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Difficult Continuation
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In a quarter-final match of the USA1 Senior trials, you have to decide whether to compete on a minimal hand.

E-W vul, West deals. As West, you hold:

West
2
10974
A962
9872
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
?

1: 11-15, 2+ diamonds. If balanced, 11-14.

2 would be inverted.

Double would be a normal negative double. Presumably not a 5-card heart suit, since with that you would probably bid 2 which is a negative free bid which could be quite weak.

Your call?

West
2
10974
A962
9872
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
?

You are clearly outgunned. The opponents have the majority of the strength as well as the spade suit. You cannot expect to outbid them. Also you are vulnerable vs. not, so you won't have a good save and you have to worry about going for a number if you compete too high.

On the other hand, making a negative double is pretty safe. The opponents have at least an 8-card spade fit, maybe more. They aren't going to double you at the 2-level. Partner is limited. He isn't going to drive to the 3-level without some shape, and he isn't go to go higher than that under any circumstances. If he does drive to the 3-level in any suit, your hand will not be a disappointment. You might be able to push the opponents to where you can defeat them. The risk is minimal. A negative double looks okay.

You double. The bidding concludes:

W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
1NT
P
4
P
P
P

Your lead. Third and fifth leads. From honor sequences, you lead top of the sequence. From an interior sequence, you would lead second highest from the interior sequence from a 3, 4, or 6-card holding but top of the interior sequence from a 5-card holding.

West
2
10974
A962
9872
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
1NT
P
4
P
P
P

Anything could be right. Your heart suit is strongest, so it is most likely to establish some tricks. Since the lead is from a sequence, it is relatively safe.

You lead the 10.

West
2
10974
A962
9872
North
65
K8532
QJ4
KJ4
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
1NT
P
4
P
P
P

Small from dummy. Partner wins the ace, and declarer plays the queen.

At trick 2, partner returns the 8. Your agreements are attitude shifts after trick 1. Declarer plays the king. Do you win or duck?

West
2
974
A962
9872
North
65
K853
QJ4
KJ4
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
1NT
P
4
P
P
P

Partner opened the bidding 1, so he doesn't have a singleton diamond. There can't be a rush to win and lead a club through. If partner has AQ of clubs, declarer's club losers aren't going anyplace since declarer doesn't have a dummy entry.

The danger with ducking is that declarer has a singleton king. But if partner has 5 diamonds, he wouldn't be leading the 8. He would lead a small diamond, making sure you win your ace. If declarer has played the king, you would know to shift to a club. If the king hasn't appeared you might return a diamond playing him for the king, but that probably can't do any harm.

Ducking the diamond is a clear winner if partner has a doubleton diamond and a quick trump trick. It could also gain by cutting down the entries to dummy. It looks like the right play.

You duck. Declarer now leads the 10 at you, which you win. Partner plays the 3, assumed to be standard current count. What do you do now?

West
2
974
96
9872
North
65
K853
Q
KJ4
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
1NT
P
4
P
P
P

Partner's 3 means that either partner or declarer started with a doubleton diamond. But you don't know for sure who has the doubleton.

This is a difficult continuation. If partner has the doubleton diamond, it may be imperative to give him the ruff. Declarer might hold: KQJ10xx Q K10xx Ax, giving partner Axxx AJx 8x Q10xx. That is perfectly consistent with the bidding and partner's defense.

On the other hand, returning a diamond instead of a club could be a disaster. Declarer might hold AKQxxxx Q K10 xxx, giving partner Jxx AJx 8xxx AQx. The diamond return costs a club trick. It could also cost by giving declarer a dummy entry. For example, declarer might hold: AKJ10xx Q K10 Q10xx and partner Qxxx AJx 8xxx Ax. All of these layouts appear to be consistent with what has happened.

Could declarer really be playing the hand this way holding 4 diamonds? Yes, a crafty declarer could do just that. He can see the danger of a ruff coming when his king of diamonds is ducked, and if he starts to draw trumps the defense won't get it wrong. What better way to deflect the ruff than to attack the suit himself? Since the king of hearts is good for a discard, declarer can even afford to squander the 10 from K10xx in order to project the image of a doubleton diamond. Yes, declarer might be doing just this.

