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In the quarter-finals of the open trials, you face an interesting problem as responder.

E-W vul, West deals. As South, you hold:

South
1052
1052
8
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
?

1: 11-15, 2+ diamonds. If balanced, 13-15.

It would be nice if 3 were to play, but in your partnership it shows both minors, so you have no way to guarantee stopping in a club part-score. Your reasonable choices are:

Pass: You would probably buy it there and go down 50 a trick, which might or might not be a decent result.

1NT: Normally you would have a stronger hand for this call, but since partner is limited he will always be passing unless he has an unbalanced hand.

1 of a major: While partner won't be expecting you to be bidding a 3-card major, you may be able to get away with it. It is important know the parameters on partner's rebids.

1) Opener never raises on 3-card support, regardless of his hand. If he is balanced without 4-card support, he always rebids 1NT, even if he is 5-4-2-2 and even with 4 spades to a 1 response. A 1 rebid will always have a singleton or void. After a 1NT rebid, you have the mechanism to get to 3.

2) With 4-card support and a balanced hand (thus 13-15 points, since with 10-12 balanced he would have opened 1NT) opener will raise to the 2-level. After this raise, you play 2-way game and slam tries. The next step (2NT over 2, 2 over 2) shows a short suit game or slam try, after which opener makes the cheapest call to ask what your short suit is. Other calls are long/help suit tries.

3) With 4-card support and an unbalanced hand, opener jumps to 3 of the major with a minimum, jumps in the other major with a non-minimum.

4) After a 1 response, opener rebids 2 with 1-4-5-3 shape -- otherwise, a 2 rebid always shows 6+ diamonds. With 3-4-5-1 shape, opener rebids 2. A 2 rebid by opener always shows 4+ clubs. Opener will never rebid 1NT with a singleton.

Your call?

South
1052
1052
8
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
?

Passing is too much of a crapshoot. You might be due a plus score.

1NT is the normal call. But if you think about it, responding 1 of a major has a lot going for it. If partner rebids 1NT, you get to the 3 contract you belong in. If he raises, so you play your 3-4 fit, and the opponents won't know what you have done. Meanwhile, you might pick off the enemy suit.

Between 1 and 1, the better call is probably 1. It is more preemptive, which might matter. Nothing really bad can happen. If partner is 3-4-5-1 he bids 2 and you play it there. The only way you can get to a 6-card fit is if partner is 1-4-5-3 and has to rebid 2, and that won't be so bad since the opponents will have a 9-card spade fit.

There is one other reason for preferring 1 to 1 which I will discuss later.

You bid 1. The bidding continues:

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

2: 4 spades, balanced, 13-15 HCP.

Your call?

South
1052
1052
8
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
?

Passing appears obvious. However, since partner is known to be balanced you would rather play 3 than 2. If only there were some way you could bid the third and final club. And there is! You can bid 2NT, showing an unspecified short suit game or slam try. Since you might have anything, partner will almost certainly bid 3 to let you describe your hand. And there you are! That is the other reason for prefering 1 to 1.

You don't think of this tricky signoff, so you pass, ending the auction.

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

West leads the 6 (3rd and 5th leads)

North
AK43
K983
64
KQ5
South
1052
1052
8
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
P


What do you play from dummy?

North
AK43
K983
64
KQ5
South
1052
1052
8
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

While it is possible that West has picked this moment to underlead the ace of hearts, it is more likely that he has made a normal lead from Jxx(x) or Qxx(x). The percentage play is to double finesse.

You play small from dummy. East wins the J, and switches to diamonds, playing the K then A. You ruff the second round. What do you do now?

North
AK43
K98
KQ5
South
105
105
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

If the trumps are 3-3 you can just duck a spade, with the return, draw trumps, and run the clubs. However, a 4-2 trump split will prevent this. You may need 2 heart tricks to make the contract. If you can set up 2 heart tricks, you will then have 3 spade tricks (including the ruff in the short hand), 3 club tricks, and 2 heart tricks, while the opponents take 2 heart tricks, 2 trump tricks, and a diamond trick. Riding the 10 looks like the simplest way to make the contract. If that loses to the queen, you will need a 3-3 trump split.

You lead the 10. West wins the A, East playing the 7, and West leads the 9. Now what?

North
AK43
K9
KQ5
South
105
5
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

It feels right to win and duck a spade. Unless the opponents can crossruff 2 more trump tricks this will make unless both spades and hearts are 4-2, since the remaining small spade in your hand guards against diamond forces.

What is going on in the heart suit? West wouldn't have underledAQxx, and even if he did, East would have returned a heart to get a ruff. It appears that West's heart holding is A76, in which case you are cold by ducking a spade.

