The 36 deals in this collection were played September 22, 1988 in the second annual Instant Matchpoint Pairs, a continent-wide event conducted by the American Contract Bridge League, and sponsored by Royal Viking Cruise Lines. The analyses were written by Richard Pavlicek and originally published in a souvenir booklet given to each participant after the game.
Regardless of whether you played in this event, these analyses provide instructive reading with many tips on bidding and play. To benefit even further, prepare these deals in duplicate boards (or have someone else do it) and play them. Determine your matchpoint scores from the tables (top is 100) then compare your bidding and play with my write-up. Double-dummy par scores are shown in bold.
After two passes South has a choice of openings: 1 is the normal call, intending to rebid 1 NT after a major-suit response; 1 is desirable as a lead director; and a few may shade a point and open 1 NT (15-17) as a tactical move. None of these choices, however, will quiet West. A common sequence will be:
Norths 2 bid is unsightly (a competitive double is better if available), but some action is necessary to avoid a poor score. Three hearts is routinely down one.
Two spades can be made with careful timing, as clubs can be develop for a diamond discard.
Three clubs might be made. After a heart lead and the 9 switch, declarer can succeed by winning the A; K; A; K; club, and West is endplayed
but this is tainted by hindsight. With less inspired play, declarer cannot escape the loss of two diamond tricks, provided East leads diamonds when in with the A and Q.
West has a similar opening-bid problem to Souths on the previous deal: how to bid with four diamonds, five clubs and insufficient strength for a reverse. I prefer to open 1 unless the high cards are extremely lopsided, such as A-K-Q-x Q-x-x-x-x. The occasional rebid problem is minimized if one takes a practical view for example, I would rebid 2 after a 1 response, but raise a 1 response to 2 .
As usual, the bidding never goes as expected:
West will be tempted to compete (3 is a reasonable gamble), but he does better to pass and get a plus score. Double is also plausible if competitive, though a penalty double might win the man-of-the-year award.
East-West can win only nine tricks in clubs, as long as North leads a spade at some point (else South can be endplayed for a 10th trick).
After a 1 opening by West in second seat, point-count fanatics may consider the East hand too strong for 2 ; but secondary honors (queens and jacks) are overvalued for suit play, so the single raise is adequate. West should make a game try with 3 , and East should raise to 4 to give West a choice of contracts.
Four hearts is a tenuous contract with the 4-1 trump break. After a likely club lead to the jack and ace, declarer should start spades low to the queen being the normal play. If South wins the ace, he should shift to a trump; else declarer can pursue a successful crossruff. Better yet is for South to duck the Q (and the next round too), which virtually assures that North will score the jack. Perfect defense should prevail unless declarer guesses spades.
Four spades plays more easily, but might be defeated if declarer suffers a heart ruff and misguesses trumps.
East-West can make 5 , their eight-card fit, but not 5 , their nine-card fit, because of the lurking diamond ruff. Could the computer be trying to tell us something? In any case, those who reach diamonds instead of clubs can attribute their success only to blind luck.
After 1 by West, most North players will overcall 1 , and East will often bid 2 though a negative double to show both minors is preferable. South should leap to 4 as a preemptive measure it might make on a lucky day and this puts West on the spot. I would pass (forcing) if East had bid 2 , after which East has a close decision whether to bid 5 or double. After a negative double, however, I would bid 5 with the West hand. (Im glad I didnt get to play this deal.)
East-West pairs who double 4 will collect 200 for a good score, thanks to the elusiveness of 5 .
Norths hand should qualify as a weak two-bid, even for the strictest disciplinarian, and South must judge the chances for game. This is best done by picturing some possible maximums:
A. x A-Q-x-x-x-x x-x-x A-x-x
B. x-x A-Q-x-x-x-x x-x-x A-x
C. x A-Q-x-x-x-x A-x-x x-x-x
D. x-x A-Q-x-x-x-x A-x-x x-x
Game is excellent opposite Hand A; good opposite B or C; and fair opposite D. This suggests that the two most important assets are a singleton spade and the A.
A few South players may have methods to locate a singleton, but most will bid 2 NT to ask for a feature. North should rebid 3 (most consider Q-J-x a feature), and South should be content with 3 .
Four hearts, of course, has no play unless East-West find the inspired defense (make that perspired defense) of king and another spade, followed by a third spade to send their A to bed.
Attention! All East players who opened 1 or 2 , please return to your cages.
South will normally open the bidding, and the vulnerability should quiet West. Those who play 1 NT forcing will usually start this way:
North must then decide whether to bid conservatively with 2 or aggressively with 2 NT; over the latter South may rebid his anemic suit, ending in game. Traditional bidders who respond 2 as North are also likely to reach game.
