In a round robin match in the trials, you face a delicate choice of games decision.
Both vul, West deals. As South, you hold
2C: Natural game force
2H: 6+ hearts
3NT by you would show no slam interest and a very strong desire to play 3NT.
2NT looks pretty clear. While the hand probably belongs in 3NT, it might belong elsewhere depending on partner's distribution. 2NT is cheap, giving partner room to show club support. It isn't necessary to show the 4-card diamond suit. If partner is 6-4 in the reds, he can bid 3♦ over 2NT.
You bid 2NT. The bidding continues:
You now know that partner has 3-card club support along with his 6 hearts, so 3NT might not be so good. Either 5♣ or 4♥ might be better, depending on his strength in these suits. If he is short in spades you don't want to be in notrump, but if he is short in diamonds then 3NT should be okay. You can let partner know this by bidding 3♦. He will not be concerned about a singleton diamond, but will be quite concerned about a singleton spade.
You bid 3♦. The bidding continues:
Your general agreements when an artificial notrump try gets doubled are:
Pass shows a partial stopper (and then redouble by partner would show a little help but not a true partial stopper).
Redouble would normally show a stopper but prefer to have partner play it. Here you have already bid notrump, so redouble really isn't defined.
3NT shows a full stopper, of course.
What does partner have in spades for the 3♠ call? He knows you are worried about spades for notrump purposes, so with a worthless doubleton in spades he wouldn't be hedging with 3♠ -- he would either bid 3♥ or 4♣ depending on his strength in these suits. On the other hand, if he were as strong as Qxx in spades he would have taken the bull by the horns himself and bid 3NT. He knows you have more than a worthless doubleton in spades from your sequence. With nothing in spades you wouldn't have been bidding 2NT to begin with. Thus, his spade holding should be weaker than Qxx but stronger than xx. Maybe xxx. Maybe Qx.
Redouble is possible, but it is dangerous to make an undefined call. Pass showing a partial stopper is also possible. If partner has xxx in spades you might not want to be in 3NT with a presumed 5-card spade suit on your right. For example, partner might hold something like ♠xxx ♥AKxxxx ♦x ♣KJx. Opposite a hand such as that, 5♣ is probably the best contract.
Still, passing puts a lot of pressure on partner who may not know exactly what is needed in spades for 3NT. You do have a full spade stopper. If partner has the Qx or xxx you think he has you will be able to arrange to hold up in spades so East will need an entry to run the suit. As a practical matter, it is probably best to just bid 3NT.
As an aside, at the table I never saw the double of 3♠, so of course bidding 3NT was trivial.
You bid 3NT, ending the auction.
West leads the ♠q
East plays the ♠10 (standard signals). Do you win this trick or duck?
Ducking looks clear. The indications from the bidding and lead are that West has queen doubleton of spades. You may have to lose a club trick to West, but there is a good chance you can keep East off lead.
At the table it wasn't so clear to duck since I hadn't seen the double (so the lead could have been from AQx), but I worked out to duck anyway.
You duck the first trick. West continues with the ♠6. East wins the ace. Do you unblock or not?
Clearly you will be playing on clubs. You are hoping for a 3-2 club split with one of the honors onside. That will give you 4 club tricks, 3 diamond tricks, 1 spade trick, and 1 heart trick.
It looks convenient to unblock the ♠K. This will let you win the spade continuation in dummy so you can lead clubs. However, if the clubs are 3-2 with one honor onside you don't need the jack of spades entry, since you have the two red aces for entries to take two club finesses.
Suppose East doesn't continue spades, but makes an unexpected shift to a diamond or even a heart. Now it will be handy to have the spade entry to your hand, which might help on some of the 4-1 club splits. East can always knock that entry out by continuing spades, but from his point of view he won't have an entry so it may appear more profitable to shift.
The position is complicated. If you knew East would continue spades, then it is right to unblock so you can win the spade in dummy to lead a club. But if East is shifting, you are perhaps better off not unblocking. However, not unblocking could lead to complications on a heart shift, since the entry position would force you to win the ace of hearts whether you wanted to or not. On balance, unblocking is probably better.
You choose to unblock the ♠K. East thinks about it a bit, and makes an unexpected shift to the ♥3. West plays the ♥Q. What do you do?
If you win this trick, you are in jeopardy if East has the king of hearts. West may get in when you attack clubs and lead a heart through, giving the defenders 2 heart tricks, 2 spade tricks, and 1 club trick. You might be able to play clubs in such a way so as to keep West off lead, or West might have KQ of hearts all along.
