Join Bridge Winners
The Hardest Contract
(Page of 14)

In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials, you face a common Precision problem.

E-W vul, East deals. As South, you hold

South
10
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
?

If you choose to take action, 2 Multi would be your call. At this vulnerability, partner will expect that you have a 5-card suit more often than not.

Your call?

South
10
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
?

The vulnerability is favorable, your suit is hearts, and you have a singleton spade. These factors all argue for shooting out Multi. Your suit leaves a little to be desired, but it could be weaker.

The big strike against opening Multi is that you are in second seat. That changes the odds considerably. Partner is as likely as West to hold the best hand at the table, and if he does opening Multi is not likely to fare well. The opponents have already exchanged the information that East doesn't have an opening bid, which will help them decide whether or not to compete. Also, the chances that E-W have a vulnerable game or slam are much less with East being a passed hand, so the opponents are less likely to have a vulnerable accident.

If you were in first seat or third seat, opening Multi would probably be a winner on balance. In second seat, it looks better to go quietly.

You pass. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
?

1: 11-15, 2+ diamonds. Your opening 1NT range in third or fourth seat is 15-17.

Partner would pass 1 on any hand with 3 hearts, since you are a passed hand so game would be unlikely. While he would always bypass a 4-card spade suit if he were balanced and you were an unpassed hand, when you are a passed hand he never bypasses a 4-card spade suit.

Anything you bid now would be to play.

Your call?

South
10
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
?

One of the drawbacks of Precision is that when partner opens 1 you have no idea about his minor-suit lengths. Opposite a standard 1-of-a-minor opening you could bid 2 of the minor and be confident you were in a reasonable contract. Not so with Precision. He could be 4-2-5-2 or 4-2-2-5 for this sequence. Since 2 of a minor by you would be to play, that is out of the picture. 2 is possible, but since partner would have passed if he had 3 hearts you know the best you are getting is a 5-2 heart fit. Your best bet is 1NT. Your hand is so weak that you are almost certainly outgunned, but 1NT is your only real shot at a plus score.

You bid 1NT, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

West leads the 6. Fourth best leads. Standard carding.

North
Q954
K8
K964
AQ7
South
10
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

What do you play from dummy?

North
Q954
K8
K964
AQ7
South
10
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

If you absolutely had to have a spade trick to make the contract, the only chance would be to put up the queen and hope that West is underleading AK. That is not the case. While you are an underdog, you have some chances. Playing low will hold the opponents to 2 spade tricks if West has the jack, and your remaining Q9x will prevent them from running the suit even if East has the jack.

You play small. East wins the jack. East returns the 2. What club do you play from your hand?

North
Q95
K8
K964
AQ7
South
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

You know your club spots are equals, but the defenders don't know that. West certainly has the king of clubs. If West had the 8 or 9, he would insert that spot to force out dummy's queen. If you play a small club, when West doesn't insert the 8 or 9, East will know that you have these cards. Your proper play is the 9. Now East won't have any extra information.

You play the 9. West plays the king. Do you win or duck?

North
Q95
K8
K964
AQ7
South
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

West's 6 lead appears to be from A876(x) or K876(x). West has now shown up with the king of clubs, and he passed in third seat. It looks like East has the ace of hearts, so your prospects aren't good. If the opponents get in with a minor-suit card, they can take 3 spade tricks and 3 heart tricks to defeat the contract. Of course they don't know that, and a heart shift might not look too attractive to West.

What is going on in the club suit? West doesn't have the 10, or he would have played it instead of the king since you might have Jxx. West could have KJx, KJ doubleton, or Kx.

One possibility to consider is to duck this trick. West isn't going to find a heart shift if you do this. He will certainly continue clubs. If both the clubs and diamonds are 3-3 and East has the queen of diamonds, you can win the club return, diamond to jack, unblock the clubs, and run 7 minor-suit winners. But that is asking a lot. Ducking gives up the chance to take 3 club tricks if West has KJ doubleton, which is a live possibility. It doesn't look like the right idea.

You win the ace of clubs. How do you proceed?

North
Q95
K8
K964
Q7
South
97543
AJ10
865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

One possibility is to lead a diamond to your jack now. The problem is that even if it wins you have a long way to go to get to 7 tricks. Also, this tells the opponents all about your hand, so they will know to arrange for West to shift to a heart when he gets in. If the diamond finesse loses, you are definitely down.

