Join Bridge Winners
Early Decision
(Page of 11)

In a Round of 16 match in the Open Trials, you are faced with a delicate constructive bidding problem.

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

North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
?

1: Strong and artificial

1: 5+ spades, 9+ points

If you bid 1, that is an asking bid. Partner will show you how many controls he has. Continued asks can get his exact spade holding, and then his control holding (none, first, second, third) in other suits as long as you have room to keep asking. You will not be able to determine his distribution if you take the asking route.

Other calls are natural, with natural bidding following.

Your call?

North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
?

While there are hands for which an asking structure is good, this is not one of them. Any of the 5 strains might be right from your hand. You must find out about partner's distribution, and for this you need a natural auction.

You don't have spade support, and you don't have a 5-card suit of your own to bid. The obviously correct call is 1NT, which has the additional advantage of being cheap.

You bid 1NT. The bidding continues:

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

Everything you bid is natural.

Your call?

North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
?

You now have a playable trump suit. This doesn't necessarily mean that you belong in diamonds. 3NT might be better if partner is balanced with some stuff in clubs. 4 might be better if partner has a good spade suit. Also, there could be a slam if partner has a strong hand.

You are not in position to take control. For now, your goal is to let partner know about the diamond fit with a 3 call. Partner won't be playing you for more than 4 diamonds, since you likely would have bid a 5-card diamond suit rather than bidding 1NT. He will be expecting something like your actual distribution for this sequence.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

Presumably you are still looking for the best game at this point. Partner's 3 call is assumed to be the best bid he can make for that goal.

Your bids here would mean:

3: Showing interest in playing in 4.

3NT: Offer to play

4: Cue-bid for diamonds

4: Just clarifiying desire to play in diamonds, leaving it to partner to take control.

4: RKC for diamonds

Your call?

North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
?

It is easy to see that 4 might be where you belong. Picture partner with something like: QJxxx Qx Axxx xx. It has to be right to suggest this to partner. He will know you don't have 3-card spade support, since you didn't support spades previously. 3 leaves 3NT open, as well as giving partner all the room possible.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

4 is nothing special, merely what looks like the best call. Partner might have extra strength, but he could be minimal with nothing else to do.

Your bids here mean as follows:

4: RKC for diamonds

4: Offer to play

4NT: Heart cue-bid

5: Cue-bid

5: Signoff

Your call?

North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
?

Your spade support is as good as it could be considering that you are known to not have 3-card support. That is an argument for bidding 4.

On the other hand, your hand is quite primish for diamond play. If partner didn't bid 4 over 3, it is hard to see how 4 will be better than 5. In addition, slam is quite possible if partner has some extras. It looks like you should be doing something.

This is the wrong sort of hand for RKC. Partner could have a keycard and the queen of trumps, and slam might still have little or no play. Picture partner with something like Qxxxx Ax Qxxx Jx. Being off two keycards isn't the only problem. Partner needs to have some goodies to be able to take 12 tricks before the opponents can take 2 tricks.

Both 4NT and 5 are cue-bids. 5 is a better description of your hand, and lets partner know that a club control isn't a problem. On the other hand, 5 puts a gun to partner's head to make the decision. If instead you bid 4NT, this leaves partner room for a Last Train 5 call if he has some interest but not enough to drive to slam himself. Also 4NT tends to show a heart card, so partner won't be worried about second-round heart control if he has ace-doubleton. 4NT is probably the better route to take.

You choose to bid 4. The bidding continues:

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

4: RKC

5: 2 keycards, queen of diamonds

If you wish to probe, your bids mean:

5: Asks for specific kings. Partner will assume you have all the keycards and are interested in a grand, but he is not permitted to bid a grand himself. If he thinks the tricks are there for a grand he instead bids 6NT, which instructs you to bid a grand unless a keycard is missing and you were maneuvering to get to the best small slam.

5: Not specifically defined

5NT: Pick a slam

6: Offer to play if logically possible. If not logically possible, some kind of grand try.

You call?

North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
?

The king of clubs will make 7 pretty good, and that you can find out about. The question is: how will a grand be if partner doesn't have the king of clubs?

You would certainly like it if he is 5-5. Also, QJxxx of spades would be nice. Qxxxx of spades is not nearly as good. If he doesn't have the queen of spades and is 5-4, the grand will be pretty poor, particularly if he doesn't have a singleton club. You don't have any real way to find these things.

Suppose you ask for kings and he doesn't have the king of clubs but has one of the other hands for a grand. Will he just sign off, or will he do more? Not clear, but he will probably sign off. From his point of view you could have Ax of spades and need the king of spades. If he has QJxxx of spades he might go thinking that the grand is at worst on a finesse. With anything less he won't go, even if he is 5-5.

