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Conceal the Spot
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In a round of 16 match in the Open trials, you have to decide whether or not to get involved with a weak hand.

E-W vul, South deals. As North, you hold:

North
642
KJ964
J85
43
W
N
E
S
2
P
?

2: 6+ clubs, 10-15 HCP

If you want to raise to 3, your route to this is 2NT. This forces partner to bid 3, which you will either pass or artificially show some strong hand. 2 would be forcing, and showing at least some game interest. Any other call would also be forcing with at least some game interest.

Your call?

North
642
KJ964
J85
43
W
N
E
S
2
P
?

While you don't know what the opponents can or cannot make, you do know that your side has at least 8 clubs. It is normally right to compete to the 3-level over their 2-level contract with 8 trumps, arguing for doing so immediately. In addition, the vulnerability is in your favor. If you bid 2NT and it turns out badly, you probably won't lose too many IMPs. However, if the call results in the opponents having some kind of accident, your gain will be in double figures. Your hand is weak enough that they may well have a game, and bidding 2NT is going to make it more difficult for them than if you pass.

You bid 2NT. The auction concludes:

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

You got us there, and you aren't likely to make it, so over you go to see if you can hold in the undertricks.

West leads the king of spades. UDCA.

North
642
KJ964
J85
43
South
J3
Q5
Q63
AKJ1098
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P

East plays the 5. West leads the 7 to East's ace. East continues with the 8. You ruff, and West plays the 9. How do you start?

North
KJ964
J85
43
South
Q5
Q63
AKJ109
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P

Entries to dummy are scarce. The opponents will be able to duck a round of hearts and shut out the heart suit. You are in danger of losing a trump trick and 3 diamond tricks.

It is clear to go after hearts in some manner. The question is whether or not to cash one club trick first. This gains when West has the singleton queen. It potentially costs when East has Qxxx of clubs, if you are able to take two club finesses. Getting two entries to dummy is unlikely, but it isn't impossible.

There is another reason not to cash a top club. This would allow the defense to later exit with a spade. The ruff and discard would take care of your diamond loser, but you would no longer be able to take a trump finesse.

All things considered, it looks better to go after hearts without cashing the club.

You choose to cash the ace of clubs. West plays the 5, and East the 2. What next?

North
KJ964
J85
4
South
Q5
Q63
KJ109
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P

Clearly you will go after hearts. The question is how to do so.

The natural play is to lead the queen. This would be great if the opponents took their ace, but you can't count on that. If East has the ace of hearts he will get a count signal from his partner and will know that you started with a doubleton heart. West might be afraid that you have a stiff queen, but he is still likely to duck if he has 3 hearts for fear that winning the trick will give you an extra heart trick.

It looks better to lead a small heart to the jack. This ensures one heart entry, as you can overtake the queen later if East wins. If West has the ace he will probably duck, but this will let you win and take a club finesse.

You choose to lead the queen of hearts. West plays the 8. Do you overtake or not?

North
KJ964
J85
4
South
Q5
Q63
KJ109
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P

If West doesn't have the ace of hearts he is definitely giving an honest count signal. He could have 8xx, or he could have 108 doubleton. East will definitely know to duck.

You aren't likely to be able to make use of the third round of hearts. The entry to dummy for the club finesse is the important thing. Your best bet looks to be to overtake the queen of hearts, ensuring one entry.

You choose to play small. East plays the 3. What next?

North
KJ96
J85
4
South
5
Q63
KJ109
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P

You don't have much choice now. All you can do is play another heart and see what happens. The defense will have to win and play something, and anything they play may be beneficial to you.

You play another heart. West plays the 2, and East wins dummy's king with the ace. East now shifts to the ace of diamonds. What diamond do you play from your hand?

North
J96
J85
4
South
Q63
KJ109
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P

If you knew for certain that West had the king of diamonds, you could afford to dump the queen under the ace in order to get that entry to dummy. This would potentially be costly if East has the king of diamonds. However, with AK of diamonds one would expect East to have led the king of diamonds. On the other hand, if East has Axx of diamonds, one would expect he would have led a small diamond rather than the ace. Since you can't be sure, it is probably right to not dump the queen and make sure you get a diamond trick if East does have the king.