More attractive is to go after clubs while your diamond communication is intact. Playing queen and a club will set up a third club trick if the clubs are 3-3 or if West has KJ doubleton. This will be very bad if East started with J10xx, which is quite possible. Also, this may force the opponents to lead a heart through dummy's king, since they will be wary of attacking diamonds.

An intresting concept would be to come off dummy with the queen of spades, discarding a heart. This would be disastrous if the spades are 4-4, but with only 4 spades West might have chosen to lead a minor rather than leading dummy's known 4-card suit. If the spades are 5-3 East will have to win, and he will be quite end-played. Anything he does potentially gives you a trick. Most likely he will continue clubs, which will definitely give you a third club trick. You are starved for tricks anyway, so it looks worth risking the spades being 4-4 in order to stick East on lead with no safe exit.

You choose to lead a diamond to the jack. It holds, East playing the 3 and West the 2. What next?

North
Q95
K8
K96
Q7
South
97543
A10
865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

So far, so good. Unfortunately, you need two entries to dummy to handle Qxxx of diamonds in the East hand, and you don't have those entries. It looks like you need East to have fewer than 4 diamonds in order to take 4 diamond tricks.

One possibility is to simply run the diamonds now, assuming they run. You can then cash the queen of clubs, exit with a club, and hope that the opponents will have to give you a trick. The problem is that they won't have to give you a trick. West has a spade entry, and he can lead a heart through dummy when he gets in.

A better approach is to go after clubs while you retain the ace of diamonds entry. You still have the chance to get 3 club tricks and 4 diamond tricks if both suits behave, although now that you have tipped your hand in the diamond suit, it will be easier for the defense to find the heart shift.

You lead a club towards dummy. West plays the 4. What do you play from dummy?

North
Q95
K8
K96
Q7
South
97543
A10
865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

It might be right to insert the 7. This concedes the club trick when the defense knows less about your hand. In addition, you don't set up two club tricks for the defense when East started with J10xx.

It is true that if both minor suits are 3-3 East could scramble your entries by returning a diamond. This won't be obvious to East, and most likely he will exit safely with a club.

You choose to win the queen of clubs, East playing the 3. Now what?

North
Q95
K8
K96
7
South
97543
A10
86
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

Your best chance to make is to play another club while you still have the diamond entry to your hand. You hope that the clubs are 3-3, the diamonds come home, and the opponents fail to take their tricks immediately. This isn't likely, but it is your best shot. This could result in an extra undertrick, but it is probably worth the risk.

You choose to cash the diamonds, leading a diamond to the ace and a diamond to the king. Both opponents follow to the second round of diamonds, but West discards the 3 of spades on the third round of diamonds. And now?

North
Q95
K8
9
7
South
97543
86
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

West's spade discard tells you that the spades were initially 5-3, and that it is now definitely safe to exit with a spade. Spades is the enemy communication suit, so by leading a spade you cut their communications as much as possible. It is your best chance to get another trick.

You lead the queen of spades. East wins the king, you discard a heart, and West follows with the 7. East cashes the queen of diamonds, you discard a heart, and West discards the 6. East Leads the 10 to West's jack. West cashes the ace of spades, East following with the 2. What do you discard?

North
95
K8
South
975
8
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P

The distribution of the hand is now clear. West started with 5 spades, so his initial shape was 5-3-2-3. He is now down to 2 hearts and a spade. East is down to 3 hearts.

You know the ace of hearts is offside since West didn't open in third seat. The 2 of hearts is missing. If East has it, you can prevent the opponents from taking the last 3 tricks by discarding your club and covering West's heart lead. That will block the heart suit, and they will have to give you the last trick. If you discard a heart the opponents can always take 3 heart tricks unless West is down to QJ of hearts. Therefore, it seems automatic to discard your club and hope the hearts are blocked.

Consider West's heart discard on the fourth round of diamonds. It would seem natural for him to discard what he knows is a worthless spade. Why did he discard a heart? The answer must be that he is keeping the spade as an exit card. For this to make sense, he must hold the queen of hearts but not the jack. With any other heart holding, he would discard his spade.

