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In the first session of the Cavendish Pairs, you can press for a tight game. E-W vul, North deals. As South, you hold:

South
A106542
K43
AQ54

Pass Pass to you.Your call.




South
A106542
K43
AQ54
W
N
E
S
P
P
?


In first or second seat this would be a routine 1 opening. In third seat you can consider taking advantage of the vulnerability by making a tactical opening bid of 3 or even 4. This could work well if the opponents have a heart fit and fail to find it, or if West overcalls in hearts and walks into a stack in partner's hand. On the other hand, this could merely be a part-score hand and you might not find a good fit with partner. Since you own the spade suit there is less need for such a tactical preempt as you can outbid the opponents if need be. The normal 1 opening looks best.

You open 1. The bidding continues:

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

2NT: Relay to 3, likely a weak heart raise.

3 by you would be a natural game try. 3 would not be invitational.

Your call?




South
A106542
K43
AQ54
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
?


You have a great playing hand with the void in hearts, and the spade support improved your hand considerably. This makes just bidding 4 quite attractive.

On the other hand, if partner has heart wastage and a bad fit for your clubs 4 isn't going to be a very good contract. It might be better to bring partner into the picture with a 3 call. He will know to upgrade a club honor if he has one, and he should know that minor honors in hearts aren't pulling full weight. If partner rejects with 3, you don't want to be in game.

Another argument for bidding 3 is that it might help partner if the opponents compete. For example, suppose West bids 4. If partner doubles he has his high cards in the red suits, and you will know to pass. If partner doesn't double you can be pretty confident that it is right to bid 4, either as a make or a good save.

One reason for blasting to game is that it takes bidding room away from West. However, that isn't too important here. West already knows what he needs to know. Preempting him isn't going to accomplish anything.

While it is hard to fault blasting to 4, it looks like you will do better bringing partner into the picture with a 3 call.

You choose to bid 4. That ends the auction.

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


West leads the K (Rusinow leads, second highest of touching honors).

North
K93
J1042
Q87
763
South
A106542
K43
AQ54


East plays the 7 (upside-down count and attitude) and you ruff. Naturally you ruff with the 4, retaining the 2. It isn't likely that this will matter, but it can't cost and is just good technique.

How do you plan the play?




North
K93
J104
Q87
763
South
A10652
K43
AQ54


You have only one sure entry to dummy, and you will have to get to work on clubs. If the clubs are 3-3 the fourth club may be used to discard a diamond from dummy. If the clubs are 4-2, you will need to ruff the fourth club in dummy.

If you were sure that West had the king of clubs you would play ace and a small club, hoping he had king-doubleton. However, West doesn't need the king of clubs for his overcall. The best plan looks to be to cross to dummy and take a club finesse.

You lead the 5 of spades to dummy's king, West playing the queen and East the 7. Does that change anything?




North
93
J104
Q87
763
South
A1062
K43
AQ54


You may want to take a finesse for the jack of spades in the future, but that will have to wait. The club finesse must come first. How you continue may depend upon whether or not the club finesse succeeds.

You lead a club to the queen. It holds. Now what?




North
93
J104
Q87
76
South
A1062
K43
A54


If West has QJ doubleton of spades and a singleton club, you will be better off cashing the ace of spades. Otherwise, it is better to continue clubs. The idea is to prepare to ruff the fourth round of clubs in dummy if necessary. If the clubs are 3-3, you will be able to discard a diamond from dummy on the fourth round of clubs. You won't care if somebody ruffs. There will then be only one trump outstanding, which you can draw, after which you can ruff your losing diamond in dummy. What you can't afford is to cash the ace of spades prematurely, which would potentially allow East to draw dummy's last trump before you can ruff something in dummy.

You cash the ace of clubs. Everybody follows. On the third round of clubs West discards a heart. East wins, and leads the 8 of spades. Now the big decision. If you guess this right you will definitely make since you can ruff your fourth club in dummy and take 7 spade tricks, 2 club tricks, and 1 diamond trick. If you guess this wrong, you are probably down.

Suppose you go up ace of spades and are wrong -- West discards another heart. What would you do to try to recover?




