Join Bridge Winners
Ugly Overcall
(Page of 11)

In the semi-finals of the Senior knockouts, you have a difficult decision over an enemy opening bid.

E-W vul, West deals. As South, you hold:

South
J76
A9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
?

In your style, a takeout double followed by 2 doesn't show a huge hand.

Your call?

South
J76
A9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
?

The choices aren't appetizing. 1NT is right on strength, but has the flaws of the 5-card heart suit and not having a full spade stopper. 2 gets the heart suit in, but it is an ugly overcall. Double followed by 2 is possible, but if spades are raised partner might bid 3 of a minor (particularly diamonds) and you would have to choose between forgetting the heart suit or risking bidding it and not finding a fit. You could pass, but that just leaves you later problems.

Hearts is your suit, and majors are where the games are. Overcalling 2 has the nice upside that if you do catch a good fit in partner's hand you may get to a good 4 contract which won't be as easy to reach if you take one of the other options. Sure, the suit is flimsy, and on a really bad day there might be a heart stack behind you and you could go for a number. But you can't live in fear of that, and any action other than passing and never bidding might result in going for a number. It looks like the ugly overcall is the lesser of evils.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

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

2NT: Artificial, likely a weak competitive hand with a long minor or a weak heart raise. 3-level bids would be stronger. The overcaller is expected to bid 3 unless he has some reason to override, since the 2NT bidder might have a long club suit.

Your call?

South
J76
A9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
?

It is clear to bid 3, the expected call. You have no reason to override partner's intended action.

You bid 3. The bidding continues:

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

3: Weak competitive raise. Immediate 3 call would have been a limit raise.

Your call?

South
J76
A9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
?

If partner had bid 3 showing a limit raise, you would seriously consider bidding game. On his actual sequence, which just shows a hand with which he wants to compete to 3, it is clear to pass and hope you make it.

You pass, ending the auction.

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

West leads the 3.

North
K4
QJ4
J1082
J872
South
J76
A9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P

What do you play from dummy at trick 1?

North
K4
QJ4
J1082
J872
South
J76
A9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P

You are going to have to get a bunch of diamond tricks if you are to have a chance to make this contract. With reasonable luck you can hope to take 4 trump tricks, 3 diamond tricks, 1 club trick, and 1 spade trick. You could get lucky in the trump suit and get 5 trump tricks, in which case you won't need a spade trick.

Your best chance to take 5 trump tricks is to hope that West has led away from the 10 of hearts. You could play small from dummy, and if East pops up with the king you will be in great shape. However, if East puts in the 10 you will be in trouble, as you won't have a quick entry to dummy's diamonds so a club shift will defeat you.

There is one interesting clue from the opening lead. While a trump lead is certainly reasonable on the auction, many players will have a tendency to lead partner's suit unless they have a good reason not to do so. Holding the ace of spades would be a good reason for West to not lead a spade. If West has the ace of spades, then 4 heart tricks will suffice provided you can get the diamonds going quickly enough. This seems to argue for going up queen of hearts.

You play the queen of hearts. East covers with the king, and you win the ace. What now?

North
K4
J4
J1082
J872
South
J76
9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P

You must get to work on the diamonds quickly before your ace of clubs gets knocked out. In some scenarios it might be right to start with a tricky queen of diamonds, but not here. If you fail to unblock the ace of diamonds first, the opponents might knock out the jack of hearts which would be a major disaster.

You bang down ace and queen of diamonds. East wins the king, and shifts to the 9. How do you play?

North
K4
J4
J10
J872
South
J76
9752
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P

You definitely cannot afford to lose any club tricks. You have no choice but to go up ace of clubs, cross to the jack of hearts, and pitch your clubs on the diamonds if you can. Then you will have to work out how to deal with the spade suit.

You win the ace of clubs, and cross to dummy with the jack of hearts. East discards a spade (ouch!). You cash dummy's diamonds, discarding your clubs. Both follow to the third diamond, and East discards a spade on the fourth diamond. Now what do you do?

North
K4
4
J87
South
J76
975
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P

West following to the fourth diamond is good news and bad news. The good news is that West wasn't able to ruff and draw dummy's last trump, which would have left you with no chance at all. The bad news is that East is marked with 5-1-3-4 shape, meaning West has only a doubleton club.

At any rate, you don't really have any choice. All you can do is ruff a club to your hand, lead a spade up to the king, and hope for the best.

