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In a semi-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you have the opportunity to utilize a checkback variation.

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

South
K10
AQ7654
93
AK10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
?

1: 11-15, 2+ diamonds

1: 4 spades, singleton or void in hearts or clubs. With no singleton or void partner will always bypass a 4-card spade suit and rebid 1NT, even if he is 5-4-2-2.

You play a checkback variant. Available to you are:

1NT: This asks about partner's shape, and is usually a prelude to an invitational sequence. Partner rebids 2 with 3-card heart support (hence club shortness). Otherwise, partner rebids 2 with 6 diamonds, or 2 with fewer than 6 diamonds. If he rebids 2, he will logically be short in hearts.

2: This asks partner to pass or bid 2, whichever minor he prefers.

2: This is game-forcing checkback. Parther rebids 2 with 3 hearts, 2 with 4-1-3-5 or 4-1-5-3 shape (then 2NT asks which), 2NT with 4-1-4-4, 3 with 4-0-5-4 or 4-0-4-5 (then 3 asks which), or 3 with 6 diamonds.

2-level major-suit bids are non-invitational. 3-level bids are natural and slammish.

Your call?

South
K10
AQ7654
93
AK10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
?

It looks like 2 will get the the most information. You will get partner's exact shape, after which you will be able to sensibly choose the strain. Slam could be in the picture in hearts, diamonds, or clubs depending on partner's hand.

You choose to bid 1NT. The bidding continues:

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

1NT: Asking

2: Heart shortness, fewer than 6 diamonds.

Anything you bid below game would be a natural invite (except 2, which would be to play).

Your call?

South
K10
AQ7654
93
AK10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
?

You have found out that partner is short in hearts, but you can't find out more about his hand. You have to place the contract now. You have enough power to expect 3NT to make, while there could be too many heart losers in 4. 3NT is the logical call.

You bid 3NT, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

West leads the 4. 4th best leads.

North
A832
J
AQ1075
952
South
K10
AQ7654
93
AK10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

East plays the queen of clubs. What do you do?

North
A832
J
AQ1075
952
South
K10
AQ7654
93
AK10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

If you choose to win this trick, it is probably more deceptive to win with the king. West won't be fooled if you win with the ace. He knows that if you had Axx you would have held up. If you win with the king, West might think his partner played the queen from AQx. East also knows this, although from his point of view you might be winning from AJx. If you win with the king, East won't know where the ace is, and he might be thinking the suit is ready to run.

Where will your tricks come from? Hearts looks like the most likely source. You have two hand entries, and you need only 4 heart tricks to get to 9 tricks which merely requires a 4-2 split. Going after diamonds is less attractive, since you might have only 3 diamond tricks which won't be enough.

What can go wrong? Suppose East has Kx of hearts. If you win the first trick and play a heart to the jack, East will win and return a club. You don't know whether the clubs are 4-3 or 5-2, so you pretty much have to duck. West will win and clear the clubs. If the clubs are 5-2 and West turns up with 4 hearts, you can't afford to establish the hearts, and if both diamond honors are offside you will be down 1.

Might it be right to duck the first trick? It could be bad if East shifts to a spade, but East isn't looking into your hand and he can't have a spade holding which makes a spade shift safe. He is known from the opening lead to have at least one club left, so when his queen of clubs holds he will certainly return a club. You will be in fine shape if East started with Kx of hearts, but if West started with Kxxx and 5 clubs, West will be able to win the first heart, continue clubs, and you will have potential problems. If West started with 4 hearts he is twice as likely as East to hold the king of hearts. That makes the safer avoidance play to win the first trick.

You win the first trick with the ace of clubs. What next?

North
A832
J
AQ1075
95
South
K10
AQ7654
93
K10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

As planned, you will go after hearts rather than diamonds. There is no reason to cross to dummy to lead the jack of hearts. That could cost an important entry, and it doesn't gain you anything.

You lead a heart to dummy. The jack holds, West playing the 2 and East the 3. Where to from here?

North
A832
AQ1075
95
South
K10
AQ765
93
K10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

You have your second heart trick, but setting up the long hearts is no longer so easy. You only have two entries in the black suits, so if the hearts are 4-2 you will not be able to run the suit once it is established.

It is time to switch horses and turn your attention to diamonds. With a heart trick in your hip pocket, you need only 3 diamond tricks to make the contract. You don't need to return to your hand to take finesses. The nine of diamonds is a powerful spot. Leading towards the 9 should do the trick. If the opponents win, you can set up the long diamond with the ace of spades as an entry. If they duck the diamond trick, you will be in your hand and can turn your attention back to hearts.

You led a small diamond from dummy. East plays the 8, you the 9, and West wins the jack. West shifts to the 9. How do you handle this shift?

North
A832
AQ107
95
South
K10
AQ765
3
K10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

You must win in your hand. You need to retain the ace of spades in dummy as an entry to the diamonds.

You play small from dummy. East plays the jack, and you win the king. And now?

