Denial Cuebidding
(Page of 10)

In a round of 16 match in the Open Trials, you have the option of conducting a delicate relay auction.

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

North
A5
K9753
AQ32
K2
W
N
E
S
?

Your opening 1NT range at this vulnerability is 14-16. Your strong 1 opening normally starts at 16 HCP, although can be lighter if distributional.

Your call?

North
A5
K9753
AQ32
K2
W
N
E
S
?

While your strength is in your 1NT range, 5-4 hands with a 5-card major are normally best not opened 1NT. You are easily strong enough for a 1 opening, and with primes your hand is better than partner would expect if you open 1NT.

You open 1. The bidding continues:

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

1: Strong, artificial

1NT: 9+ HCP, usually 5+ clubs

2: Relay

2: Some 3-suiter with a short major. For this particular auction, partner might have only 4 clubs

2: Relay

3: Exactly 4=0=4=5 distribution

Your options are:

3: Asks partner number of controls

3NT: To play

4: Puppet to 4, to be followed by an RKC bid according to specified coding.

4: Puppet to 4, to be followed by a signoff.

4, 4, 4NT, 5, 5: Natural slam try.

Your call?

North
A5
K9753
AQ32
K2
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
?

You are clearly going to play in some number of diamonds opposite partner's 4-0-4-5 shape. Slam is possible if partner has enough controls, so control ask looks clear. If partner doesn't have enough controls, you can sign off in 5.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

3: Control ask

3NT: 3 controls (ace = 2, king = 1)

Available to you are:

4: This initiates denial cue-bidding. Partner will scan each suit, in order of length, with ties going to higher ranking suit. You know his shape, so you know his scan order will be clubs, spades, diamonds, hearts. Obviously he won't scan hearts. In addition he won't scan diamonds for aces and kings, since you will know from his number of controls and what he will have shown in clubs and spades what he must have in diamonds. If he has an ace or king in the scanned suit he will skip that step and go on to the next scan. If he doesn't have something in the suit, he will bid the corresponding step. Once he has shown his controls, he loops back to his longest suit to show queens, and then jacks, if you contiue to ask. For example:

If partner doesn't have the ace of clubs, he will bid 4.

If partner has ace of clubs but not king of spades, he will bid 4.

If partner has ace of clubs, king of spades, but not queen of clubs, he will bid 4.

If partner has ace of clubs, king of spades, queen of clubs, but not queen of spades, he will bid 4NT.

And so on.

After his response, you may continue denial cue-bidding (DCB) by bidding the next step. If you bid anything else, that is a signoff.

Your other bids are:

4: Puppet to 4, to place the contract.

4, 4, 4NT, 5, 5: Natural slam tries.

Your call?

North
A5
K9753
AQ32
K2
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
?

You know partner has the ace of clubs and one of the pointed kings for his 3 controls. If he is missing the king of diamonds, slam is likely to be too shaky, particularly since he might not have the jack of diamonds. However, if he has the king of diamonds, there might be a route to 12 tricks. It can't hurt to ask, since you can always stop in 5 if need be. However, it might not do you any good.

Suppose you bid 4, DCB. The bidding continues:

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

4: DCB

4: Ace or king of clubs, no ace or king in spades.

You can now deduce that partner has the ace of clubs and the king of diamonds. His barebones hand is:

xxxx -- Kxxx Axxxx.

If you wish, you may continue with 4, which would be more DCB. Partner will not scan diamonds for controls, since he knows that you know the answer (which you do). He will loop back to his longest suit, scanning for queens. Thus, his bids would mean:

4NT: No queen of clubs

5: Queen of clubs, no queen of spades

5: Queen of clubs, queen of spades, no queen of diamonds.

There is one thing which must be taken into consideration. Suppose partner bids 5. You will no longer be able to stop in 5, since that would be continued DCB. We call this bid, the one under where you might want to stop, the death response, since it kills your chances of stopping there. You must be prepared to go to a higher level (or play in another strain) if partner produces the death response. If you are not prepared to do so, DCB is too risky. On this auction, the death response of 5 shows the queen of clubs, no queen of spades. Are you prepared to play in 6 opposite that? His hand would be

xxxx -- Kxxx AQxxx

with perhaps one or both minor-suit jacks. Even if you have 5 club tricks, you will still need to take 6 trump tricks to make a slam. Let's say you get a spade lead. You can win, ruff a heart, club to king, ruff a heart, draw trumps, and run the clubs for 12 tricks. This will work if diamonds are 3-2 and you have 5 club winners, which is okay if partner has the jack of clubs but terrible if he doesn't have that card. Partner has 3 small clubs and the opponents have 5 clubs, so the odds are 5 to 3 against partner having the jack. From what you can find out slam probably isn't a favorite, so the death response will kill you. You can't afford to continue DCB.