There is one good argument for taking the low road. If partner is minimal with nothing more than the two aces and the queen of trumps he has shown, a small slam might not be reached at the other table. It is a major disaster to bid a grand and go down a trick when your counterparts stop in game. For this reason, it might be best to bid 5 asking for kings, planning on bidding 7 if partner produces the king of clubs but stopping in 6 otherwise.

One other approach is to bid 5. Even though the bid isn't defined, partner should be able to work out that this has to be a grand slam try in diamonds. It wouldn't make sense for you to bid RKC for diamonds, get a response which shows the queen, and then correct to 5 on a hand where you clearly can't have 3-card spade support from your earlier auction. 5 gives partner room to bid 6 if he has the king of clubs or a singleton club, and if he has QJxxx of spades he might work out the reason you bid 5 is that you have AK doubleton. If you are confident that partner will work out the meaning of 5, this looks like the best approach.

You choose to shoot out 7, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
7
P
P
P

Over you go to partner's seat to prove that you were right.

West leads the 5.

North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
South
Q9542
A10
AQ98
Q4
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
7
P
P
P

Do you win the ace or play small?

North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
South
Q9542
A10
AQ98
Q4
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
7
P
P
P

This lead forces you to make an early decision, and the fate of the contract may ride on your decision. Which should it be?

If you play small and West is underleading the king of clubs, you are in great shape. All you need is for your AK of spades, AK of hearts, and ace of clubs to cash, and you will have a high crossruff. You won't need anything else to split. Of course if you play small and East has the king of clubs, you are down immediately.

Suppose you win the ace. What will you need? A 3-2 trump split and a 3-3 spade split is good enough, as that will give you 5 diamond tricks, 5 spade tricks, 2 heart tricks, and 1 club trick. The problem is that you probably need all of this. You will have to draw trumps in order to enjoy the spades. If the spades are 4-2 you will need to ruff a spade to establish the spades, and you will be a trick short. If the trumps are 4-1 you won't be able to run the spades without drawing trumps, and again you are a trick short. Ruffing hearts in your hand won't help, as you won't have an entry to the spades. There are some club-heart squeeze chances, but that is a longshot as the same player who holds the king of clubs will need to hold the only heart guard. You will be a clear underdog if you go up ace of clubs.

Could West find an underlead of the king of clubs? He might very well. North rebid 1NT over 1, so North doesn't have a singleton club. North was willing to bid RKC even though South didn't yet show much strength. It is hard to imagine North doing this without a club control. North is marked with the ace of clubs. The queen could be in either hand. If North has the queen the lead won't cost anything if West has the jack, and it might talk you out of taking the club finesse if you have an alternative option. If South has the queen the club lead may blow a trick, but only if you are willing to take the first-round finesse.

If West has underled the king of clubs, it is likely necessary for you to take the finesse. The reason West risked the underlead is to force you into a losing option. West knows you have a 5-2 spade fit from the auction. If the spades are 3-3 and trumps are 3-2, West would know that if you have an alternative line of play, it will succeed.

Why is West leading a club in the first place? The normal lead against a grand slam is a trump, unless the trump lead might be blowing a trump trick. Here West knows for certain that your side has the queen of trumps from the RKC response, so a trump lead is safe if West has 2 or 3 trumps. If West has 1 or 4 trumps, you almost certainly aren't making if you go up ace of clubs. In addition, if the hand is going to be played along crossruff lines, a trump lead might stop a critical ruff or take away a critical entry.

The conclusion is that if trumps are splitting, West is more likely to have the king of clubs than not. If he has the king of clubs, he at least has a reason for leading a club rather than a trump. If he doesn't have the king of clubs, he has no reason to prefer a club lead. Against an expert, playing small is clearly the percentage play.

You choose to go up ace of clubs. East plays the 2. How do you attack the hand?

North
AK
K986
KJ103
106
South
Q9542
A10
AQ98
Q
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
7
P
P
P

The main plan is, in some order, to unblock the spades, draw trumps, and run the spades. If the spades are 4-2 you will have to ruff a spade in dummy and hope for a heart-club squeeze. This means you will have to retain sufficient communication for the squeeze to operate. If the trumps are 4-1 you would have to pull all the trumps to take advantage of a 3-3 spade split, which would still leave you a trick short. If that is the case you might as well ruff the third round of spades in dummy and go for the squeeze.

Since all lines involve unblocking the spades, it seems right to do so immediately. However, you could run into a 5-1 spade split. That might result in a second undertrick, which could matter if the 5-1 spade split dooms 6 at the other table. Also, there is the miracle possibility of QJ doubleton of hearts. If you get that miracle you can survive a bad spade split provided the opponents don't get a ruff, since you will have 5 trump tricks, 3 spade tricks, 4 heart tricks, and 1 club trick.