Suppose declarer has one of the hands where a diamond return is fatal. The answer is that partner shouldn't have returned the 8. From 8753 partner could have returned the 7, so he could follow with the 8 on the second round. Now you will not be tempted to try to give him a third round ruff, so a club shift will be automatic.

Another consideration is that if declarer has a doubleton diamond and a singleton heart he might have played the 10 on the first round of diamonds. This would put you under a lot of pressure to win the ace when it might be correct to duck.

It is a difficult problem. But if you are up against a tough declarer and have a thoughtful partner whom you can trust to anticipate your problem you should return a diamond.

You return a diamond. Declarer wins in dummy, discarding a club. He follows with a spade to the jack. But this isn't good enough, and he is still down one. The full hand is:

West
2
10974
A962
9872
North
65
K8532
QJ4
KJ4
East
Q1073
AJ6
8753
A5
South
AKJ984
Q
K10
Q1063
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
1NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
2
A
Q
2
0
1
8
K
2
4
3
1
1
10
A
J
3
0
1
2
6
Q
5
3
1
2
2
5
3
J
5

Do you like declarer's line of play?

West
2
10974
A962
9872
North
65
K8532
QJ4
KJ4
East
Q1073
AJ6
8753
A5
South
AKJ984
Q
K10
Q1063
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
1NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
2
A
Q
2
0
1
8
K
2
4
3
1
1
10
A
J
3
0
1
2
6
Q
5
3
1
2
2
5
3
J
5

Declarer should have played the 10 at trick 2. This will deprive declarer of a dummy entry if West wins the ace, but since declarer presumably isn't planning on taking a double spade finesse the second entry isn't important. Playing the 10 will give West a terrible problem. West must duck if the defense needs a diamond ruff to defeat the contract. On the actual hand, if West ducks declarer can pitch his losing diamond on the king of hearts and make the contract.

Could declarer find the double spade finesse? Offhand it looks like a big anti-percentage play. However, thought about the bidding might lead to the winning play. From the cards played so far, it appears likely that West started with 4 diamonds and 4 hearts. West's only high card seems to be the ace of diamonds. Would West really have made a negative double with a 2-4-4-3 hand containing only the ace of diamonds? That doesn't seem likely. If declarer deduces that West has a singleton spade for his auction, that makes the double finesse the percentage play.

Was East's defense correct?

West
2
10974
A962
9872
North
65
K8532
QJ4
KJ4
East
Q1073
AJ6
8753
A5
South
AKJ984
Q
K10
Q1063
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
1NT
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
2
A
Q
2
0
1
8
K
2
4
3
1
1
10
A
J
3
0
1
2
6
Q
5
3
1
2
2
5
3
J
5

East did well to use the information available to win the ace of hearts. He knew that with Q109x West would have led the 9, not the 10.

It was clearly necessary to return a diamond at trick 2, since declarer might have had ace-doubleton instead of king-doubleton. However, East should have returned the 3. This is an attitude situation, but East wants to show West diamond strength. If West has the ace of diamonds, East wants to make sure West grabs it. Once that happens, it won't matter what West thinks or returns. If East had returned the 3 of diamonds, West would not have faced the potential problem if declarer had properly played the 10 of diamonds.

Our agreement on leading from interior sequences against suit contracts is unusual, but it works quite well. Leading top of the sequence can give partner difficult problems, as it would on this hand. However, coded 10's and 9's give declarer too much information. Our approach leaves some doubt in declarer's mind. There can be doubt in partner's mind also, but this doubt can usually be resolved when partner considers the possible holdings and what might be necessary to defeat the contract. Note that our leads from 3, 4, and 6-card suits are exactly the same spot which would be led without an interior sequence -- third best from 3, 4, or 6-card holdings. This makes it easier to remember.

It is worth noting how important it was that West made a negative double. If West had passed the auction would probably have been the same, and West probably would have led the same 10. How could East possibly know to go up ace? For all he knows, West has led from 109 doubleton. East would certainly play small, and the contract would make. On the actual hand the bidding combined with the partnership agreements made East's play at trick 1 easy. Another example of how important it is to speak when you have something to say.

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