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1-level Stayman
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In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you have the option of making one of your specialty opening bids.

N-S vul, North deals. As North, you hold

North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
W
N
E
S
?

If you so choose, you may open 2. This shows a good diamond preempt, just under an opening bid or perhaps a minimal opening bid. A prototype for this call would be something like: x xxx AQJxxx Kxx.

Your call?

North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
W
N
E
S
?

Your hand qualifies as a minimal 1 opening. The 2 opening is very descriptive. Partner will know your hand type immediately, while if you open 1 you could have anything. In addition, opening 2 puts more pressure on he opponents.

The question is whether or not it is too strong for a 2 opener. If you open 2, partner will play you for a bit less than this on balance. Your diamond suit is very good. This is a full opening bid, not one you would be ashamed of.

Vulnerability is a big factor in this decision. If you open 1, partner will initially assume you have a balanced hand not in your 1NT opening range. Your 1NT opening vulnerable is 14-16, so partner will play you for 11-13. That is about what you have. Also, you don't want to risk missing a vulnerable game if partner has a borderline decision.

If you were non-vulnerable, it would be another story. Now your 1 opening would be assumed to be 13-15, and you don't have that. In addition, you won't be missing a vulnerable game, and if the hand is a misfit you are happier having preempted when non-vulnerable.

It is a close decision, but it looks like the odds favor opening 1.

You open 1. The bidding continues

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
?

Your call?

North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
?

In Standard, it is usually better to bid your second suit when you are 6-4 rather than rebid your original suit. This tells partner more about your hand, and keeps more options open. One rebids the 6-card suit only when it is considerably stronger.

In Precision, there are different considerations. While is is true that the sequence 1-1;2 shows both minors, you could be 5-4 either way. If partner has 2 diamonds and 3 clubs with no game interest, he will choose to play in clubs. Even if he is 3-3 in the minors, he might choose to play in clubs. That would be very bad with your hand.

Rebidding 2 emphasizes the 6-card suit, which could be vital. In addition, if partner takes another call you can follow with 3 painting a very accurate picture of your hand. It looks like rebidding 2 will come out better.

You bid 2. The bidding concludes

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

Over you go to declare.

West leads the 4. Standard leads and carding.

North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
South
AQ9
9652
J85
AJ3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

What do you play from dummy?

North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
South
AQ9
9652
J85
AJ3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

You can count 5 diamond tricks, 3 club tricks, and 1 spade trick. The danger is that if the diamonds don't run the opponents will shift to a heart and take 4 heart tricks to defeat the contract. You want to find he best approach to avoid that shift.

It is likely from the lead that West holds the queen of clubs. If you put in the 10, it will probably hold the trick. Unless you are planning on leading a small diamond from dummy at trick 2, that won't gain you anything. Furthermore, playing the 10 from this holding in dummy is an unnatural play, and may set off alarm bells in the enemy mind. When you are doing something deceptive, you want to make your plays appear normal.

You play small from dummy. East plays the 9. What do you win with?

North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
South
AQ9
9652
J85
AJ3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

You can consider winning with the ace of clubs, concealing the jack. However, this has a couple of strikes against it. For starters, you can't be sure that West has the queen of clubs, and if he doesn't, winning the ace of clubs may turn 9 tricks into 8. Also, concealing the jack doesn't really accomplish what you are trying to do. Once you show the ace of clubs your opponents will know your tricks are ready to roll, and you have an entry to dummy's diamonds. However, if you win the jack, both opponents may think their partner has the ace. Often the best falsecard is to not falsecard.

You win the jack of clubs. What do you play at trick 2?

North
6
J8
AK9742
K106
South
AQ9
9652
J85
A3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

Clearly you are going to attack diamonds, and the normal play is AK. The problem with this is that if an opponent has Qxx of diamonds that will give his partner the opportunity to make a couple of informative discards, and discouraging spade discards may allow them to find the killing heart shift. In addition, this line of play makes it likely that you have the ace of clubs, since otherwise you would potentially be leaving dummy's diamonds entryless. The opponents would know they have to cash out, and they would likely have the information to find the heart shift.

Since you can afford to lose a diamond trick if the opponents don't shift to hearts, it is better to duck a diamond immediately. It will appear that you are doing this because you have a doubleton diamond, and possibly because you don't have the ace of clubs and need to retain a diamond entry to dummy's long diamonds. This will paint a different picture of your hand to the opponents, which is what you are trying to do.

As long as you are planning on ducking a diamond, you might as well lead the jack. This picks up the suit if West has Qxx or Q10xx. It might pick up the suit if West has Q10x, since it would be far from clear for him to cover as you would make this play from Jxxx. Leading the jack would be bad if East has Q10xx of diamonds, but that is virtually impossible considering the presumably fourth-best club lead.

You lead the jack of diamonds. What will you do if West covers?

North
6
J8
AK9742
K106
South
AQ9
9652
J85
A3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

You were planning on ducking the diamond trick, so you will do so. West will picture you with jack-doubleton of diamonds. It will be very difficult for him to find the killing heart shift from any holding. If you win the diamond and continue the suit in any way, you may be revealing your hand to the opponents.