You choose to dump the queen of diamonds. West plays the 2. East continues with the 4. Which spot do you play?

North
J96
J8
4
South
63
KJ109
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P

This could matter. It appears that East may have started with A4 doubleton of diamonds. If so, it is vital to conceal the spot from West. If you carelessly play the 3 West will know the position, since he knows his partner would never lead ace and then 4 from A64 tripleton. However, if you play the 6, West may think that his partner has the missing 3.

You play the 6. West wins the king, and plays the 7. You play the jack from dummy, and discard your diamond when East follows. You lead a club off dummy, and East plays the 6. Do you finesse or not?

North
96
J
4
South
KJ109
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P

Why did West play a heart instead of a diamond? Apparently he thought his best chance was to give his partner a heart ruff. He isn't intentionally putting you on the board in hearts, since if that is his goal he could have done so just as easily with a third round of diamonds. You can't infer that he wants you in dummy to take a losing club finesse.

The indications are that East's shape is 4-3-2-4, in which case it won't matter what you do. However, if East did start with 3 clubs, you might as well simply take your percentage play and finesse.

You finesse the jack of clubs. West shows out, and you have to lose a club trick for down 2. The full hand is:

West
KQ97
872
K10972
5
North
642
KJ964
J85
43
East
A1085
A103
A4
Q762
South
J3
Q5
Q63
AKJ1098
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
2
5
3
0
0
1
7
4
A
J
2
0
2
8
8
9
6
3
1
2
A
5
3
2
3
2
2
Q
8
4
3
3
3
2
5
2
K
A
2
3
3
A
Q
2
5
2
3
4
4
6
K
8
0
3
5
7
J
10
3
1
4
5
4
6
9
Q
3
5
5
10

How was the defense?

West
KQ97
872
K10972
5
North
642
KJ964
J85
43
East
A1085
A103
A4
Q762
South
J3
Q5
Q63
AKJ1098
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
2
5
3
0
0
1
7
4
A
J
2
0
2
8
8
9
6
3
1
2
A
5
3
2
3
2
2
Q
8
4
3
3
3
2
5
2
K
A
2
3
3
A
Q
2
5
2
3
4
4
6
K
8
0
3
5
7
J
10
3
1
4
5
4
6
9
Q
3
5
5
10

After winning the ace of spades, East should probably have shifted to ace and a diamond rather than playing a third round of spades. This will potentially get him a ruff or establish a diamond trick. West could have only 3 spades and defended this way if he wanted to get East in for a diamond play, since the third spade might not cash. Also, East will be retaining a safe spade exit later if needed.

If West had played a third round of diamonds the defense would have gotten another trick, since declarer would never get to dummy for the club finesse. West got taken in by the combination of declarer's unusual queen of diamonds play and the concealment of the 3 of diamonds. He shouldn't have been fooled. For one thing, if East started with Axx of diamonds East would have led a small diamond rather than the ace. Also, if declarer had Qxx of hearts he would never have led the queen, since he obviously needs an entry to dummy for a club finesse. He would have led a heart to the jack.

Should E-W have gotten in the auction?

West
KQ97
872
K10972
5
North
642
KJ964
J85
43
East
A1085
A103
A4
Q762
South
J3
Q5
Q63
AKJ1098
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
2
5
3
0
0
1
7
4
A
J
2
0
2
8
8
9
6
3
1
2
A
5
3
2
3
2
2
Q
8
4
3
3
3
2
5
2
K
A
2
3
3
A
Q
2
5
2
3
4
4
6
K
8
0
3
5
7
J
10
3
1
4
5
4
6
9
Q
3
5
5
10

E-W have a fair vulnerable game, but it is difficult to see how they can reasonably get in. West has a singleton club, but not much strength. East has the strength, but no convenient call. East knows West is short in clubs, but West doesn't have to have a spade suit.

At the other table, South also opened a Precision 2. The N-S pair play that 2M is non-forcing, and North chose to bid 2 which ended the auction. This drifted down 3 tricks.

It is usually good declarer technique to conceal spot cards when you can afford to do so. Even if you can't see the gain, you never know what good things might happen when you mislead the opponents.

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