Is it possible that West underledAx? Come to think of it, that now appears quite likely. If West had A76, wouldn't he have ducked the 10, secure in the knowledge that he struck gold on his opening lead and you would ride the 10? It would be hard for him to resist this. While an underlead of Ax is very rare, the evidence indicates that it could well be the case.

If the hearts are 4-2, it doesn't look like you can make unless the trumps are 3-3. If that is the case, ducking a spade risks a crossruff and going down when the spades were 3-3 all along. You can guard against that by playing ace, king, and a spade. However, that risks many undertricks if the spades are 4-2. It doesn't look worth risking several undertricks in order to cater to this one specific layout. Also, the hearts might be 3-3 all along with West not having the guts to duck his ace. It looks best to duck the first round of spades.

Does it matter where you lead the spade from? Probably not. If anything, it is probably better to try to duck a spade into East, since he might not believe that his partner underledAx.

You choose to win the K in dummy and lead a low spade to the 10 and West's Q. West leads the 8. You win the Q, as East discards the 10. What do you do now?

North
AK4
K9
5
South
5
5
AJ107
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

It looks like the trumps are 4-2, but there isn't much you can do about it. All you can do is play two top trumps and hope for the best. As feared, East started with 4 trumps. You try a club, but East ruffs and leads a diamond. The hearts are 4-2, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
Q6
A6
Q97532
982
North
AK43
K983
64
KQ5
East
J987
QJ74
AKJ10
4
South
1052
1052
8
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
3
J
2
2
0
1
K
8
2
4
2
0
2
A
2
3
6
3
1
2
10
A
8
4
0
1
3
9
K
4
3
1
2
3
3
7
10
Q
0
2
4
8
Q
10
6
1
3
4
A
8
5
6
1
4
4
K
9
7
5
1
5
4
5
J
10
2
2
5
5
J
11

Should East have defended better?

West
Q6
A6
Q97532
982
North
AK43
K983
64
KQ5
East
J987
QJ74
AKJ10
4
South
1052
1052
8
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
3
J
2
2
0
1
K
8
2
4
2
0
2
A
2
3
6
3
1
2
10
A
8
4
0
1
3
9
K
4
3
1
2
3
3
7
10
Q
0
2
4
8
Q
10
6
1
3
4
A
8
5
6
1
4
4
K
9
7
5
1
5
4
5
J
10
2
2
5
5
J
11


At the point West led the second round of clubs, East had a lot of information. The opening lead was the 6 and the 5 was the missing heart spot. It is hard to imagine West would lead the 6 from A65. Also, look at declarer's line of play. Declarer is known to have good clubs. Why didn't declarer draw trumps, or at least cash the ace? The only logical explanation must be that he has bid a 3-card spade suit. If East puts these pieces of logic together, the hand counts out to be what it is. East can ruff the club, give West a heart ruff, and get another club ruff for down 2.

What happens is that it is difficult to shake pre-conceived notions. When South bids 1, East assumes that South has at least 4 spades. When West leads a heart, East assumes that West isn't underleading the ace. The underlead is confirmed quickly when the jack of hearts holds, but now East assumes that West has Axx since he isn't expecting his partner to underlead Ax. It is difficult to shake these notions even when careful examination of the evidence should make it clear that things are not what they seemed.

What do you think of West's opening lead?

West
Q6
A6
Q97532
982
North
AK43
K983
64
KQ5
East
J987
QJ74
AKJ10
4
South
1052
1052
8
AJ10763
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
3
J
2
2
0
1
K
8
2
4
2
0
2
A
2
3
6
3
1
2
10
A
8
4
0
1
3
9
K
4
3
1
2
3
3
7
10
Q
0
2
4
8
Q
10
6
1
3
4
A
8
5
6
1
4
4
K
9
7
5
1
5
4
5
J
10
2
2
5
5
J
11

It is imaginative, but reasonable. Leading a heart follows the common theme of the defender with the shorter trumps going after the ruff. There is little danger that one of the opponents has a singleton heart, as that would give East at least 6 hearts along with what must be a decent hand, and he passed over 1. Dummy has most of the strength, arguing in favor of the underlead. Partner must have an entry if there is going to be a chance to defeat 2. I don't know that the underlead would have occurred to me, but it is a logical lead and was quite effective on this hand. Without the underlead, it is likely that the contract would have made.

The clever trick to get to 3 is far from obvious. One must be able to think out of the box to find such a call, as well as be fully aware of the tools which are available. In addition, South, having bid 1 on a 3-card suit, is mentally prepared to quickly pass the 2 raise before things get out of hand. 2NT would be quite an impressive call to find in the heat of battle.

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