In fact, West doesn't cover. You play small from dummy, and East wins the queen. East returns the 5. What do you play?

North
6
J8
AK974
K106
South
AQ9
9652
85
A3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

If you finesse and lose, it is unlikely that West will now find the heart shift. From his point of view his partner will have successfully led through declarer's strength up to dummy's singleton, and continuing the spade attack will be the natural thing to do.

Playing matchpoints, it would be worth the risk of going down in order to make the overtrick. But this is IMPs. Your goal is to make your contract. Overtricks shouldn't be in your thinking unless the contract is 100% secure. You have 9 top tricks. Take them.

You win the ace of spades and run the diamonds. East discards a club along the way, so when you lead a club to your ace East shows out. The club finesse is now marked, so you have 10 tricks. The full hand is:

West
K74
AQ10
1063
Q854
North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
East
J108532
K743
Q
97
South
AQ9
9652
J85
AJ3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
2
9
J
3
1
0
J
3
2
Q
2
1
1
5
A
3

How was the defense?

West
K74
AQ10
1063
Q854
North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
East
J108532
K743
Q
97
South
AQ9
9652
J85
AJ3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
2
9
J
3
1
0
J
3
2
Q
2
1
1
5
A
3

West's opening lead looks reasonable. His partner didn't overcall 1, so there doesn't figure to be a future in the spade suit. The club lead could strike gold.

East's heart spots are so bad that even if he strikes gold in the heart suit the defense still won't be able to take the necessary 4 heart tricks, so a heart return can't work. His spade return may seem automatic, but it is hard to see how this will set the contract. From East's point of view, declarer has 3 clubs (from the opening lead) and a doubleton diamond (from declarer's play in the diamond suit). Declarer can't have a doubleton spade, as that would give him 6 hearts. If declarer has 3 or 4 spades, while a spade lead might be helpful it won't run the spade suit. East's best chance is to play his partner for the ace of clubs and 10xxx of diamonds. This is entirely consistent with everything. If that is the layout, a club return will knife the entry to the diamonds, since declarer can't know to take a finesse. That will leave declarer with only 3 club tricks and 2 diamond tricks, so if he doesn't have 4 tricks in the majors the contract will be defeated.

East should not have discarded a club. Granted in his mind his partner has the ace of clubs, since if declarer has that card East can count 9 top tricks for declarer. Still, if partner has the ace of clubs then discarding a club is like discarding a winner. Had East not discarded a club, declarer wouldn't have risked the contract by taking the club finesse and would have been held to 9 tricks.

Should East have been in the bidding?

West
K74
AQ10
1063
Q854
North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
East
J108532
K743
Q
97
South
AQ9
9652
J85
AJ3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
2
9
J
3
1
0
J
3
2
Q
2
1
1
5
A
3

East's hand is too weak for a simple overcall. West won't take a joke, and is likely to get the partnership too high.

On the other hand, a weak jump overcall is fine. This describes the nature of the hand perfectly, as well as gobbling up enemy space. Bidding 2 loses a potential heart fit, but otherwise has everything going for it. The vulnerability is a key factor. Not only is there little danger of going for a number at favorable vulnerability, but if something goes wrong (such as a missed heart game) the cost is only about 5 IMPs, while if something goes right (a good save, opponents getting to the wrong contract, etc.), the gain is about 10 IMPs. Those are good IMP odds in favor of the weak jump overcall.

How was South's bidding?

West
K74
AQ10
1063
Q854
North
6
J8
AK9742
K1062
East
J108532
K743
Q
97
South
AQ9
9652
J85
AJ3
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
2
9
J
3
1
0
J
3
2
Q
2
1
1
5
A
3

While South's hand is very notrump-oriented and his hearts are weak, he is still correct to respond 1. If North raises, South can suggest notrump. North may have 4 hearts and some distribution for his 1 opening, and if South doesn't bid 1 a 4-4 heart fit will be lost forever. One can think of the nebulous 1 opening as 1-level Stayman, asking for a 4-card major. When partner asks for a major, you show one if you have it regardless of how notrump-oriented your hand appears.

South might have just invited. However, South has a good diamond fit and aces on the side, arguing for taking the high road. In addition, South has the inference that his partner didn't open 2, so South knows he won't be facing a sub-minimum opening bid. This is not the kind of hand you can afford to bring back +150 lose 10 to the comparison when a key finesse is onside. You just do it.

At the other table, East did make a weak jump overcall of 2. South might have searched for a heart fit with a negative double, but holding a double spade stopper and 4-3-3-3 shape he reasonably shot out 3NT. After a spade lead, he played diamonds from the top and eventually took 11 tricks.

One of the most difficult hand types for a Precision structure is when the opening bidder actually has a diamond suit. It may be difficult to convey this message, particularly if the auction gets competitive. In particular, if playing a 10-12 1NT opening non-vulnerable, when you open 1 on a minimal or sub-minimal opening bid with long diamonds partner will be playing you for a likely balanced 13-15 until proven otherwise. However if you open 3 partner will play you for a much weaker hand. By using a 2 opening to show this hand, we take a lot of pressure off the 1 opening bid and get more clarity both from our preempts and our diamond rebids.

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