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Just a Suggestion
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In the round of 16 of the open trials, you face a part-score competitive decision.

Both vul, South deals. As East, you hold:

East
A874
9654
A
K1076
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
?

1: 2+ diamonds, 11-15 points, 11-13 if balanced (1NT opening would be 14-16).

Your call?

East
A874
9654
A
K1076
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
?

Even though you are light and both sides are vulnerable, your shape screams for a takeout double. North doesn't have a major, so there is a good chance that your side has a 4-4 major-suit fit. That figures to be better than defending 1NT or 2.

You double. The bidding continues:

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

2: Both minors, either minor could be longer.

Your call?

East
A874
9654
A
K1076
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
X
2
2
3
?

You have a stiff diamond and 4-card spade support, which are strong arguments for competing. Still, bidding 3 over 3 is serious business. That would be contracting for 18 total tricks (the 9 they have bid for plus the 9 you would be bidding for). For bidding 3 to be a big winner both contracts would have to make, so there would need to be 18 total tricks. Do there figure to be 18 total trumps? You don't know. Partner doesn't have to have 5 spades for his 2 call. You have no idea about the enemy diamond fit.

If you had to make the final decision yourself, you would probably bid 3. But you don't have to make the final decision yourself. Partner is there. He knows whether he has 4 spades or 5. He knows what his diamond holding is. For all you know, he might be about to smash 3 on a trump stack. This should be his decision to make.

You pass. Partner does also, concluding the auction.

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

Partner leads the K.

North
J106
AQJ
9874
J92
East
A874
9654
A
K1076
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
X
2
2
3
P
P
P


Your agreements are suit-preference at trick 1. 10, 9, 8 are suit-preference high (in that order by priority). 2, 3, 4 are suit-preference low (in that order by priority). 6, 5, 7 are encouraging (in that order by priority). If you don't have a spot card in the category where you want to signal, you try to choose the least damaging signal.

What do you play at trick 1?

North
J106
AQJ
9874
J92
East
A874
9654
A
K1076
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
X
2
2
3
P
P
P

You are fortunate enough to have a spot card in each category, so you can give the signal you want. Obviously you aren't going signal suit-preference high. The question is whether you should signal suit-preference low or encourage.

You certainly don't mind a spade continuation. Still, you don't have to signal encouragement. When partner's K holds he will know you have the A. If partner has a 4-card spade suit he will know that at least another round of spades will cash. If he has 5 spades a second round of spades will not cash and it might be right for partner to shift to a club instead if he has Ax or Qx.

If you play the 4, suit-preference for clubs, will partner automatically shift to a club? He shouldn't. Your signal is just a suggestion, not a command. Partner will look at his spade length, his club holding, and his trump holding in order to determine what is best, with the knowledge that you are likely to have 4 spades since if you had only 3 spades you certainly would have encouraged if possible.

How might a club shift be vital? Suppose partner continues spades. Declarer ruffs, and leads the K. What would you do? If partner has Ax and declarer has 5 diamonds, you will need to shift to a club to get a club ruff to defeat the contract. On the other hand, if declarer has AQxxxand only 4 diamonds, you will do a lot better continuing spades and tapping declarer. Partner will know what to do with the Ax if you suit-preference for clubs. When partner has 4 trumps he will know that a spade continuation is right.

You play the 4. Declarer plays the 5. Partner leads the 2 to your ace, declarer playing the 9. How do you defend now?

{click to continue}

North
J
AQJ
9874
J92
East
87
9654
A
K1076
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
X
2
2
3
P
P
P

You will certainly be exiting with a third round of spades. However, it may be important to get that A out of your hand before you get end-played. For example, suppose declarer's hand is xx Kx QJ10xx AQxx. If you don't cash the ace of diamonds first, declarer can ruff your spade return, cash 3 rounds of hearts discarding a club, and throw you in with a diamond. You would have no safe return, and all the defense would score would be partner's king of diamonds. However, if the A is out of your hand partner will have a safe exit, and the defense will eventually get a club trick.

You cash the A. Declarer plays the 3, and partner the 2. You then lead the 7. Declarer ruffs with the 6, partner playing the 3. Declarer cashes the K, partner following with the 5. Declarer now cashes K, heart to ace, and Q discarding the 4. He now leads the J off dummy. Do you cover?

{click to continue}

North
98
J92
East
8
K1076
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
X
2
2
3
P
P
P

It appears from declarer's line of play that partner started with Qxx. If partner also has the Q you are always defeating the contract. Therefore, it appears right to cover, hoping to get a club trick.

Closer analysis show that covering won't defeat the contract if this is the layout. Even if partner has the 8, declarer can cash AQ and exit with a diamond. Partner will be forced to give declarer a ruff and a discard at trick 12. Declarer will have no difficulty finding this play.