Can you afford to duck? If the ♠J weren't an entry you could not afford to duck, since West would shift to a diamond and you wouldn't have another entry for the second club finesse or even to cash the ace of hearts. So, it looks like unblocking was right after all if you are going to duck the heart shift.
Who has the king of hearts? East can work out from the bidding that you have a singleton heart and probably a singleton small heart, or you might have made more of an effort to get to 4♥. He could easily find a heart shift from the king. However, if he doesn't have the king of hearts there wouldn't be so much attraction for the heart shift. This is an indication that East has the king of hearts, although that isn't a certainty.
If you choose to duck the heart, what will you do if West comes back a heart?
You can guard against West having the ♥K by finessing the ♥J. The problem is that East could win the ♥K and put a club through. Now even a 3-3 heart split won't make the contract if the ♣K is offside, since you haven't unblocked the diamonds yet but you did unblock the spades. In this variation you would prefer the king of spades were back in your hand, but if that were the case West would have played a diamond, not a heart.
Can West be making this play holding the king of hearts? It would take a lot of guts, since from his point of view that could be handing you the heart suit and the contract. It is far more likely that East has the king of hearts. Your best bet is to play for the hearts to be 3-3. Win the ♥A, unblock the ♦A (nice to have the ♠J entry to dummy now), and lead another heart. If the hearts are 3-3, you will take 4 heart tricks, 3 diamond tricks, 1 club trick, and 1 spade trick, while the defense gets only 2 spade tricks and 2 heart tricks.
If you choose to win the first round of hearts, how will you play the club suit?
Your hope is to develop 4 club tricks keeping West off lead. The best way to do this is to lead a club to the queen. Assuming this wins, you can unblock the ♦A and lead another club. This will work if East started with ♣Kx or ♣KJx. Unfortunately it won't work if East started with ♣Kxx. You would have to go up ♣A to keep West off lead, and then you wouldn't have an entry to the long clubs. In this variation, you would wish you hadn't unblocked the ♠K.
So, do you win the first round of hearts or not?
It helps to be at the table for this decision. However, the heart shift must be more attractive to East if he has the king of hearts. Therefore, it looks best to duck the heart trick and play for the 3-3 split if West comes back a heart.
You choose to win the ♥A and lead a club to the queen. It isn't the winner. West wins the ♣K, and puts a heart through for down 1. The full hand is:
East found a fine heart shift at trick 3. However, this shift could and probably should have been countered.
It is interesting to see that the decision of whether or not to unblock the ♠K actually depends on what you plan to do if East shifts to a heart and West plays an honor. If you plan to win the heart shift then you should not unblock, since retaining the king of spades allows you to play the club suit optimally to keep West off lead. However, if you plan to duck the heart shift then you do need to unblock in order to have the necessary dummy entries. This is very difficult to see at trick 2.
Do you agree with North's choice of opening bid?
Even if you open light, as we do, you have to draw the line somewhere. The question is whether or not the North hand is over that line or not. The two aces and the two jacks put it just over the line. Without even one of the jacks, North probably shouldn't open 1♥.
It should be noted that if North doesn't think the hand is worth 1♥ he should not pass. The hand looks like a weak 2 (or a multi if playing that). There is no break between a 1-bid and a 2-bid. If it looks like a weak 2 and it isn't strong enough for a 1-bid, then it is a weak 2.
Was North's 3♠ call correct?
North has already shown 6 hearts, and his heart suit is not strong enough to play opposite a stiff honor. Therefore, North should not bid 3♥. If one of his small hearts were the ♥10, then rebidding 3H would be quite reasonable.
South must have more than xx in spades for the 2NT call. Even if South has xxx in spades, 3NT figures to be the only game with a chance. South might hold, say, ♠xxx ♥x ♦KQxx ♣AKQxx. Most likely South has a spade honor. North shouldn't be giving South the problem. North knows that 3NT must be the most likely game to make, so he should bid it.
Most pairs use a rebid of opener's major as a default bid, reserving reverses and new suits at the 3-level to show extra strength or distribution. We find it more valuable to have the rebid of opener's major show an extra trump. Why repeat the message already shown? This deal is a good example. If North hadn't already shown a 6-card heart suit he would have to bid 3♥ over 3♦ in order to clarify that he has a 6-card heart suit, so he couldn't focus on the notrump issue. Furthermore, if South had a stiff heart honor he wouldn't know if that was sufficient support. Since North has already shown a 6-card suit, his 3♥ bid shows the ability to play opposite a stiff honor. This makes the choice of games decisions a lot easier.
Plus... it's free!