A Slim Chance
(Page of 7)

In a round-robin match in the Open Trials, you face a difficult competitive decision.

None vul, North deals. As North, you hold:

North
J6
109753
Q32
Q83
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
P
P
X
P
?

2:  Negative free bid

North
J6
109753
Q32
Q83
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
P
P
X
P
?

There are only two choices. Either you pass or you bid 2. Both actions are likely to end the auction.

What does the Law of Total Tricks say? Partner's most likely major-suit distribution for this sequence is 5 spades and a singleton heart. If that is the case, both sides have 7-card fits, making the trump total 14. By bidding 2, you would be contracting for 16 total tricks. That appears to argue for passing.

How does your hand look from an offensive/defensive orientation? Your 109 of hearts are real tricks on defense -- definitely 1 trick, and 2 tricks if partner has a stiff honor. You have queens in the side suits, which lean towards defense. Your shape is flat.

The problem with passing is that not every trick is equal. You would prefer to defend 2 undoubled, but you no longer have that option. Suppose there are, in fact, 14 total tricks. If 2 makes (with 2 going down 2 tricks), you will be -470 instead of -100 for a 9-IMP loss. If both contracts are down 1, you are +100 instead of -50 for a 4-IMP gain. If 2 makes and 2 is down 2, you are +300 instead of +110 for a 5-IMP gain. The cost when 2 makes may outweigh the other gains.

Are there other distributional possibilities? Partner might have 5 spades and 2 hearts, in which case defending is definitely percentage. Partner might have 6 spades and 1 heart or be 5-0-4-4, in which case you prefer to bid. With either of these more distributional hands, partner might not have doubled, since he knows you may be passing.

Is there likely to be more bidding? If you pass, it is hard to imagine that East is going anywhere. If you bid 2 it is almost impossible that they will take the push to the 3-level. Partner figures to have at least 3 diamonds, so the opponents don't have a diamond fit. They might double 2 if one of them has a strong spade holding, but they won't be bidding on.

It looks scary, but the numbers appear to indicate that the percentage action is to pass. Most players are averse to taking such a call for fear of the big loss from doubling the opponents into game at IMPs, but sometimes it is the only way to get a plus score.

You choose to bid 2, ending the auction.

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

You chose to declare rather than defend, so you go over to take partner's cards and prove yourself.

North
J6
109753
Q32
Q83
South
A10754
K
J876
AJ4
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
P
P
X
P
2
P
P
P

What do you play from dummy?

North
J6
109753
Q32
Q83
South
A10754
K
J876
AJ4
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
P
P
X
P
2
P
P
P

The lead is favorable, but you still have a lot of work to do. Even if you hold your trump losers to 1, you have potentially 3 diamond losers, 1 heart loser, and 1 club loser.

If the spades are 3-3, you will do better playing small from dummy. East will split, and you can win and continue spades. The problem is that this won't work even when it does. The diamonds are almost certainly 4-2, and it will be easy for the defense to get a diamond ruff. After that, there will be no way to avoid losing a heart and a club.

Suppose the spades are 4-2. If you play small East will not split from KQxx. He can see that you don't have a lot of entries to dummy. You will win your 10 cheaply, but then what? If you play a second trump, you will have 2 trump losers. If you don't, the defense can get a diamond ruff in the short hand. Either way you will be a trick short.

What about covering the 9 with the jack? If East has KQ8x of spades this won't help. However, there is the slim chance that West started with 98 doubleton. Now if East splits his honors you can win, bang down the 10, and hold your trump losses to 1 trick. You still might not make, but you will definitely be in the running. Maybe it isn't such a slim chance. West might not have been so happy about leading the 9 from 9x. Either he might have led small or simply led his partner's suit. If he has 98 doubleton, the trump lead would appear a lot more attractive.

You choose to play small from dummy. East plays the 2, and you win your 10. What next?

North
J
109753
Q32
Q83
South
A754
K
J876
AJ4
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
P
P
X
P
2
P
P
P

The good news is that you won the 10 cheaply. The bad news is that East clearly started with KQxx of spades. If you lead a second round of spades, you will definitely lose 2 spade tricks. If you don't, the defense can get a diamond ruff in the hand with the short spades.

Leading a small spade out of your hand simply can't work. Even if the diamonds are very favorable, such as West having K9 doubleton, it is hard to see how you are going to avoid losing a club trick and another spade trick. You just don't have the dummy entries to do everything which would need to be done.

