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The Grand National Open Teams in Australia is one of our annual national events. Like the GNT in the United States, teams must qualify through their local region, before proceeding to a national final played in November.

The qualifying stages are run as knockout matches, unusual in Australia, which can provide a lot more drama than the usual Swiss or round robin.

On the fourth board of a single KO qualifier match, you pick up a 4414 hand with some potential:

South
AQJ10
AK64
4
10952

With the opponents vulnerable, you open 1. LHO overcalls 1, partner makes a negative double showing spades, and RHO passes. What would you bid?

A common practice is that merely bidding 1 suggests three-card support for partner’s spades, and if we hold four, we should jump to 2. But this hand is too strong to simply raise to the two-level.

Although concerns of heart over-ruffs might pass through our mind, we must express our strength and jump to 3. Those of scientific inclinations might also consider 3, an invitational splinter for spades, but at the table we chose to keep things simple.

Partner raises to 4. LHO leads the Q and dummy has even more shape than your hand:

North
K542
J2
KJ98763
South
AQJ10
AK64
4
10952
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Let’s make a plan about how to come to ten tricks.

Once we’ve done that, trick one (Q) is waiting our attention: duck or cover?

North
K542
J2
KJ98763
South
AQJ10
AK64
4
10952
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

There are some situations where we need to play low from this type of holding (giving RHO the choice of playing low and never getting in, or overtaking but setting up multiple winners). This is not likely to be one of those scenarios, as there is no particularly problematic switch from RHO. Covering the Q sets up a winner and starts establishing the suit.

At the table, declarer made the natural play of covering. Right-hand opponent won the A and considered playing a low diamond back, but decided to switch to the 10 which declarer won with the A as West followed with the 3. 

There appear to be two main approaches:

A)     Establish dummy’s diamond suit. We have only lost one trick, and if we can set up dummy (with two more losers affordable) we will make our contract easily. The Q lead looks like a shortage (likely a singleton) so the 10 should be vulnerable to a ruffing finesse.

B)     Some sort of cross-ruffing alternative. Dummy can readily ruff clubs, and our big trumps will prevent West over-ruffing diamonds.

The main problem with line A will be losing touch with dummy if trumps don't break and the opponents tap dummy with clubs.  

The main problem with line B is that we might not have enough tricks. We have a trick in the bag, and potentially eight tricks in trumps, but both the heart King and diamond Jack have a fair chance to get knocked off. 

North
K542
J
J98763
South
AQJ10
K64
10952
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

How are we going to get to ten tricks?

North
K542
J
J98763
South
AQJ10
K64
10952
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

If trumps are 3-2, we can make twelve tricks without much trouble by drawing trumps and setting up the diamonds. 

The main consideration must be how to get home if trumps break 4-1.

If only dummy had the 10! Unfortunately, those big trumps in hand that give us security in a cross-ruff scenario are so big that we only have one entry to dummy in trumps. Any other route back to dummy involves shortening dummy’s trumps, giving an opponent with four spades more trumps than the dummy.

One helpful starting point that can often help resolve how much extra work we need to do is to consider what happens if we play a line that involves drawing trumps. Imagine we play the A, followed by a second spade. Let’s say West shows out, and we overtake to get to dummy.

Now the J, followed by the 9, covered and ruffed. How healthy are things in this position?

North
54
J
8763
South
J
K64
1095
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Declarer has taken five tricks, and lost one. North and East both have two trumps, and dummy’s diamonds are ready to run. The awkward part is that we are sitting in the wrong hand. If we ruff to dummy and start running diamonds, East will ruff in on the second diamond, and after we ruff back to dummy for the last time, East ruffs the next diamond and the rest of the suit withers on the vine.

Have you seen a gambit that might give us a chance?

North
54
J
8763
South
J
K64
1095
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

One idea is to offer up the heart King before getting to work. East might like to ruff this, after which you can put your cards on the table: ruff the club return and run diamonds through East. Whenever they ruff, you can over-ruff and dummy is high. 

