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In the semi-finals of the Senior Trials, you must find the best constructive approach opposite partner's opening bid.

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

North
1085
KQ3
AKQ86
93
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
?

1: 11-15, 5+ spades

Your call?

North
1085
KQ3
AKQ86
93
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
?

A 2 response may seem obvious. But there is something to be said for simply bidding 4. This is very likely to be your best contract, and if something else is better you might not be able to find out. An immediate 4 call shuts the opponents out, and doesn't reveal the nature of your hand to the opening leader.

If East weren't a passed hand, the preemptive value of an immediate 4 call might be worth something, since if East has a good hand with some shape he would have a very difficult decision. Once East is a passed hand, the preemptive value becomes almost worthless. You own the spade suit, and both opponents have passed. They are unlikely to enter the auction, and if they do they certainly won't be bidding higher than 4.

Concealment could matter. If you respond 2, West will have more information for his opening lead and is more likely to find a winning heart or club lead if there is one. Still, with your hand it probably won't make a difference.

Can there be alternative contracts, and can they be located? Yes, that is quite possible. Picture partner with something like AKQxx Axx Jxxx x. 6 is laydown. Granted that is a perfect hand. But if partner makes a 4 splinter over a 2 response you will know that he has that perfect hand or close to it. Also, 3NT might be better than 4. You have weak trumps and a side source of tricks. If you bid 2, then support spades, and partner chooses 3NT you would have good reason to believe that his spades are also weak and 3NT is better.

The important point is that 4 won't run away from you. By bidding 2, you create a game force. Partner is limited, so you are in control of the auction. If you ever mouth the magic words "four spades", the auction will come to a halt. Thus, you have little to lose by going slowly.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

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

Your call?

North
1085
KQ3
AKQ86
93
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
?

This was very convenient. You have an easy 2 call. The development of the auction allowed you to show your 3-card spade support at the 2-level, making it easier to have a careful auction to find the right contract.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

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

Your call?

North
1085
KQ3
AKQ86
93
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

What do you know about partner's hand? It appears that he is simply bidding out his pattern as best as possible. He doesn't know if you are slamming or just looking for the best game. All he knows is that you have alternate contracts to 4 in mind, since if you knew 4 were best you would have simply bid it. His shape figures to be 5-4-1-3 or 5-4-0-4.

Can there be a slam? In order to cover your losers, he needs AKQ of spades, ace of hearts, and a club card. That is looking like a 1 opening bid. There are perfect hands with exactly the right cards which will make slam good, but you aren't going to be able to locate them. Forget about slam.

Can 3NT be better than 4? Yes, it easily can. Picture partner with something like Jxxxx AJxx x KQx and 4 has no play while 3NT has very good chances. It is still worth probing.

You best choice seems to be 3. This gives partner the most latitude. If he bangs it into 3NT opposite that with the knowledge of the 5-3 spade fit, you can be pretty sure that his spades are weak and that 3NT is where you belong. If he does anything else, you can just bid 4.

You choose to bid 4, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Over you go to partner's seat to play it.

West leads the 4. Fourth best leads, standard signals.

North
1085
KQ3
AKQ86
93
South
KQJ93
8754
5
KQ8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You win the ace of diamonds. East follows with the 3.

What do you play at trick 2?

 

North
1085
KQ3
KQ86
93
South
KQJ93
8754
KQ8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You have 3 aces you must lose. It looks like the game plan is to ruff a club in dummy, scoring 1 club trick, 1 heart trick, 3 diamond tricks, and 5 spade tricks. A 5-2 diamond split may foil this plan if the opponents get hearts going in time, but maybe the ace of hearts is onside.

At any rate, it is clear to lead a club off dummy. If you touch trumps first, the opponents may prevent you from getting a needed club ruff. Perhaps you will find out whether or not the ace of clubs is onside.

It can't really matter, but it is good technique to lead the 9 from dummy. The spot is useless to you, but that may plant a wrong impression in the minds of the defenders.

You lead the 3. East follows with the 2. Which honor do you play from your hand?

 

North
1085
KQ3
KQ86
93
South
KQJ93
8754
KQ8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You would like to discover whether or not the ace of clubs is onside, as that may help you with your future play. Normally when leading up to a KQ holding in your hand where you want to smoke out the ace it is better to play the queen. That is more difficult for LHO to duck, since he may fear that his partner has the king. If you lead up to the king LHO may deduce that you wouldn't be attacking the suit this way if you didn't have the queen, so he might find a duck of the ace.

On this hand, playing the king is fine. The reason is that it is natural for you to be attacking the suit with Kxx, since you are aiming to ruff the third round of clubs in dummy. Thus, it will be impossible for LHO to duck his ace if he has it. Furthermore, neither opponent will know where the queen is.

You play the king of clubs. West wins the ace, and continues with the 2. You win the king, East plays the 10, and you discard a heart. Now what?

 

North
1085
KQ3
Q86
9
South
KQJ93
875
Q8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Now you are going to have to ruff a club in dummy. But you might as well play a trump first. If you can smoke out the ace, you will be better placed.