North
A83
AQ107
95
South
10
AQ765
3
K10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

Clearly you will continue diamonds. Unless the diamonds are unexpectedly 5-1, you have at least 9 tricks.

You might as well take the diamond finesse. There is no rush to cash the ace of hearts.

You take a diamond finesse. It wins. You cash the ace of diamonds, and the suit is 3-3. You cash two more diamonds, discarding hearts. East discards the 6 and the 7. West discards the 8 and the 6.

What do you do next?

North
A83
95
South
10
AQ
K10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

It is starting to look like West is guarding both the clubs and the hearts. If so, you have him in a squeeze-endplay. You must first cash dummy's ace of spades, in case West has another spade. Then cross to your king of clubs, and if the jack hasn't dropped decide what to do.

You cash the ace of spades. East plays the 4, and West the 5. When you come to your hand with the king of clubs, East follows with the 3 and West the 8. Final decision.

North
83
9
South
AQ
10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

There is only one club left, the jack. You can be confident that West has that card, since if East had QJ he would have played the jack at trick 1. If West is down to a singleton king of hearts, you can just drop it. However, if West has two hearts and one club, you can end-play him.

While West might have led the 9 from 9xx and cleverly blanked his king of hearts, it looks more likely that he is out of spades and has two hearts left. An important consideration is that you already have 9 tricks in. You wouldn't go for an end-play which could conceivably lose the rest of the tricks if you have completely misread the hand, but you can afford to go for it with at worst an overtrick at stake.

You exit with a club. West is endplayed, and you make 11 tricks. The full hand is:

West
95
K982
KJ4
J864
North
A832
J
AQ1075
952
East
QJ764
103
862
Q73
South
K10
AQ7654
93
AK10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
2
Q
A
3
1
0
4
2
J
3
1
2
0
5
8
9
J
0
2
1
9
2
J
K
3
3
1
3
4
10
6
1
4
1
A
2
5
K
1
5
1
Q
6
6
8
1
6
1
7
7
7
6
1
7
1
A
4
10
5
1
8
1
5
3
K
8
3
9
1
10
J
9
7
0
9
2
11

What do you think of West's opening lead?

West
95
K982
KJ4
J864
North
A832
J
AQ1075
952
East
QJ764
103
862
Q73
South
K10
AQ7654
93
AK10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
2
Q
A
3
1
0
4
2
J
3
1
2
0
5
8
9
J
0
2
1
9
2
J
K
3
3
1
3
4
10
6
1
4
1
A
2
5
K
1
5
1
Q
6
6
8
1
6
1
7
7
7
6
1
7
1
A
4
10
5
1
8
1
5
3
K
8
3
9
1
10
J
9
7
0
9
2
11

West doesn't have an attractive lead. The South hand might be almost anything. West can be sure that South has hearts under control, since South knows that North has a singleton heart. A spade lead might be okay, but North does have 4 spades so the lead would have to strike real gold to be effective.

What about the minor suits? North is known to have at least 8 cards in the minors. If North has 5 diamonds the defensive prospects aren't very good considering West's diamond holding. If North doesn't have 5 diamonds he has at least 4 clubs, which means a club lead is more likely to cost than to gain.

The best chance is that North's shape is 4=1=3=5. If that is the case, East just might have a 5-card diamond suit, and a diamond lead could strike gold. Leading a small diamond would definitely be wrong, as that could block the suit. Leading the jack is okay. However, leading the king is best of all. A key holding is where dummy has xxx, East A10xxx, and declarer Qx. If West leads the jack, East isn't going to know to go up ace. If West leads the king and follows with the jack, East will know what to do.

At the other table, N-S got to 4 instead of 3NT. This wasn't quite as secure a contract, but with the diamonds lying very favorably, 11 tricks came in.

The question of whether or not to bypass showing a 4-card spade suit with a balanced hand has long been debated. The disadvantage of the bypass is, of course, the danger of missing a 4-4 spade fit. This will happen only if responder is not strong enough to move towards game, since responder has a game invite or game-forcing hand, a 4-4 spade fit can be located via 2-way checkback.

There is an important distinction when playing Standard vs. Precision. In Standard, if the auction goes: 1-1;1, opener is known to have at least 4 diamonds. If responder doesn't fit spades he will often have a diamond fit and be able to get to a decent diamond partial. Playing Precision, responder doesn't have this information. He knows opener has 4 spades and fewer than 4 hearts, but opener might have just about any minor-suit distribution. Therefore, responder is guessing. Bypassing on a balanced hand is more attractive playing Precision than playing Standard.

Bypassing a 4-card spade suit on all balanced hands can lead to better constructive auctions. The knowledge that partner is always unbalanced when he rebids 1 cuts down on his possible shapes, making auctions considerably easier. Two-way checkback handles balanced hands so well that it isn't important whether opener can have a 4-card spade suit -- if anything, bypassing the suit has the advantage of concealment if responder doesn't need to inquire.

Once it is known that opener has shortness, it makes sense for responder's 1NT rebid to be artificial. While 1NT might be the best contract, it is difficult for responder to know this.

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