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Way to Recover
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In a Round of 16 match in the Open Trials, you have to deal with one of your rarer treatments.

None vul, South deals. As South, you hold:

South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A5
W
N
E
S
?

You are playing a strong club. If you open 1 and partner bids a semi-forcing 1NT, a 2 call by you would show a maximum reverse. Partner could pass, since you are limited by your failure to open 1. 2NT by partner would then be a shape-ask, so you could not stop in 2NT. 3 of a minor or 3 by partner would be to play.

If you open a strong 1 and partner makes a negative response of 1, a 1 bid by you will be natural and forcing, showing 4+ hearts. If partner has 4-card heart support he will raise appropriately. Otherwise, with a weak hand he will bid 1 with 4+ spades, 1NT otherwise. If he is in the 6-8 range he will bid 2 with fewer than 3 hearts, 2 with 3 hearts, and you have reasonable ways to get to the best part-score. If partner has 9+ points he will make a positive response which will be game-forcing.

Your call?

South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A5
W
N
E
S
?

The decision whether or not to open a strong 1 on borderline hands isn't governed so much by strength as it is by rebid considerations. With this hand, it appears that the auction is more likely to go smoothly if you open 1. The main danger is that partner has a minimum positive response which will get you to a bad game, but bad games are allowed to make. When partner does have a positive response, the low-level game force will improve your chances of finding the best game or slam. If partner has a negative response, you will probably be able to stop comfortably at a decent partial. The same cannot be said if you open 1, since you would then have to recover to show your extra strength.

You open 1. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
?

1: Strong, artificial

4: 4-1-4-4 shape, 13+ HCP, 4+ controls (A=2, K=1, stiff king not counted as a control), forcing to 4NT.

A 4 call by you would ask for number of controls starting at 4. Other calls by you would be natural, setting the strain, keeping in mind that you are forced to 4NT. Thus, a 4 call would be forcing.

Your call?

South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A5
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
?

You know you belong in spades, but your hand is dead minimum. Knowing the number of controls partner has isn't going to help you much. You know you have enough controls. The question is do you have enough tricks? Your best bet is to set trumps with 4 and bring partner into the loop. 4 is forcing. He can RKC, Q-bid, or sign off in 5 depending on his hand.

You bid 4. The bidding continues:

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

5: Weakest bid

Your call?

South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A5
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
?

Your spades are good and you are primish. However you have a minimal 1 opener, and your queen of hearts isn't likely to be of any value. You probably don't have 2 losers, but coming up with 12 winners opposite partner's minimal 4-1-4-4 hand could be quite a challenge. Consider a prototype hand such as: KJxx x AQxx Kxxx. Where would 12 tricks come from? If partner can't make any kind of move, you don't want to be in slam.

You pass, ending the auction.

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

West leads the 3. Third and fifth leads. UDCA.

North
9874
A
A862
KQJ4
South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A5
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

Where do you win this trick, and what do you do next?

North
9874
A
A862
KQJ4
South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A5
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

Those clubs are a welcome source of tricks. Even if the king of spades is offside, you will be okay on a 3-2 spade split. All you will have to do is take a couple of small ruffs in one hand and that will get you to 2 spade winners on power, those 2 small ruffs, 1 heart, 2 diamonds, and 4 clubs, which comes to 11 tricks. You just have to make sure you can collect all these tricks.

At any rate, it has to be right to start with a spade finesse. If it wins, you should be home. If it loses and spades are 3-2, as discussed you will still have 11 tricks. You can't do anything if West has KJ10x of spades. The only complications will come when East has stiff 10 or jack. If that is the case, you might or might not be able to scramble home.

There is no reason not to win the first trick in dummy. There are plenty of dummy entries, so blocking the clubs isn't a problem. You want to be in dummy to take the finesse. In fact, on a 4-1 spade split it might be handy to have the ace of clubs in your hand as an entry for some heart ruffs.

You win the king of clubs. East plays the 6. At trick 2 you lead a small spade off dummy. East plays the king. Do you win or duck?

North
9874
A
A862
QJ4
South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

East might be playing the king from KJ or K10 doubleton, in which case you have 12 easy tricks. However, the contract is 5, not 6, so your goal is to take 11 tricks.

As discussed, if spades are 4-1 you will need to take a couple of ruffs in some hand. It can't be right to duck this trick. You would then have to play a high trump next, and if the spades are bad there would be danger that that West would be able to ruff in and lead a fatal third round of trumps.

You win the ace of spades. West plays the 3. What next?

North
987
A
A862
QJ4
South
Q62
Q10643
K7
A
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

It may appear natural to cash the queen of spades. However, there is danger lurking. Suppose the spades are 4-1. When you then go into crossruff mode, West may be able to ruff or overruff and draw the third round of trumps. That would leave you a trick short.

Your best play is to leave the trumps alone for now and take your clubs. Unblock the ace of clubs, cross to the ace of hearts, and run the clubs discarding hearts. If somebody ruffs one of the clubs you don't care. Even if the ruff is with by the short hand, you will be in good shape. There will be only 2 trumps outstanding. You can then afford to win the return, cash the queen of spades, and go about taking your ruffs which get you to 11 tricks.

