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Unusual and Unusual

One isn’t often confronted with both an unusual bidding problem and an unusual declarer play problem on the same hand. However, I ran into just such an animal in the semi-final of this year’s Vanderbilt versus the Diamond team. I picked up:

AKQJT8
J
---
QJT98x.

Two pretty good poker hands rolled into one, no? And by the end of the deal, I wished I was playing poker!

Let’s look at the bidding first. Partner opens 1 in first chair and I’ve got my first decision. We play strong jump shifts and there’s some temptation here to set up a force in spades and worry about the clubs later. However, by agreement we never do that with a two-suiter. I decide to respond a simple 1 and hope to sort things out as I go along.

There aren’t many rebids to suit me, but partner makes life really difficult by jump shifting to 3. Now this is truly torture. Obviously, I can continue with a simple 3 forcing, but it seems to me that this will only prolong the agony. I choose the exotic bid of 5. While I’m taking a small gamble with regards to the ace of hearts, this bid has some real merit as it will focus on the club control. Note the great faith I’m showing that my partner, Marty Fleisher, will understand the strange workings of my mind. While waiting for the tray to come back from the other side (we were playing behind screens), I began to form an even greater master plan. If partner were to bid 6, presumably showing 1st round control, I would pass! He couldn’t really hold a club void as well as strong hearts and strong diamonds, and not bid 7. His 6 bid would almost certainly show the ace. He foiled my plan though, raising simply to 6.

Brad Moss on my left asked about general agreements in auctions like these. I told him that, while this auction was a new one – what a surprise! – I was likely interested in club control. He promptly led the club deuce. Marty tabled:

---
AQTxxx
AQT9x
Ax.

Drat him! My plan would have worked. Had Marty bid 6 and I passed, we would have ended in the perfect spot. Besides that, imagine the shock value if Marty saw it go all pass after the 6 bid. However, I think he did the right thing in practice. When partner produces an esoteric sequence, it’s usually best to avoid the big accident.

In any case, I was now burdened with a strange and difficult trick one decision in my slam.

Marty
AQ10xxx
AQ109x
Ax
Me
AKQJ108
J
QJ1098x

What would you do?

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There are basically two lines to consider. If the lead is a singleton I must rise ace, ruff a diamond back to hand and draw trumps. This makes anytime trumps are 4-3 as long as clubs are not 5-0.

Alternatively, I can duck the club, making whenever there is no ruff, even when trumps split 5-2. On that line I will discard the blocking club ace if necessary.

I chose to rise with the club ace and play for an even trump split. Naturally, Brad showed out on the third round of trumps. In retrospect, I think my play went against the odds. Playing low might even make in the unlikely event Fred ruffed the first club. Perhaps I was a victim of “not wanting to go down at trick 2” syndrome.

Next time I hold a hand like this I’m simply going to blurt out, “Ante Up”! It will be tough to beat me at that form of scoring.

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