You can't afford to pull 3 rounds of trumps in order to guard against a 5-1 spade split. You would then have to unblock the spades, cross to the ace of hearts, and try the spades. If the spades are 4-2 you will have to ruff the fourth round of spades in dummy, and you will not be able to get back to your hand without destroying your squeeze. However, it cannot hurt you to pull 2 rounds of trumps before unblocking the spades. After unblocking the spades you cross to your hand with a trump, cash the queen of spades, and if the spades don't split you ruff the fourth round of spades, back to the ace of hearts, and cash your good spade and last trump for the hoped-for squeeze. Should the trumps be 4-1, you again unblock the spades and cross to your hand with the third round of trumps. Now you ruff the third round of spades without trying to cash the queen. Back to the ace of hearts, draw the last trump, and cash your good spades, hoping the squeeze position exists. This line gains when an opponent has a singleton spade and a doubleton diamond, and doesn't appear to have any downside compared to unblocking the spades first.

You choose to unblock the spades first. Both opponents follow. You then pull 2 rounds of trumps, ending in your hand. Both opponents follow. What next?

North
K986
J10
106
South
Q95
A10
AQ
Q
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
7
P
P
P

As planned, you cash a third round of trumps and try the queen of spades. The Gods smile as the spades are 3-3, and you can pitch dummy's losing clubs and take all the tricks. The full hand is:

West
1083
QJ752
65
KJ5
North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
East
J76
43
742
98732
South
Q9542
A10
AQ98
Q4
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
7
P
P
P
D
7 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
A
2
4
1
1
0
A
6
2
3
1
2
0
K
7
4
8
1
3
0
K
2
8
5
1
4
0
3
4
9
6
3
5
0
A
2
10
7
3
6
0
Q
10
6
J
3
7
0
7

What do you think of West's opening lead?

West
1083
QJ752
65
KJ5
North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
East
J76
43
742
98732
South
Q9542
A10
AQ98
Q4
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
7
P
P
P
D
7 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
A
2
4
1
1
0
A
6
2
3
1
2
0
K
7
4
8
1
3
0
K
2
8
5
1
4
0
3
4
9
6
3
5
0
A
2
10
7
3
6
0
Q
10
6
J
3
7
0
7

If West had a different spade holding, the club lead might be a good idea. The idea is to force declarer to make a premature decision between playing for the club finesse or a spade split. The problem with the club lead on this hand is that West knows the spades are splitting perfectly for declarer. The trumps are also splitting. If declarer has an alternative line to the club finesse, that line is going to work. However, if declarer doesn't have another option (make declarer's queen of spades a smaller spade, for example), then declarer will have no choice but to play small on the club lead, and West may have given declarer a no-play contract. West reasoned well about the location of the ace of clubs, but failed to consider when his lead would succeed or fail.

How was South's bidding?

West
1083
QJ752
65
KJ5
North
AK
K986
KJ103
A106
East
J76
43
742
98732
South
Q9542
A10
AQ98
Q4
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
7
P
P
P
D
7 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
A
2
4
1
1
0
A
6
2
3
1
2
0
K
7
4
8
1
3
0
K
2
8
5
1
4
0
3
4
9
6
3
5
0
A
2
10
7
3
6
0
Q
10
6
J
3
7
0
7

South's first two bids were automatic. His 3 call was okay, since it keeps the bidding low and gets more information from North. However, when North bids 3 South needs to take control. The problem is that South has a ton of extra strength, and North has no way of knowing about South's extra strength. South would have bid 4 with a considerably weaker hand if his spades aren't good enough to bid 4 and his club holding isn't strong enough to bid 3NT. South is the partner with the queens, and the partner who knows the partnership is in the slam zone. He should be taking control with RKC. He can then continue with a king ask, locate North's kings, and make an intelligent decision. The 4 call put North in charge when North couldn't know what to do. It is true that this approach might lead to slam off the first two club tricks if North has all his high cards in the other suits, but the odds are good that North has one of the club honors.

At the other table, remarkably the first 10 bids were identical (except that South bid a natural 1). Here over the RKC response North bid 5, a general grand slam try. South rejected, and the pair reasonably stopped in 6.

It takes a lot of courage to stake the fate of a grand slam on a trick 1 play. The natural instinct is to delay the evil day as long as possible. This is particularly true when the play involves playing an opponent for leading away from a king against the grand when he clearly had safer leads. Declarer needs to put himself in the opponent's shoes and see the picture the opponent is seeing in order to understand the reason for the chosen lead. If declarer does so on this hand it becomes clear that the reason the club lead was chosen is likely to be because the leader has the king of clubs.

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