Does this mean that there was no point in bidding 4 DCB in the first place, and you might as well just sign off in 5? Not necessarily. If you sign off that is absolute, since from partner's point of view you are off too many controls. But if you DCB, partner knows that slam is on your radar opposite the 3 controls he has shown. If he has the ace of clubs and the king of diamonds, he will know that his controls couldn't be much better placed for a diamond slam. So, if he has considerable extras, such as:

Qxxx -- KJxx AQJxx

he might be able to override your signoff. Therefore it is reasonable to bid 4, DCB, planning on signing off in 5 whatever the response is.

You choose to simply sign off without going through DCB. You do that by bidding 4, which forces 4. The bidding concludes:

W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

Reviewing the auction it turns out that partner was the first one to mention diamonds, so you go over to his seat to play it.

West leads the queen of clubs.

North
A5
K9753
AQ32
K2
South
Q1084
K654
A8543
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

Where do you win this trick?

North
A5
K9753
AQ32
K2
South
Q1084
K654
A8543
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

Whatever plan you are going to adopt, which might be setting up long clubs, establishing a spade trick, ruffing hearts in your hand, or some combination of these, it looks pretty clear to win the king of clubs in dummy. You can conveniently play any of the side suits from dummy, and this retains fluidity.

You win the king of clubs, East playing the 6 (standard carding). How do you attack the hand?

North
A5
K9753
AQ32
2
South
Q1084
K654
A854
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

Planning the play of this sort of hand can be quite difficult. The problem is that your trick count is so unclear. You only have one sure loser in spades, but where are the 11 winners going to come from? What is the proper way to look at this?

In order to get a handle on the hand, a good idea is to assume normal splits and see what happens if you take the "draw trumps and claim" approach. Assuming trumps are 3-2, this means you have 5 trump tricks, 2 club tricks, and 1 spade trick. You need to develop an additional 3 tricks.

One possibility for another trick is in spades. You will have to guess the spades right, although perhaps East will make your life easier by going up king of spades for fear of losing it. Since you are in some trouble, it is reasonable to assume that you will get the spades right. You will still need 2 more tricks.

You might set up the clubs. This will certainly require a 3-3 club split, but if you get it and everything else is nice you will be home. The opening lead is a little ominous. West knows your distribution, so he isn't going to be making a shaky club lead from QJx. Most likely he has either QJ doubleton or QJ10x, in which case the club suit isn't going to come home.

The other main possibility is to play along crossruff lines. You have plenty of dummy entries, so it isn't unreasonable to ruff 3 hearts in your hand. Add in a small ruff in dummy, and you can see your way to taking 7 trump tricks, 2 spade tricks, and 2 club tricks.

Since you are going to need a spade trick in pretty much all variations, you might as well attack that suit first. What happens in the spade suit and what the defense does if they get in may influence your line of play.

Since you want to keep open the possibility of ruffing a bunch of hearts, it looks better to keep the ace of spades in dummy and lead a small spade at trick 2. This gives you maximum flexibility.

You lead a small spade off dummy. If East plays small and your table feel doesn't give you any information, will you play the ten or the queen?

North
A5
K9753
AQ32
2
South
Q1084
K654
A854
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

If you were playing against an average player, you should almost certainly play the ten. The average player would have a difficult time ducking the king of spades, for fear of losing it.

Against a good player, it is another story. He knows what the hand is all about, and that it isn't a question of losing his king of spades. He can see that this trick will always be coming back in the long run. Most good players will be able to duck the king of spades (if they have the king but not the jack) without giving anything away, just as a reflex action.

If you assume that East is equally likely to have the king as the jack, there is a strong argument for playing the queen. Since you may be scrambling home a crossruff once you get the spades right, you will be better placed if you play the queen and it wins versus playing the ten and forcing the king. This will allow you to score two spade tricks and at least one small ruff in dummy, which may be vital.

Against a true expert, it is yet another story. Your relay auction has been so informative that he knows your exact hand, and can count your tricks. He should be defending double-dummy. If ducking the king of spades will allow you to make with a crossruff, he isn't going to duck. Given that, you should play the 10 if he plays small. Of course, this assumes that he has worked out how the play will go and is ready for that small spade off dummy at trick 2. If he hasn't worked this out in advance he probably will not be able to do so in the very short time he has to play at trick 2 without giving away the location of the king of spades, and he probably will just duck on reflex.

The conclusion is that your decision is a combination of your table feel, your judgement about East, and whether or not you think he has worked the hand out in advance.

