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

 

West
KQ75
Q5
QJ73
864
North
1082
J93
K954
972
East
9
A1072
1082
AJ1053
South
AJ643
K864
A6
KQ
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
2
A
Q
2
0
1
5
K
6
7
3
1
1
6
3
K
8
1
2
1
3
2
K
5
3
3
1
4
Q
9
7
0
3
2
7
4
2
A
3
4
2
6
8
J
A
2
4
3
10
4
5
9
0
4
4
Q
5
10
3
3
5
4
8
Q
9
10
0
5
5
J
11

How was the E-W defense?

West
KQ75
Q5
QJ73
864
North
1082
J93
K954
972
East
9
A1072
1082
AJ1053
South
AJ643
K864
A6
KQ
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
2
A
Q
2
0
1
5
K
6
7
3
1
1
6
3
K
8
1
2
1
3
2
K
5
3
3
1
4
Q
9
7
0
3
2
7
4
2
A
3
4
2
6
8
J
A
2
4
3
10
4
5
9
0
4
4
Q
5
10
3
3
5
4
8
Q
9
10
0
5
5
J
11

It looks okay. There wasn't much for the defense to do. The one thing they might have done better was to not be so honest in the count of the diamond suit. Both defenders pretty much knew the shape of the hand after trick 2, so there was no reason to tell declarer the distribution.

What do you think of East's overcall?

West
KQ75
Q5
QJ73
864
North
1082
J93
K954
972
East
9
A1072
1082
AJ1053
South
AJ643
K864
A6
KQ
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
2
X
P
2
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
2
A
Q
2
0
1
5
K
6
7
3
1
1
6
3
K
8
1
2
1
3
2
K
5
3
3
1
4
Q
9
7
0
3
2
7
4
2
A
3
4
2
6
8
J
A
2
4
3
10
4
5
9
0
4
4
Q
5
10
3
3
5
4
8
Q
9
10
0
5
5
J
11

East can be pretty sure that N-S have a spade fit, particularly since his partner didn't overcall 1. The 2 call may make it more difficult for the opponents to locate this fit. In addition, if South is declarer in 3NT East definitely wants a club lead. Also, the overcall may allow West to compete to 3, either for a make, or to push the opponents to 3.

On the other hand, this could be a misfit. East could be stuck in 2, doubled or undoubled, going down when N-S don't have much.

All things considered, it looks like the overcall is a percentage action in spite of the occasional times it goes for a number.

At the other table there was no overcall after the same start, and 2 was reached after South showed his majors. West led the queen of diamonds, and declarer adopted a similar line of play by winning in dummy, leading a heart to the king, and a heart to West's queen. West continued diamonds. Declarer won the ace, and led the king of clubs. If East had won and returned a club the play would have transposed to the same position, but East chose to lead the 9. Now it was easy for declarer to later ruff with the jack of spades and claim 8 tricks.

Many pairs would play that South's sequence of double followed by 2 shows extra strength. This is not practical, as illustrated by the actual hand. If South can't double and then bid 2 over 2, what can he do? Showing shape and getting to the right strain has to have priority over showing extra strength in this type of auction.

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