Join Bridge Winners
The Right Shift
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In a Round of 32 match in the open trials for USA2, you have to find the best way to compete against an opening bid.

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

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
W
N
E
S
1
?

You play equal-level conversion. If you make a takeout double and partner bids 1 or 2, your bid of 1 or 2 does not show anything more than a minimal takeout double with 5 hearts and 4 spades.

Your call?

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
W
N
E
S
1
?

Even though the heart suit is stronger internally, it is better to make a takeout double. If you overcall 1, your 4-card spade holding is likely to get lost. Partner will assume you don't have 4 spades, since he knows that you had a takeout double available due to your equal-level conversion treatment.

You double. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
?

If you bid 2, partner will not assume you have a hand too strong to overcall. He will assume you had a planned equal-level conversion.

Your call?

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
?

Even though you don't have much extra, it is right to compete. You aren't going to win IMPs defending 2 when you are short in clubs. You must fight for a plus score, either pushing them higher or bidding something you can make yourself.

While you could make another takeout double, it is better to bid 2. If you double and partner bids 2 you would be bidding 2 anyway, so you should do so right now. This way partner won't be playing you for any diamond support.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

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

Your call?

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
?

You are done. You have accomplished the dual goal of pushing the opponents to the 3-level and describing your hand accurately. If there is more competing to be done, it is up to partner.

You pass, ending the auction.

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

Your lead. Standard honor leads, except that from AK if you lead the ace that asks for Standard attitude. If you lead the king, it could be from AK or KQ. Partner will give a suit-preference signal.

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P

The heart lead seems clear. If the enemy hearts are 3-3, you may be able to give partner a third round ruff. Nothing else has any attraction.

You lead the king of hearts.

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
North
KJ5
J109
K9873
109
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P

Partner plays the 3, and declarer wins the ace.

Partner gives suit-preference at trick 1. 10, 9, 8 are, by priority, suit-preference high. 2, 3, 4 are, by priority, suit-preference low. 6, 5, 7 are, by priority, encouraging. If partner doesn't have a spot card which corresponds to the signal he wishes to give, he gives the least damaging signal and hopes to be able to clarify later. If partner has two spot cards in a category, the higher priority card says that is the signal he wants to give while the lower priority card say he doesn't have a spot card in the category he wants to signal for.

At trick 2, declarer leads the 8. You win the queen, partner playing the 6.

The default meaning of partner's card here is standard current count. However, partner may use his play to help clarify the original suit-preference signal if that appears to be more important.

Your play?

West
A1076
742
Q10
K2
North
KJ5
J
K9873
109
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P

It is clear that declarer started with a doubleton heart. He knows you have 5 hearts. If he had 3 hearts, he would not be playing a second round of hearts so you could give partner a heart ruff.

Partner played the 3 of hearts on the first round of hearts. That is a clear suit-preference signal for diamonds, since partner had other hearts he could have played. Partner has the ace of diamonds.

Partner should not have the queen of spades. If he had that card he would have tried to signal for a spade shift, not a diamond shift. Granted he would not have the spot card with which to give the signal, but he could play the 5 first and the 6 next from his 653 holding, which would convey that message. From his point of view, diamonds is the right shift.

If you are going to shift to a diamond, which diamond should you shift to? If partner has AJ of diamonds shifting to the queen will work well. Shifting to the 10 might give partner a problem if declarer plays small, since partner would think declarer has the queen. On the other hand, if declarer has Jx of diamonds shifting to the queen makes declarer's life easy. Shifting to the 10 would give declarer a guess.

You don't have to worry about partner going wrong if he holds AJxx of diamonds and you shift to the 10. Declarer isn't a mind-reader. If declarer has xx in diamonds he will go up king as it would be his only legitimate way to make the contract. You could be underleading the ace here. If declarer does have Jx he could get it wrong, particularly since your auction indicates you are likely to have the ace of diamonds. Thus, the 10 is the right diamond to shift to.

Shifting to a diamond runs the risk of declarer holding Jxx, so one diamond discard won't help declarer and the diamond shift could give him the contract. Is that a danger? Partner presumably doesn't hold the queen of spades from his suit-preference signal. If declarer has the queen of spades that means he has 5 club tricks, 2 spade tricks, and 2 heart tricks if left alone. Thus, a diamond shift won't give anything away. You should shift now.

You choose to shift to the queen of diamonds. It goes king, ace. Partner cashes the jack of diamonds, declarer following, and leads another diamond. Declarer ruffs with the 8. Do you overruff?