In fact, East wins the king of spades. He then shifts to a heart. What do you do?

North
A
K9753
AQ32
2
South
Q108
K654
A854
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

That was unexpected. You can afford to lose another trick, and this heart shift gives you another badly needed winner if you discard.

Why did East do this? He should know what your hand is, and since he is on lead he can take his time working things out. He obviously has other plays available.

The only rational reason for this play is that East started with a singleton king of spades. If so, he can see that if you discard you will be down immediately, so it has to be right to force you to ruff and take an entry out of your hand prematurely.

Can you make if East does have a singleton king of spades? The clubs will have to be 3-3. But that might not be enough. Suppose you ruff, and play ace of clubs and ruff a club. You will need to draw East's trumps before unblocking the spades, and you will need to end in your hand to run the clubs. This won't work if East has 3 trumps, so you would need him to have 1-7-2-3 shape. Possible, but not likely.

Maybe you don't need this after all. West clearly has the ace of hearts, along with his assumed 6-card spade suit. If the clubs are 3-3, you can ruff out the clubs, draw trumps ending in your hand, and run the clubs, with the blocking ace of spades still in dummy. In the 3-card end position, what does West come down to? If he keeps the ace of hearts and 2 spades, you cross to the ace of spades, throw him in with a heart, and he has to give you the queen of spades. If he keeps 2 hearts and 1 spade, you jettison the ace of spades and your spades are good. That works. All you need is for clubs to be 3-3.

Should you play for this? Yes, you should. Setting up the king of hearts and drawing trumps won't be enough tricks anyway without the clubs coming in, unless the jack of spades happens to be coming down. You might get home on a crossruff if the third round of spades lives and you don't get uppercut or promoted with your final ruff to dummy, but that is scary. Also, letting you have the king of hearts for free is a pretty bad play for East to have made, particularly if the clubs aren't splitting.

You choose to discard a club. West wins the ace, and as feared gives his partner a spade ruff. East comes back a club to your ace, West playing the jack. Now what?

North
K975
AQ32
South
Q10
K654
85
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

Most likely East started with 3 diamonds, in which case you can just draw trumps and take 6 diamond tricks, 1 spade trick, 1 heart trick, and 2 club tricks for down 1. If West started with 6-2-3-2 shape, there doesn't appear to be any way to prevent him from getting another trick. If East started with 4 trumps, you can still get the rest with a 3-3 club split. It looks best to simply play ace-queen of diamonds.

You play ace and queen of diamonds. Both opponents follow, and you have the rest. The full hand is:

West
J97632
AQ4
J8
QJ
North
A5
K9753
AQ32
K2
East
K
J10862
1097
10976
South
Q1084
K654
A8543
W
N
E
S

1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3N
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
K
6
3
1
1
0
5
K
4
2
2
1
1
2
4
A
3
0
1
2
3
A
7
4
2
1
3
7
A
J
2
3
2
3
4
8
A
9
1
3
3
Q
10
5
J
1
4
3
7

The small spade play at trick 2, while quite reasonable, had a very unlucky result. Had declarer first cashed the ace of spades he would have known what was going on, and he could lead another spade through East and probably scramble home via crossruff lines.

Do you agree with the opening lead and defense?

West
J97632
AQ4
J8
QJ
North
A5
K9753
AQ32
K2
East
K
J10862
1097
10976
South
Q1084
K654
A8543
W
N
E
S

1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3N
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
K
6
3
1
1
0
5
K
4
2
2
1
1
2
4
A
3
0
1
2
3
A
7
4
2
1
3
7
A
J
2
3
2
3
4
8
A
9
1
3
3
Q
10
5
J
1
4
3
7

While nothing is known about the North hand, the fact that South is 5-0-4-4 argues for a trump lead. Unfortunately West holds the jack of diamonds, so a trump lead could blow a trump trick. He is probably right to lead a black suit.

The club lead is safe enough. However, declarer does have 5 clubs, so this might play into his hands. Perhaps a spade lead is better. This may threaten a ruff, which will limit declarer's options.

East's heart return looks right. East knows that if declarer doesn't ruff the hand is down immediately, and if declarer does ruff that will cost him a critical hand entry. Also, East knows that declarer is scrambling for tricks and is quite likely to discard.

Deciding whether to play for an unlikely layout or a mistake is a fine art. All players make mistakes, including experts. One must judge the caliber of the opponents, the information available to them, and possibly how attentive the opponents appears to be. On this deal the heart return would have been a serious error for a good player to have made if he didn't have a singleton king of spades, so it was probably right to play for the unlikely layout.

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