A better chance is to exit with the king of hearts. If the defense gets a diamond ruff, too bad, but at least your long diamond will be good. The defense might make the mistake of forcing you in hearts. This will take away East's later heart exit, and reduce your trumps for a potential trump coup. Now a spade exit would endplay East, and you might have some real chances in the end-game.

You lead the king of hearts. West wins the ace, and shifts to the king of diamonds. Diamond to ace, diamond ruff with the 8, and West leads the queen of hearts which you ruff as East follows small. What next?

North
J
1097
Q83
South
A75
J
AJ4
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
P
P
X
P
2
P
P
P

You now know the whole hand. West has already shown up with AQJ of hearts and king of diamonds, so East has the king of clubs. His hand figures to be KQxx xx A10xx Kxx. You can't avoid losing 2 more tricks, but you have several routes for down 1. Best is to simply cash the ace of spades, just in case the spades are 3-3. You then cash the jack of diamonds, exit with a spade, and East will be endplayed.

You choose the fancier ending by leading out the jack of clubs. East wins the king, and returns a club. You win the ace, cash the jack of diamonds, cross to dummy with a club, and lead from dummy for down 1. The full hand is:

West
98
AQJ42
K4
10965
North
J6
109753
Q32
Q83
East
KQ32
86
A1095
K72
South
A10754
K
J876
AJ4
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
P
P
X
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
6
2
10
3
1
0
K
A
3
6
0
1
1
K
2
5
6
0
1
2
4
3
A
7
2
1
3
10
8
8
Q
0
1
4
Q
5
8
4
3
2
4
J
5
3
K
2
2
5
7
A
6
8
3
3
5
J
2
7
9
3
4
5
4
9
Q
2
1
5
5
10

The defense can still succeed if declarer plays for 98 doubleton of spades, but care would be needed. Declarer could be forced with the third round of hearts to establish a trump trick, or the defense could refuse to play a second round of hearts thus leaving East with an eventual heart exit.

What do you think of the opening lead and subsequent defense?

West
98
AQJ42
K4
10965
North
J6
109753
Q32
Q83
East
KQ32
86
A1095
K72
South
A10754
K
J876
AJ4
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
P
P
X
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
6
2
10
3
1
0
K
A
3
6
0
1
1
K
2
5
6
0
1
2
4
3
A
7
2
1
3
10
8
8
Q
0
1
4
Q
5
8
4
3
2
4
J
5
3
K
2
2
5
7
A
6
8
3
3
5
J
2
7
9
3
4
5
4
9
Q
2
1
5
5
10

The opening lead is questionable. There is no indication from the auction that declarer will have losers which can be ruffed in dummy. Dummy figures to be starved for entries, and the trump lead will help declarer pick up the trump suit. The king of diamonds lead is very attractive. As declarer in a part-score, it is thematic to try to score ruffs in the short trump hand. The defense should follow the same theme -- the hand with the doubleton trump should be going for ruffs. In addition, East did open the bidding 1. That doesn't necessarily mean East has diamond honors, but it improves the chances.

East did well to duck the first trick. He can see that declarer will have problems getting to dummy for another spade play, while if East splits declarer can win and play a second spade from his hand.

West's diamond shift was clear. East was likely to have the ace of diamonds, and even if declarer has that card the diamond shift won't cost unless declarer also has the jack.

How was South's bidding?

West
98
AQJ42
K4
10965
North
J6
109753
Q32
Q83
East
KQ32
86
A1095
K72
South
A10754
K
J876
AJ4
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
P
P
X
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
6
2
10
3
1
0
K
A
3
6
0
1
1
K
2
5
6
0
1
2
4
3
A
7
2
1
3
10
8
8
Q
0
1
4
Q
5
8
4
3
2
4
J
5
3
K
2
2
5
7
A
6
8
3
3
5
J
2
7
9
3
4
5
4
9
Q
2
1
5
5
10

The overcall is automatic. The balancing double could work out badly, but long experience has shown that when you are short in the enemy suit it does not pay to let them play at the 2-level.

It takes courage to pass the takeout double of 2 with the North hand, but one has to take the percentage action even though occasionally there will be a large cost. On this hand, passing would have turned a minus score into a plus score, which amounts to a significant IMP swing.