This might work in a lowly club session, but not in the rarified air of the GNOT qualifiers. East will politely refuse to ruff your K, preferring to discard his 5.

All over now. You can ruff a club to dummy, but East ruffs the next diamond. You over-ruff, take another club ruff in the dummy, and East ruffs dummy’s next diamond lead leaving your hand with a few losers without a home. Count the tricks: you make the A at the start, two rounds of trumps, the J, four ruffs and the K that you wish had been ruffed; nine in total, and one short of your contract.

Still, pretty close.  With the hand an open book, can you see the tenth trick yet? We need five of the last seven tricks from here.

North
54
J
8763
South
J
K64
10952
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

North
54
J
8763
South
J
K64
1095
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

The K play to offer East a ruff does have a role in this hand, but if it is played too early, East has an effective counter of throwing his diamond loser. We need to play the K at a point where it is not merely a psychological play, tempting a defensive error, but where it becomes a technical play from which there is no escape. 

East's diamond pitch on the K was the key to the defence in the play on the previous page. This reduced our high-card winners for the cross-ruff by one. Let's rewind and change the timing...

 

West
Q98
AQ76
North
54
J
8763
East
98
5
KJ84
South
J
K64
1095
D

It turns out this is a ‘double threat’ hand; the plan is to play a cross-ruff with the back-up threat of running the long suit.

First, ruff a club to dummy (dummy now has one trump left, East has two). Cash a diamond winner, East following, and start running diamonds through East. They ruff, we over-ruff, and only now do we play the K.

West
Q9
AQ
North
5
J
73
East
9
KJ8
South
K6
109
D

Do you see the difference? If East ruffs, as before, dummy is high (and we make an overtrick). But this time, if East discards, we are up to nine tricks and can simply ruff a club for the tenth. The extra trick comes from a diamond winner cashed before East could rid himself of the 5.

 

 

 

West
Q98
AQ76
North
54
J
8763
East
98
5
KJ84
South
J
K64
1095
D

Simple if you see it. And if you don't, you might not realize it until you look at the hand record the next day...

At the table, the analysis didn't go this deep, the K hit the table too early, and East discarded his low diamond. This deprived declarer of trick number ten and earned East 10 IMPs at our expense. Despite this board, our team held on to win the match by 1 IMP and move on to the next KO round.

In another bit of GNOT drama, the following week we managed to tie our second KO match, only to lose by 1 IMP in the one-board playoff... but that's a story for another time.

Let's go back to trick 2, where we are in this position with East on lead:

North
K542
J2
J98763
East
9873
10
1052
KJ84
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

What do you think of East's defense to 4?

North
K542
J2
J98763
East
9873
10
1052
KJ84
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

At the table, after the 10 shift declarer was in control if they played accurately because they held the A.

At trick two, East's switch to the 10 will be correct if their partner has the A. East can ruff the heart return, and with three tricks in the bag, lead a low diamond while West still has a trump. Declarer must ruff this and has no way to make 10 tricks once their trumps have been shortened. Dummy's lack of a second trump entry prevents South from establishing the diamonds. 

That said, going for a heart ruff doesn't necessarily seem right on East's hand. If partner doesn't hold the A, East probably wants to shorten dummy's trumps instead. A club switch at trick 2 looks like a reasonable idea to try to kill the diamond suit.

Would this approach have beaten declarer this time?

West
6
Q98753
Q
AQ763
North
K542
J2
KJ98763
East
9873
10
A1052
KJ84
South
AQJ10
AK64
4
10952
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
11
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Not necessarily. For example, declarer can succeed by playing a natural-looking cross-ruff line, leading towards the A at trick 3 after ruffing the club switch.

After the A wins, declarer continues by ruffing a second club, followed by a heart towards the King.

If East discards on this trick, declarer gets home with two hearts and eight ruffs, so East ruffs the heart. We are in this position:

West
6
Q987
AQ7
North
K5
J98763
East
987
1052
KJ
South
AQJ10
K6
109
D

The hand is still live. How should the play go from here? 

