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Prepare the Strip
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In a round-robin match in the Open trials, you are faced with a high-level competitive decision.

N-S vul, West deals. As South, you hold:

South
AJ954
10
A853
A95
W
N
E
S
1
2
3
?

2: Michaels, spades and a minor

3: Weak heart raise

Your call?

South
AJ954
10
A853
A95
W
N
E
S
1
2
3
?

Clearly you will be getting to 4 at least. But you might have a slam. Furthermore, you may have to deal with an enemy 5 call, particularly at the vulnerability. You want to be best prepared for these possibilities.

Since the last call was only 3, you have a perfect descriptive bid available -- a 4 splinter. This gets your exact hand across. The splinter must be in support of spades, since that is partner's only known suit. It shows the singleton you have. It also shows some slam interest, which is what you have.

You bid 4. The bidding continues:

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

Your call?

South
AJ954
10
A853
A95
W
N
E
S
1
2
3
4
5
P
P
?

Since your 4 call was a voluntary game force, partner's call is clearly a forcing pass. It doesn't necessarily show extra strength. It simply shows more offense than defense, leaving the final decision to you.

How are your offensive prospects? Pretty good. Partner could easily have singleton in a minor. In fact with a doubleton in a minor and a singleton heart he might have been more inclined to double, since he knows you also have a singleton heart and the matching singletons won't be of value. He did come in vulnerable. It certainly seems reasonable that all you will lose is a heart trick and a trick in either spades or his minor.

Might there be a slam? There might be if he has the perfect KQxxx in both of his suits as well as a singleton in the other minor. A case could be made for bashing to slam, since even if it isn't making the opponents might be talked into saving at this vulnerability. However, it generally doesn't pay to play partner for the perfect hand. Bidding slam looks to be too much of a gamble.

What about doubling 5? If partner has his singleton in the other minor you can get one ruff, maybe two. However, you might be running into a lot of distribution in the enemy hands, and you don't know what will cash. You can't reasonably expect them to go down more than 3, and they might go down less.

It looks best to bid 5. That figures to be a good favorite, while slam figures to be an underdog and might have no play at all. It is true that bidding 5 is aiming at the thin target that your side can take exactly 11 tricks, but from the information available that looks like a good assessment.

You bid 5, ending the auction.

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

West leads the ace of hearts.

North
Q8763
97
KQ1064
Q
South
AJ954
10
A853
A95
W
N
E
S
1
2
3
4
5
P
P
5
P
P
P

East plays the 2 (UDCA). West continues with the king of hearts, which you ruff. How do you play the hand?

 

North
Q8763
KQ1064
Q
South
AJ95
A853
A95
W
N
E
S
1
2
3
4
5
P
P
5
P
P
P

If the diamonds are 3-1 you will lose at most one trump trick, so your only concern is that the diamonds are 4-0.

If West has 4 diamonds, you will be able to pick up the suit without loss. The only thing which could go wrong is you lose a spade finesse to West's singleton king and West gives his partner a diamond ruff. You aren't going to risk your contract for an overtrick, so you aren't going to take the spade finesse if you don't need to do so.

If East has 4 diamonds, you will have a diamond loser you can't dispose of directly. If there were no other possibility you would take the spade finesse. East shouldn't be void in diamonds, since he encouraged in hearts at trick 1. But there might be another possibility.

Suppose you play the ace of spades and another spade, losing to somebody's king-doubleton. If East has 4 diamonds he can't afford to lead a diamond, and West won't have a diamond to lead. Therefore, if you are able to strip the clubs before playing the second round of spades you can guarantee the contract on a 2-1 spade split, since somebody will be end-played.

You need to prepare the strip. If you cash the ace of spades, play ace of clubs, ruff a club, and play a spade, the player who wins the trick will have a safe club exit. The right technique is to play ace of clubs and ruff a club first. Now you can play a spade to your ace and ruff your last club. The strip will be complete, and the end-play will succeed if the spades are 2-1.

You play ace of clubs and ruff a club. What do you do next?

 

North
Q876
KQ1064
South
AJ95
A853
9
W
N
E
S
1
2
3
4
5
P
P
5
P
P
P

You plan to cash the ace of spades, ruff a club, and exit with a spade. But it can't cost you to lead the queen of spades. You might coax a cover from East if he has king-doubleton or K10x. Naturally you have no intention of taking the finesse if he follows small, but it can't hurt to lead the queen and increase your chances to make an overtrick. If East doesn't cover and turns out to have K10x, you can safely ruff your last club in dummy and lead up to your jack of spades. The diamonds will be sure to come home, since West won't have two voids. If East shows out on the queen of spades you just duck, and hope that East doesn't have all the diamonds. You can never make if West has 3 spades and East 4 diamonds.

You choose to lead a small spade to your ace. Both opponents follow small. You ruff your last club, and exit with a spade. You have the rest. The full hand is:

West
10
AKQ865
72
K832
North
Q8763
97
KQ1064
Q
East
K2
J432
J9
J10764
South
AJ954
10
A853
A95
W
N
E
S
1
2
3
4
5
P
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
7
2
10
0
0
1
K
9
3
4
3
1
1
A
2
Q
4
3
2
1
5
3
3
6
1
3
1
6
2
A
10
3
4
1
9
8
7
7
1
5
1
8
K
5
5
2
5
2
7

It turns out the 5 would have gone for 800 if N-S get two club ruffs, but there was no reason to think that was the case. The enemy diamonds and/or spades could have split a lot differently.

Do you agree with North's bidding?

West
10
AKQ865
72
K832
North
Q8763
97
KQ1064
Q
East
K2
J432
J9
J10764
South
AJ954
10
A853
A95
W
N
E
S
1
2
3
4
5
P
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
7
2
10
0
0
1
K
9
3
4
3
1
1
A
2
Q
4
3
2
1
5
3
3
6
1
3
1
6
2
A
10
3
4
1
9
8
7
7
1
5
1
8
K
5
5
2
5
2
7

North's Michaels bid is fine. Sure, he would like to have a better hand at this vulnerability. But the bid shows his shape, which is most important. If North overcalls 1 South will not have as good a picture of the hand, and future competitive decisions will not be as easy.

Many players would not make a forcing pass on North's hand, since the hand is so weak. I think the forcing pass is right. The bid doesn't show extra strength. It merely shows more offensive orientation than defensive orientation. North knows that he is 2-1 in his short suits the right way after South's splinter. If North had a singleton heart and a doubleton club his hand wouldn't be as good for offense, and he should probably double.

One should always keep in mind that just because you are in a force doesn't mean it is your hand. Sometimes it is you who are saving even though you have the majority of the strength. On the actual hand, for example, suppose South had the king of spades instead of the ace of clubs. Now if the E-W diamonds are 3-1, E-W would be making 5, while N-S still make 5. This illustrates how important it is to focus on the offensive/defensive orientation of the hand in a forcing pass situation rather than on just high cards.

East's 3 call might have been descriptive, but it came at the price of giving N-S more room to describe. If East had bid a normal 3, South would not have had a splinter available. This is the problem with many artificial raises like this, such as Bergen raises. They give the opponents more room to describe, including lead-directing doubles of the artificial call. That potential cost usually outweighs any small benefit of the slightly more accurate description.

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