You ruff a club to your hand, West playing the queen. You lead a spade to the king. It holds. Now what?

North
4
4
J8
South
J7
97
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P

You need only one more trick, but you can't legitimately get it. West is sitting with the 108 of hearts over your 97, and you know that he is out of clubs. If you try to ruff a club he can overruff and pull your trumps. If you lead a club and discard a spade, it will be a simple matter for East who now has K10 of clubs left to shove a high club through you and you will be trump couped. Your best bet is to lead a spade. East can defeat you by going up queen of spades and laying down the king of clubs, but maybe East will be asleep at the switch.

You lead a spade off dummy, and are pleased to see East follow with the 10. Naturally you cover with the jack. West wins the ace, but he is helpless and has to give you the ninth trick. The full hand is:

West
A85
10863
7543
Q4
North
K4
QJ4
J1082
J872
East
Q10932
K
K96
K1096
South
J76
A9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
Q
K
A
3
1
0
A
3
2
6
3
2
0
Q
4
8
K
2
2
1
9
A
4
2
3
3
1
5
6
J
2
1
4
1
10
9
3
5
1
5
1
J
3
5
7
1
6
1
7
6
2
Q
3
7
1
6
5
K
9
1
8
1
4
10
J
A
0
8
2
10

How could the defense have improved?

West
A85
10863
7543
Q4
North
K4
QJ4
J1082
J872
East
Q10932
K
K96
K1096
South
J76
A9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
Q
K
A
3
1
0
A
3
2
6
3
2
0
Q
4
8
K
2
2
1
9
A
4
2
3
3
1
5
6
J
2
1
4
1
10
9
3
5
1
5
1
J
3
5
7
1
6
1
7
6
2
Q
3
7
1
6
5
K
9
1
8
1
4
10
J
A
0
8
2
10

East might have ducked the king of diamonds, although with dummy having both the king of spades and the heart entry this would be risky. And of course at the end East should have gone up queen of spades to put a high club through declarer.

However, the real culprit was West. At the point declarer led a spade to the king, West knew the whole hand. He had to assume his partner had the queen of spades, or the defense would have no chance. Therefore, he should have gone up ace of spades and exited with a spade. This would stick declarer in the dummy in the 3-card ending, and there would be nothing declarer could do. West should have built a fence around partner, not giving East a chance to make an error.

Do you agree with North's bidding?

West
A85
10863
7543
Q4
North
K4
QJ4
J1082
J872
East
Q10932
K
K96
K1096
South
J76
A9752
AQ
A53
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
Q
K
A
3
1
0
A
3
2
6
3
2
0
Q
4
8
K
2
2
1
9
A
4
2
3
3
1
5
6
J
2
1
4
1
10
9
3
5
1
5
1
J
3
5
7
1
6
1
7
6
2
Q
3
7
1
6
5
K
9
1
8
1
4
10
J
A
0
8
2
10

North's hand clearly isn't worth a limit raise. The king of spades might be worthless, and the hand is generally junky.

From North's point of view, the opponents have at least an 8-card spade fit if their bidding is to be believed. While it isn't etched in stone, South can be expected to have a 6-card heart suit for the 2-level overcall. That makes the trump total 17. Competing to 3 over the enemy 2 contracts for 17 total tricks (the 9 N-S are contracting for in 3 plus the 8 E-W are contracting for in 2). If the Law of Total Tricks is accurate on this hand, that makes it clear to compete to 3. Since the trump total is 17 there is some chance that both contracts will make and almost no chance that both contracts will go down.

This use of 2NT in competition to show a weak competitive hand somewhere is called good-bad 2NT. It is handy for distinguishing between a true limit raise and a hand which merely wishes to compete, a problem which comes up all the time. 2NT natural is seldom desirable over an enemy 2-level call.

Interestingly enough, at the other table the contract and opening lead were the same. That declarer chose to play small from dummy at trick 1, and was rewarded when the king popped up. He naturally went to work on diamonds, won the club shift, crossed to dummy with a heart, and ran the diamonds. He then ruffed a club, crossed back with another heart, and tried ruffing another club which got overruffed. East had discarded only spades. West shifted to a small spade. Declarer misguessed (failing to take the opening lead inference into account), and the defense took the last 3 tricks for down 1. Strange that the winning play at trick 1 failed, but the losing play succeeded.

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