What if declarer has the Q and partner the Q, making declarer's original hand xx Kx KQJxx Axxx. If you cover, declarer can win, draw partner's last trump, and exit with a club. The club suit will be blocked, and partner will again have to concede the last 2 tricks. If that is the layout, it is necessary to duck the J. Declarer would have to have played the hand quite cleverly in order to create this defensive error, but it is quite possible. The line of play would be legitimate if you had KQxxand partner 10x, and timing the play this way might induce a mistaken cover from Q10xx or K10xx.

There is one other possibility to worry about. Suppose declarer started with 4 diamonds and 5 clubs, which is consistent with the 2 rebid. That could give declarer an initial holding of xx Kx KQxx AQxxx. If you cover he will be down 1, as your side will score a club trick and a diamond trick. If you duck, however, declarer repeats the club finesse and all you score is partner's diamond trick.

There are two reasons why this layout is unlikely. First of all, many players would open 1NT with that hand playing 14-16 notrumps. Secondly, if declarer had the 8, instead of running the hearts he would have crossed to dummy with the first round of hearts and led the J. After it goes king and ace, he would then cash two more hearts, lead a club to his 8, and make. Thus, this layout is possible only if partner has the singleton 8.

The conclusion is that the best play is to duck the J.

You choose to cover with the K. Declarer wins the A, exits with a diamond, and claims on an end-play. The full hand is:

West
KQ32
10872
Q52
53
North
J106
AQJ
9874
J92
East
A874
9654
A
K1076
South
95
K3
KJ1063
AQ84
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
X
2
2
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
6
4
5
0
0
1
2
10
A
9
2
0
2
A
3
2
4
2
0
3
7
6
3
J
3
1
3
K
5
7
4
3
2
3
K
2
J
5
3
3
3
3
7
A
6
1
4
3
Q
9
4
10
1
5
3
J
K
A
3
3
6
3
J
10

Declarer had the 8, so it was not necessary for him to strip the hand before throwing West in.

West also had some interesting decisions this hand. Do you agree with his 2 continuation at trick 2?

West
KQ32
10872
Q52
53
North
J106
AQJ
9874
J92
East
A874
9654
A
K1076
South
95
K3
KJ1063
AQ84
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
X
2
2
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
6
4
5
0
0
1
2
10
A
9
2
0
2
A
3
2
4
2
0
3
7
6
3
J
3
1
3
K
5
7
4
3
2
3
K
2
J
5
3
3
3
3
7
A
6
1
4
3
Q
9
4
10
1
5
3
J
K
A
3
3
6
3
J
10

West clearly has to continue spades. If he doesn't, a losing spade could be going on a heart, which would be the case on the actual hand. Also, West can't be sure that East doesn't have 3 spades. If East had A94 or A84, East would not have the spot to encourage in spades although that is what he would like to do. East would give suit-preference low. This would be the least damaging signal, since it is less likely that East would be wanting a club shift.

If East has the 7 that means he really has signalled suit-preference low. With only 3 spades, East would definitely have encouraged if he could. While the 2 shift will tell East the count, East won't be able to do much but continue spades if clubs need to be led from West's side. It might be right for West to cash the Q. If East plays the 7 West will know that East could have encouraged, therefore East has 4 spades and does want a club shift. If East plays the 8 or the 9, West can just continue spades and nothing will have been lost.

Do you agree with West's bidding?

West
KQ32
10872
Q52
53
North
J106
AQJ
9874
J92
East
A874
9654
A
K1076
South
95
K3
KJ1063
AQ84
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
X
2
2
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
6
4
5
0
0
1
2
10
A
9
2
0
2
A
3
2
4
2
0
3
7
6
3
J
3
1
3
K
5
7
4
3
2
3
K
2
J
5
3
3
3
3
7
A
6
1
4
3
Q
9
4
10
1
5
3
J
K
A
3
3
6
3
J
10

West could bid 2 immediately to make sure of finding the right major, but he really isn't strong enough for that. Also, there is no need to do so. West can always compete to 3 if he so desires, and if East is 4-3 in the majors East will pick the right major. If West buys it at the 2-level, any contract will be good. In addition, spades is by far his better suit.

Should West compete to 3 over 3? West can expect an 8-card fit in one of the majors, but no guarantee of anything more than that. The opponents presumably have no more than a 9-card diamond fit, and they might not have that. That means that the trump total doesn't figure to be more than 17. West has Qxx, which is more likely to be a trick on defense than on offense. West also has 4 small hearts. Thus West's hand is defensively oriented, so defending looks better.

It is worth noting how the Law of Total Tricks works here. N-S can barely make 3. E-W are down in 3. Put the K behind the ace and now 3 has a chance, but 3 must go down. Thus, regardless of where the K is, a total of at most 17 tricks are available in diamonds and spades. The trump total is also 17. This is exactly what the Law of Total Tricks predicts. The Law won't always hit the trick total on the nose, of course, but it is seldom wrong by much and tends to even out. That is why competing to 3 was unlikely to be the winning action for E-W. It was improbable that both contracts could make, and if at least one of the contracts goes down, either E-W will get a plus score by defending or they were never going to get a plus score.

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