If you discard a club, West will lead his queen of hearts. This could cost only if your hearts are as good as J9xxx, and if that is your heart holding you would have been attacking hearts rather than the minor suits.

It is another story if you discard a heart. West will fear you have the jack of hearts, and a heart shift would give you the contract. He isn't going to risk the sure set. He made his heart discard with the plan of exiting in spades in mind, and if you hang onto your club he is sure to stick with his plan.

You discard a heart. As expected, West dumps you on the board with a spade and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
A8763
Q106
52
KJ4
North
Q954
K8
K964
AQ7
East
KJ2
AJ2
Q873
1032
South
10
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
4
J
10
2
0
1
2
9
K
A
1
1
1
4
3
J
2
3
2
1
5
4
Q
3
1
3
1
6
7
A
5
3
4
1
10
3
K
8
1
5
1
Q
K
3
7
2
5
2
Q
4
6
9
2
5
3
10
6
J
7
0
5
4
A
5
2
5
0
5
5
8
11

How was the defense?

West
A8763
Q106
52
KJ4
North
Q954
K8
K964
AQ7
East
KJ2
AJ2
Q873
1032
South
10
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
4
J
10
2
0
1
2
9
K
A
1
1
1
4
3
J
2
3
2
1
5
4
Q
3
1
3
1
6
7
A
5
3
4
1
10
3
K
8
1
5
1
Q
K
3
7
2
5
2
Q
4
6
9
2
5
3
10
6
J
7
0
5
4
A
5
2
5
0
5
5
8
11

The opening lead was reasonable. West has to lead something, and at least he has 5 spades. The spade lead could cost a trick, but so could anything else.

East has a difficult play at trick 2. Either major will probably cost a trick. The club shift will be bad if declarer has J9xx. A diamond shift is costly when declarer has A10x and with some 4-card diamond holdings for declarer. Declarer appears to be 4-3 in the minors. On balance, the club shift is probably best.

West's play on the club trick is not clear. If his goal is to deceive declarer (who might have 109x(x) of clubs, then the king is the right play as that is the card West is known to hold. However, if his goal is to help partner, then the jack is probably the better play.

When East was in with the king of spades, he would have done better to not cash the good diamond. That forced West to make a discard, and that discard eventually cost a trick. Instead, East should have led a club. Now it would be safe for West to shift to a small heart, since dummy's spade trick wouldn't be set up. Even if declarer has the jack of hearts and plays small on the shift, East can win the ace and return a heart. This sets up West's queen for the setting trick. Thus, West would not need to end-play dummy.

When East cashes the queen of diamonds, West can afford to discard a spade. He is still in control of things regardless of which black suit Eest plays, even if declarer has the jack of hearts. If East plays a club, West can win and safely shift to a small heart, establishing a heart trick and making sure declarer doesn't enjoy the good club. If East plays a spade, West can win and shift to the queen of hearts, again setting up a heart trick while preventing declarer from getting to the good spade.

Should E-W have gotten into the bidding?

West
A8763
Q106
52
KJ4
North
Q954
K8
K964
AQ7
East
KJ2
AJ2
Q873
1032
South
10
97543
AJ10
9865
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
6
4
J
10
2
0
1
2
9
K
A
1
1
1
4
3
J
2
3
2
1
5
4
Q
3
1
3
1
6
7
A
5
3
4
1
10
3
K
8
1
5
1
Q
K
3
7
2
5
2
Q
4
6
9
2
5
3
10
6
J
7
0
5
4
A
5
2
5
0
5
5
8
11

West might have opened 1 in third seat. Having not done so, West certainly could have overcalled 1. His partner won't play him for anything more than this, since West didn't open. The overcall will get a spade lead vs. notrump if that is what North bids, while not overcalling may induce East to lead something else on the logic that West didn't overcall. In addition, if West catches a spade fit, E-W may buy the contract for 2 and get a plus score. It is true that E-W are vulnerable, but the danger of going for a number at the 1-level when neither opponent can have more than 4 trumps is very small. On the actual hand, if West had overcalled, East would have competed to 2, which makes comfortably.

At the other table the auction stared the same, but the 1 bid was natural. South reasonably chose to play in 2 rather than 1NT. After a struggle, this went down 1 for a push.

It is said that 1NT is the hardest contract to play and defend. There are often so many different possible plays for both declarer and defender. This hand is a good illustration.

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