North
93
J104
Q87
South
A1062
K43
5


If you could arrange to ruff 3 more hearts in your hand you would be up to 10 tricks -- 7 trumps (the 2 top spades, a club ruff in dummy, 4 heart ruffs in your hand), 2 clubs, and 1 diamond. West almost certainly has the ace of diamonds since East has shown up with the king of clubs. Unfortunately you have only 2 dummy entries for this -- the queen of diamonds and the club ruff. Your best bet is that the opponents will help you. Lead out the king of diamonds. West must win this, of course. His proper return is a diamond. However, if he mistakenly leads a heart to force you then you are home. Ruff the heart, club ruff, heart ruff, diamond to queen, and another heart from dummy scoring your 10 of spades en passant for the tenth trick. West shouldn't get it wrong, but if he has AJxx of diamonds he might be afraid to continue diamonds.

Suppose you finesse and are wrong. Is there any way to recover?




North
93
J104
Q87
South
A1062
K43
5


Not really. West will have an easy heart continuation -- a high heart if he has the queen of hearts, a low heart if he doesn't. You will have to ruff the fourth club in dummy, and West will have no discarding problems. There simply is no winning end position.

Well, moment of truth. Do you finesse or drop?




North
93
J104
Q87
South
A1062
K43
5


From a restricted choice argument, West is twice as likely to have a singleton spade honor as he is to have QJ doubleton. There are two singleton honors, and only one QJ doubleton. The honor actually played doesn't change these odds, since with one of the critical holdings he would always have to play some honor. Thus, when he plays the queen all you have learned is that a critical holding exists.

Does the diamond suit tell you anything more? West is known to have a doubleton club and is assumed to have 6 hearts. He is also assumed to have the ace of diamonds, since he overcalled and East showed a weak raise. There are 6 smaller diamonds to be accounted for. If West started with a singleton spade, he has 3 of those smaller diamonds. If West started with a doubleton spade, he has 2 of those smaller diamonds. There are more combinations of 3 small diamonds than of 2 small diamonds, increasing the odds that West has a singleton spade.

Should East's spade return be taken into account? Not really. East can see that you will be able to ruff a club to get to dummy, so you will still be able to take the spade finesse for yourself. The spade return is simply the correct play from both holdings. You might decide that it is easier to find if East doesn't have the jack of spades, so if East doesn't appear to have a problem that may influence your decision.

What about the bidding? West would certainly have his overcall whether he has a singleton or doubleton spade. What about East's 2NT bid? East is known to have 4 clubs and assumed to have 3 hearts. If East has 3 spades he is 3-3-3-4. His hand would like like Jxx Qxx Jxxx K10xx. Would he have bid 2NT with that? It doesn't look like the right sort of hand to compete 3 over 2. No ruffing value, and a minor honor in the enemy suit. The hand with 2 small spades is much more attractive for competing. There is a ruffing value if West has 3 spades, and if West doesn't have 3 spades then N-S have a 9-card fit so competing may drive them up to 3.

It comes down to a judgment of whether or not East would bid 2NT on the 4-3-3-3 hand. If you think he would, then it is right to finesse. However, if you judge that he is unlikely to have bid 2NT on the 4-3-3-3 hand, then you should play for the drop.

You choose to finesse. West wins the jack of spades, and exits with a small heart to East's queen. The defense doesn't make any discarding errors, and in the end you have to lose 2 diamond tricks for down 1. The full hand is:

West
QJ
AK9863
A105
J2
North
K93
J1042
Q87
763
East
87
Q75
J962
K1098
South
A106542
K43
AQ54
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
2
7
4
3
1
0
5
Q
K
7
1
2
0
3
8
Q
2
3
3
0
A
J
6
9
3
4
0
4
3
7
10
2
4
1
8
2
J
3
0
4
2
6
7


East made a fine play when he returned a trump. If he had led back a heart you would have been able to ruff and play the ace of spades, since if it the spades were 3-1 you would now have the entries to score the necessary heart ruffs in your hand. If East had led back a club it would be pretty difficult for West to refuse to ruff, and when West ruffs you can pitch a diamond from dummy and claim.

Should declarer have gotten it right? Hard to say. There were conflicting percentages involved. On balance I now think the evidence points to playing for spades to be 2-2 as the right play despite the apriori odds against that distribution. Unfortunately at the table I failed to come to that conclusion.

It should be noted that game is pretty lousy. Had South bid 3, North would have had an easy 3 signoff with minimal values, 4-3-3-3, and 3 small clubs. If North had a little extra he would come back with 3 or 3, and then South could bid the game. The key is to give North a chance to look at his hand. North should be able to make the right evaluation provided South gives him the opportunity to do so.

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