West
6
Q987
AQ7
North
K5
J98763
East
987
1052
KJ
South
AQJ10
K6
109
D

East knows trumps are 4-1 but declarer doesn't. 

North-South have only taken three tricks at this point. On a trump shift, aiming to cut down the cross-ruff, declarer can only make four trumps in hand and one ruff in the dummy, and must hope for the J to stand up (West having been dealt a singleton spade or a doubleton diamond). This time, declarer's luck is in.

Foreseeing this, East should not play trumps as this will force declarer into a winning line.

Let's say East chooses to force dummy with a club instead and hopes for something good to happen.

West
6
Q987
AQ7
North
K5
J98763
East
987
1052
KJ
South
AQJ10
K6
109
D

Dummy ruffs, and declarer can again succeed by drawing one round of trumps with dummy's now bare K, before cashing the J. Even playing the J before a round of trumps works, as West can ruff but has no trump to play. Any return allows dummy to ruff; declarer's hand will be AQJ10 A and East has only three trumps left, so declarer claims the rest.

All well and good, but lucky that West had a singleton spade to go with their singleton diamond.

After the club tap, there is a more appealing line for declarer that provides 10 tricks regardless of the trump break.

North
K
J98763
South
AQJ10
K6
10

With the lead in the North hand and the opponents' cards hidden, can you see how declarer should play in the below position to guarantee the contract (as long as West did not start with four trumps)?

East-West have taken two tricks so far, and have four trumps left between them.

North to play, and declarer to make all but one - even if West has more than one trump. Last problem, I promise.

North
K
J98763
South
AQJ10
K6
10

If you were playing the hand at the table and didn't know the layout, you should take an interesting and unusual line...

Clearly, playing trumps will not work unless West has a stiff spade - not enough tricks. How about...

Ruff a low diamond. Ruff a club back to dummy.

And now, naturally, ruff another low diamond, leaving the J stranded on the dummy. West would ruff it anyway, after all.

You're left with this:

North
J987
South
AQ
K6

Now you cash your two remaining trumps, hoping for the remaining trumps to divide 2-2. They don't, but no need to worry about that.

You offer up the K at trick 12.  If West has the last trump (e.g. 3613/3514), the K should stand up.

And if East is holding the last trump, as well as the 10 which he has never had the opportunity to rid himself of... well, it looks like the diamonds couldn't be killed after all. Obvious, really...?

West
6
Q98753
Q
AQ763
North
K542
J2
KJ98763
East
9873
10
A1052
KJ84
South
AQJ10
AK64
4
10952
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
11
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
K
A
4
2
0
1
10
A
3
2
3
1
1
A
6
2
3
3
2
1
Q
5
K
7
1
3
1
J
2
2
3
1
4
1
9
10
10
7
3
5
1
5
6
4
4
1
6
1
8
5
4
8
1
7
1
7
8
J
7
3
8
1
K
9
J
8
3
9
1
9
Q
5
J
1
10
1
10 tricks claimed
N/S +420
11

Out of fantasy land and back to the table...

As the play develops after the 10 shift, the delayed heart King play seems non-intuitive for most players given this problem. Yet it follows exactly the same principles as playing that card three tricks earlier, except with an extra diamond winner in the bag. All the information is there; it just needs to be processed correctly.

In the second variation, when East chooses to continually force dummy with clubs, the layout is not double-dummy with seven tricks to play. Yet amazingly, the right play is still to delay cashing the heart king, as well as 'delaying' the diamond Jack until trick 13! Well done if you managed to solve this single-dummy. 

In my previous article Tighten the Vice, the trap for declarer likewise involved the release of a specific winner too early. This seems to be a recurring theme in somewhat complex play situations. The key winner must be saved until the crucial moment where it forces an advantage from the opponents. Time things wrong, and East will nonchalantly let go an idle card without a care in the world. And no one wants that. 

This is the second of three 4 hands I plan to write up, each featuring some point of technique. If you found this hand appealing, hover over my name on the right-hand side and click Follow - Bridge Winners will notify you next time I publish an article.

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