If nobody ruffs the club, you still leave the trumps out there until you are ready. Diamond to king, and ruff a heart. Now you can lead a spade to the queen, ruff your last heart, and you will be cold.

You mistakenly cash the queen of spades. East discards the 10. What now?

North
98
A
A862
QJ4
South
62
Q10643
K7
A
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

Cashing the queen of spades was a clear error. You need to find the best way to recover. You need to get two ruffs in one of the hands without letting West get in to draw the third round of trumps. You also need to make sure you collect your club tricks.

Suppose you try to ruff 2 diamonds in your hand. Unblock ace of clubs. King of diamonds, diamond to ace, diamond ruff. If that lives, you could lead a heart to the ace and ruff the fourth round of diamonds. If West overruffs, you are cold. But if West discards, you may be in trouble. All you could do is ruff another heart and hope the third round of clubs lives. Thus, if you are taking the ruff diamonds approach you should try to cash the third round of clubs before ruffing the last diamond, since if that works you will get up to 11 tricks. If West overruffs the fourth round of diamonds dummy will be good. If not, you lead a heart up and score your 11th trick en passant.

Perhaps ruffing a couple of hearts in dummy is a better idea. Unblock the ace of hearts. Cross to the ace of clubs. Ruff a heart. Cross to the king of diamonds. Ruff a heart. Lead a high club. This will make if West has to follow to the third round of clubs, since your last heart goes on the fourth club. It also makes if West doesn't have the good king of hearts left even if West can ruff the third club, since your ace of diamonds will be the entry to the fourth club. That is clearly a better approach.

You wrongly choose to ruff 2 diamonds. You unblock the ace of clubs, king of diamonds, diamond to ace, and ruff a diamond. West overruffs, and draws your last trump. Dummy remains with a losing diamond, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
J1053
K52
J10
8732
North
9874
A
A862
KQJ4
East
K
J987
Q9543
1096
South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A5
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
K
6
5
1
1
0
4
K
A
3
3
2
0
Q
5
7
10
3
3
0
A
2
4
9
3
4
0
K
J
2
3
3
5
0
7
10
A
4
1
6
0
8
Q
6
10
0
6
1
J
8

How was the lead and defense?

West
J1053
K52
J10
8732
North
9874
A
A862
KQJ4
East
K
J987
Q9543
1096
South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A5
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
K
6
5
1
1
0
4
K
A
3
3
2
0
Q
5
7
10
3
3
0
A
2
4
9
3
4
0
K
J
2
3
3
5
0
7
10
A
4
1
6
0
8
Q
6
10
0
6
1
J
8

West doesn't have much to go on. It looks like a diamond lead is a bit safer, as a club lead could pick up partner's queen. It is hard to see how a diamond lead can cost.

East did well to discard a club on the second round of spades. If East discards his idle fifth diamond, that would be a tipoff that East started with 5 diamonds. This might have led declarer to the correct recovery.

West should have played the 7 or 8 on the second round of clubs. The information can't possibly matter to his partner. There is no reason to tell declarer anything more about the hand than necessary.

How was North's bidding?

West
J1053
K52
J10
8732
North
9874
A
A862
KQJ4
East
K
J987
Q9543
1096
South
AQ62
Q10643
K7
A5
W
N
E
S
1
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
K
6
5
1
1
0
4
K
A
3
3
2
0
Q
5
7
10
3
3
0
A
2
4
9
3
4
0
K
J
2
3
3
5
0
7
10
A
4
1
6
0
8
Q
6
10
0
6
1
J
8

North's 4 call was systemic. His 5 call is dubious. Granted North has weak trumps, but that might not be what the hand is about. North has nice primes, and he also has what might be a vital source of tricks. Even though North's point count is relatively minimal, his hand is definitely better than the worst hand he might hold for the 4 call. Clearly North can't commit to slam, but he should do something more than make the weakest bid possible. Any other 5-level call would show some slam interest, which is what North has. Probably 5 is best, since that is where South's minor honors will be of value. Of course if North bids 5, South will at most make a Last Train 5 call with his minimal hand, and North can sign off over that. But make South's hand a bit stronger, say the king of spades instead of the queen. Now slam just depends on a 3-2 spade split, and South will probably bid slam over a 5 call but not over a 5 signoff.

At the other table, South opened 1 and then rebid 2 over 2. North raised, and after a few cue-bids they wrongly judged to bid slam. Here declarer had to assume spades were 3-2 so he also played a second round of spades, the proper play in 6. After that he also wrongly chose to go for diamond ruffs, and wound up down 2.

This is an instructive hand. It shows the importance of counting winners in a trump contract. Had declarer done so properly, he would have seen that not playing the second round of trumps was virtually a 100% line. The hand also illustrates the importance of getting back into focus when something goes wrong. When South found out about the 4-1 spade split, he knew he was in trouble. Had South buckled down and worked things out properly, he would have found the best recovery and collected the big IMP swing which was won in the bidding.

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