You lead a trump. East follow with the 4. What do you play from your hand?

 

North
1085
KQ3
Q86
9
South
KQJ93
875
Q8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Here it is best not to play the king. If you do West will know that you have the queen to go with it, since if you were missing the queen you would have finessed against it. Probably your best play is the queen, hoping West thinks his partner has the king.

You play the queen of spades. It holds, West playing the 2. Now what?

 

North
108
KQ3
Q86
9
South
KJ93
875
Q8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You have no choice now. You must take the club ruff while you can.

You cash the queen of clubs, and ruff a club in dummy with the 10, both opponents following. Now what?

 

 

North
8
KQ3
Q86
South
KJ93
875
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Trying to cash the diamond can wait. You still have a heart entry. Your best bet is to try to draw trumps.

You lead a trump. East plays small. You win the king, as West discards a diamond. And now?

 

North
KQ3
Q86
South
J93
875
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

You might as well play another trump. There is no need to play up to the hearts, since if you are able to cash dummy's diamond you need only one heart trick. If East started with 5 clubs and the ace of hearts he can force you, but if that is the case you never had a chance. Otherwise, East may have to defend well to defeat you.

You lead the jack of spades. West discards the 9. East wins, and leads a small heart to West's jack and dummy's king. You try the queen of diamonds, but East ruffs. As feared East started with A10x of hearts, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
2
J92
J9742
AJ105
North
1085
KQ3
AKQ86
93
East
A764
A106
103
7642
South
KQJ93
8754
5
KQ8
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
A
3
5
1
1
0
3
2
K
A
0
1
1
2
K
10
4
1
2
1
5
4
Q
2
3
3
1
Q
5
9
4
3
4
1
8
10
10
6
1
5
1
8
6
K
7
3
6
1
J
9
6
A
2
6
2
6
5
J
K
1
7
2
Q
7
10

Was the defense accurate?

 

West
2
J92
J9742
AJ105
North
1085
KQ3
AKQ86
93
East
A764
A106
103
7642
South
KQJ93
8754
5
KQ8
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
A
3
5
1
1
0
3
2
K
A
0
1
1
2
K
10
4
1
2
1
5
4
Q
2
3
3
1
Q
5
9
4
3
4
1
8
10
10
6
1
5
1
8
6
K
7
3
6
1
J
9
6
A
2
6
2
6
5
J
K
1
7
2
Q
7
10

When West was in with the ace of clubs, he could have defeated the contract easily by shifting to a heart. Apparently he was thinking his partner had a singleton diamond or he was afraid that declarer had the 10 of hearts and would let the heart shift ride to his 10.

It should have been clear that declarer had the singleton diamond. The bidding marked declarer with 5-4 in the majors, and declarer wouldn't have bid 3C with 5-4-2-2 shape. In addition, consider declarer's line of play. Why would declarer ever be leading clubs if he were 5-4-2-2? He would certainly be drawing trumps. The only reason declarer is leading clubs is that he needs to ruff a club in dummy.

As for the fear of declarer letting the heart ride around to his 10, that is unrealistic. West knows the diamonds are 5-2, but declarer doesn't know that for sure. Declarer has potential discards on the diamonds. Even if the diamonds are 5-2, East may be ruffing the third round with a natural trump trick. Also, from declarer's point of view it might be West who has the ace of hearts. There is no way declarer would ever duck.

Failing to shift to a heart has several ways to cost the contract. If declarer has 108xx of hearts East wouldn't be able to profitably return a heart in the end position. Also, East's trump holding might be such that the heart trick must be established quickly or East will lose a potential trump trick.

Do you agree with South's bidding?

West
2
J92
J9742
AJ105
North
1085
KQ3
AKQ86
93
East
A764
A106
103
7642
South
KQJ93
8754
5
KQ8
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
A
3
5
1
1
0
3
2
K
A
0
1
1
2
K
10
4
1
2
1
5
4
Q
2
3
3
1
Q
5
9
4
3
4
1
8
10
10
6
1
5
1
8
6
K
7
3
6
1
J
9
6
A
2
6
2
6
5
J
K
1
7
2
Q
7
10

South's first two bids are automatic. The hand is clearly an opening bid in Precision, and probably in Standard also with the honors working together. Even though the spades are far stronger than the hearts, it is still right for South to bid out his shape. If he rebids 2, a 4-4 heart fit will probably never be found.

On his third call, South could have rebid 2NT instead of 3. The reason for choosing 3 is that once North has shown 3-card spade support South will always be choosing 4 over 3NT with these concentrated values and slow tricks. There is no reason for South to suggest a strain he will never play. Therefore, the 3 call is more descriptive.

At the other table, 4 was also reached and was defeated 1 trick.

Choosing which of equal honors to play from the closed hand in order to induce the opponent to either win the trick or duck is an art. One must put oneself into the mind of the defender, see what he is seeing, and decide how it will look to him depending on which honor is played. The choice can then be made to hopefully do what you want him to do.

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