West
A1076
742
K2
North
KJ5
J
987
109
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P

Overruffing from the short trump holding looks like the intuitive play, but it might not be right here. Suppose partner has Qxx of clubs, If you overruff, declarer needs only one entry to dummy to pick up the trump suit. If you don't overruff, declarer will need 2 entries to take 2 finesses. Granted he has those 2 entries in the spade suit, but at least you would make him work for them.

You choose to overruff. What now?

West
A1076
742
2
North
KJ5
J
98
109
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P

The setting trick is the setting trick. You can see the threatened discards in dummy. It is clear to cash.

You cash the ace of spades. Declarer has the rest. The full hand is:

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
North
KJ5
J109
K9873
109
East
984
653
AJ54
543
South
Q32
A8
62
AQJ876
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
9
3
A
3
1
0
8
Q
10
6
0
1
1
Q
K
A
2
2
1
2
J
6
10
3
2
1
3
4
8
K
7
0
1
4
A
6

How was East's defense?

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
North
KJ5
J109
K9873
109
East
984
653
AJ54
543
South
Q32
A8
62
AQJ876
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
9
3
A
3
1
0
8
Q
10
6
0
1
1
Q
K
A
2
2
1
2
J
6
10
3
2
1
3
4
8
K
7
0
1
4
A
6

East's play of the 3 at trick 1 was correct, of course. East has a clear preference for diamonds.

East was a little sloppy at trick 2. Even though the default signal is current count, bridge logic makes it clear that West knows East has 3 hearts and that both defenders know that the other defender knows that. Therefore, there is no need to show current count. East's heart play should be more suit-preference. On this hand East has interest only in diamonds, so he should have played the 5 to emphasize his preference for diamonds.

East's diamond continuation is clear. He needs 2 more tricks to defeat the contract, and he can see there is only 1 possible trick in spades so the other must come in the trump suit. Maybe West has queen-doubleton of clubs.

Do you agree with the N-S auction?

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
North
KJ5
J109
K9873
109
East
984
653
AJ54
543
South
Q32
A8
62
AQJ876
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
9
3
A
3
1
0
8
Q
10
6
0
1
1
Q
K
A
2
2
1
2
J
6
10
3
2
1
3
4
8
K
7
0
1
4
A
6

North's 1NT call looks fine. He has a notrump oriented hand, and he has the right strength. There is no point in bidding 1.

South has already shown a rebiddable club suit. However, he is correct to carry on to 3. The key is his heart holding and North's 1NT bid. North has denied a 4-card major, so the opponents have at least an 8-card heart fit. Also North must have at least 2 clubs, so N-S have at least an 8-card club fit, usually more. That makes the trump total at a minimum of 16, usually more. Bidding 3 contracts for 17 total tricks, so by the Law of Total Tricks competing to 3 over 2 is the percentage action.

Should East have done anything in the auction?

West
A1076
KQ742
Q10
K2
North
KJ5
J109
K9873
109
East
984
653
AJ54
543
South
Q32
A8
62
AQJ876
W
N
E
S
1
X
1NT
P
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
9
3
A
3
1
0
8
Q
10
6
0
1
1
Q
K
A
2
2
1
2
J
6
10
3
2
1
3
4
8
K
7
0
1
4
A
6

Clearly East is right to pass 2. West hasn't necessarily shown any extra strength.

From East's point of view, the partnership has 8 hearts. West figures to have a singleton or doubleton club, so N-S have 8 or 9 clubs. That makes the trump total 16 or 17. Bidding 3 over 3 contracts for 18 total tricks. East's hand is flat with nothing in hearts, so it is defensively oriented. All this indicates that defending will be better than declaring.

Many players say that suit-preference at trick 1 is unplayable because the signaler often doesn't have the right spot card. That can be true of any signaling system, of course, but it is more likely to be the case when trying to send one of three possible messages rather than one of two possible messages. However, potential ambiguity is surprisingly easier to unscramble than one might think. For example, on this hand suppose East's heart holding had been 865. East would not have the right spot card to signal for diamonds, and East would hate a spade shift. Therefore, East would play a middle heart, which is less damaging. Since that isn't the signal East wants to give, East would play the 5, which has a lower priority than the 6. On the second round of hearts, East would follow with the 6. That would make it clear that East wasn't really trying to encourage in hearts. An examination of the spot cards will tell West what is going on.

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