Join Bridge Winners
First Time in San Diego
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This defensive problem comes from my first ever live game in San Diego, two nights ago. Playing at the Redwood Bridge Club, a cozy little outfit right next to Balboa Park downtown, you pick up the following hand at Matchpoints:

West
AJ86x
A
109x
Jxxx
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

The field is decent enough, for a club game. N/S are playing together for the first time, but their system is of a normal 2/1 flavor. They don't have a specific agreement on the 3 bid, which is what South says when you ask. But presumably it's some kind of game-forcing probe for 3NT.

Let's get started. What do you lead against 3NT?

At the table, the 6 is led, and this is what you see:

West
AJ8x
A
109x
Jxxx
North
Q107
98x
KJx
AKxx
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Dummy's 7 wins the trick, partner and declarer following with low spots that you can't read. Besides mentally slapping yourself for finding what might be the worst possible lead, you note that dummy made an unusual choice in auction, bidding 2 on a 4-3-3-3 hand rather than just blasting 3NT over your 1 overcall. In any case, at trick 2, delcarer leads the 9 off the board, partner covering with the 10. Declarer plays the 2 from hand and your Ace wins the trick.

West
AJ8x
109x
Jxxx
North
Q10
8x
KJx
AKxx
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

If it matters, your carding is all standard. How do you defend?

 

West
AJ8x
109x
Jxxx
North
Q10
8x
KJx
AKxx
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

There are lots of unknowns in this hand, but the fact that declarer chose to duck a heart immediately has to mean something. Let's try to figure out what.

You see 23 HCP between you and dummy, and declarer should have at least 12 for his vulnerable 1st-seat opening bid. This gives partner at most 5HCP. Unless partner bid 2 on J10xxx (giving declarer KQxx), there is no way declarer has both K and Q. So assuming partner has exactly one of those cards (declarer's needs the other for his stopper), we can place partner with at most a king outside of hearts.

How about the distribution of the unseen hands? Declarer rates to have fewer than 3 clubs from his failure to raise during the auction. That gives him ?=?=(4-5)=(1-2) shape, most likely 3=3=5=2 (giving partner 2=6=2=3) or 4=3=4=2 (giving partner 1=6=3=3).

Now, back to the crucial question: why did declarer attack hearts? And not just attack hearts, but duck a round in the suit? It seems clear that diamonds (or maybe spades!) is his primary source of tricks, not hearts. As such, the most likely scenario is that declarer has no work to do in the pointed suits - they're already set up, and he's just fishing for overtricks. His diamond holding rates to be AQxx(x), and his spades, K9x(x) (knowing you have AJ from the auction and play to trick 1).

Another possibility is that declarer does not have the Q or an entry to hand (besides A) to take a finesse in the suit. This gives partner 2 queens outside of hearts, which is very unlikely, but possible.

Either way, it seems very unlikely that any tricks we have in spades or diamonds are going away, and it's likely too late to try and establish partner's Q. Exiting a low spade, however, might give declarer entry problems later.

 

But all this was just an academic exercise. It's ok, your brain needed it. The actual play at trick 2 is low club to the closed hand's Q. Next, a low spade out (which you duck) to dummy's 10 (partner pitching an encouraging heart). After considerable thought, declarer now ducks a heart to your Ace.

West
AJ8
109x
Jxx
North
Q
8x
KJx
AKx
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

For real this time Smile how do you defend?

West
AJ8
109x
Jxx
North
Q
8x
KJx
AKx
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Many of the same inferences apply as after the fake trick 2, except now we know declaerer started with Q(x), K9xx, and probably AQxx(x) from the failure to attack diamonds. Partner, therefore, has absolutely nothing outside of hearts!

Suppose declarer is down to K9 Kx AQxx x. No matter what we do, declarer is losing exactly one more trick (in a major suit). Might as well cash A now and get it over with. But what if declarer's hand is K9 Qx AQxxx -? Look what happens if we don't cash A. Declarer will give partner her K and pitch 2 spades on the AK, never losing a spade trick!

 

You cash A. God thing you did, because declarer was indeed down to that 2nd example hand. Making 4, for an average. The full hand:

West
AJ86x
A
109x
Jxxx
North
Q107
98x
KJx
AKxx
East
x
KJ10xxx
xx
10xxx
South
K9xx
Qxx
AQxxx
Q
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Go to the next page for the kicker.

West
AJ86x
A
109x
Jxxx
North
Q107
98x
KJx
AKxx
East
x
KJ10xxx
xx
10xxx
South
K9xx
Qxx
AQxxx
Q
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

I was declarer (South) on this hand! And at the table, West did not find the right defense, failing to cash the A, and I made 5 for a top. It was a much needed top in the last round of the session, but we still finished with a 48% game.

It was only later that I noticed how amazing it would have been to conceal the Q and lead a heart at trick 2. Now the defense suggested on page 3 (win A and exit a low spade) fails in the exact same way as the defense at the table. Follow the play below:

West
AJ864
A
1095
J432
North
Q107
984
KJ6
AK65
East
5
KJ10765
87
10987
South
K932
Q32
AQ432
Q
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
11
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
7
5
2
1
1
0
9
10
2
A
0
1
1
4
10
5
3
1
2
1
8
K
3
2
2
2
2
10
Q
3
5
3
3
2
2
9
K
8
1
4
2
A
7
9
4
1
5
2
K
8
K
J
1
6
2
J
7
3
5
1
7
2
6
6
A
10
3
8
2
Q
8
6
9
3
9
2
Q
J
4
7
3
10
2
4
A
Q
J
3
11
2
N/S +460
13

So while I completely disagree with partner's 2 bid, it allowed them to give away the heart suit by competing. That's the only way I could know to play on hearts for an extra overtrick, and that ducking the first round is the way to do so.

 

First impressions of San Diego bridge are all positive. It doesn't compare to Austin (yet), but I think there are many good times to come.

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