Ten tricks can be won in spades by conceding two trump tricks declarer must resist trying for a heart ruff then ducking a diamond to establish the suit, unless West leads a diamond from the go. Continued diamond leads prevent declarer, lacking a side entry to dummy, from using that suit; after which perfect defense holds him to nine tricks.
An off-shape weak two-bid by South would make things difficult, but most will pass and allow East-West a free run for their laydown slam. Using the strong, artificial 2 opening, I like this auction:
Easts raise to 4 shows useful values (typically 5-7 points), since otherwise he would bid 3 as a second negative. Those who use splinter bids might instead jump to 4 over 3 . Wests final bid of 6 appears chancy, but it is based on sound matchpoint strategy. You wont win any ribbons playing five of a minor when 3 NT is likely to make, so the gamble has much more to gain than to lose.
Those who play 3 NT with a diamond lead have 10 top tricks and can win 11 if they guess to take the heart finesse. A few may be set if they try the spade finesse early on.
Some East players may make a frisky weak 2 bid in third seat dont laugh; these bids are often effective and difficult to penalize but most will pass and hear this auction:
Against 3 NT East will usually lead the K, and declarer must duck the first round else West can unblock the jack to enable the suit to run. The problem is to develop the club suit without letting East gain the lead. As the cards lie, declarer cannot go wrong, but the best play is to lead toward the A (duck only if West plays the queen) then lead toward the king. If East plays the lowest outstanding club, duck; otherwise, win the king and clear the suit. This succeeds if East has Q-8-2, J-8-2, 10-8-2 or any doubleton.
After running the clubs, declarer can win a 10th trick if he diagnoses the end position. West can be endplayed in spades to lead into dummys heart tenace.
After South opens 1 in third seat, West must decide how to describe his powerhouse. One possibility:
East should resist the impulse to pass 1 doubled (likely down four for 800) as his trumps seem slightly inadequate. With Q-J-10-9-7 Id go for it.
West needs little besides the trump fit for slam, so the final stab is justified, though it may have been wiser to offer a choice with 6 in case East has something like x-x-x K-x-x J-x-x-x x-x-x.
Those who use the Michaels cue-bid may employ that gadget and reach 6 from the East side, but that is of little consequence. One trump trick must be lost, and only the most egregious line of play would fail to bring home 12 tricks.
After two passes West should open 2 . I know, the suit is disgusting, but the 6-4 shape and the strategic advantage of a third-seat preempt compensate. If you pass with hands like this, your opponents will have few problems.
Speaking of problems: How do you get to 5 (or 6 for all the marbles) after 2 ? It is unattractive to double with a singleton spade; but with so many points, that seems the best start. South will bid spades (assuming East passed) and there you are. Dont tell me youd bid clubs; I know you would bid 3 NT.
Three notrump can be made after a heart lead: seven, jack, king, ace; but it requires double-dummy play. On the run of the clubs, East must discard three spades (if he throws two spades and a diamond, declarer concedes a diamond) then a spade is led. West wins and returns a heart; but declarer refuses the finesse and exits with a heart to Bath-coup East in diamonds. Yeah, sure.
Five clubs is easy and 6 is makable by taking the heart finesse (note the 9 entry) to shed a diamond; then declarer establishes the last diamond.
You dont see many minor-suit partscore contests, but this is likely to be one. A probable auction:
South perhaps is walking on thin ice, but who wants to sell out for 2 ? East-West hold the clear majority of points, but they have no better contract than a diamond partscore.
The success of 3 hinges entirely on the play of the heart suit. If declarer plays the suit early, he can be defeated, but it should be routine to eliminate the black suits first. Then the J is passed to North, who is endplayed (South cannot gain by covering) even so, declarer could go wrong if he plays North for K-Q instead of K-9.
In notrump East-West can win only seven tricks, but some will steal eight when North-South fail to lead hearts before the A is dislodged.
After 1 by West, Michaels cue-bidders will have a field day with this one. North will cue-bid 2 to show both majors, then insist on game after eliciting a heart preference from South.
Standard bidders have a harder time. It is reasonable to overcall 1 or 1 , double, or cue-bid 2 ; but each of these actions has drawbacks. Lacking Michaels, my choice is to cue-bid anyway and hope for the best.
After a diamond (or trump) lead, declarer can win 12 tricks in hearts by using the Q entry to take one spade finesse; but this requires the K doubleton. Alternatively, and probably better at matchpoints, is to enter the South hand with a third heart (did you remember to unblock?) to repeat the spade finesse. This is the best play for 11 tricks.
East-West have a great sacrifice in 5 . With a correct club guess declarer is down one if North cashes out; down two if North underleads in hearts. But if North cashes two hearts and leads a club
Most East-West pairs will begin with this sequence:
Easts next call normally would be 3 NT, but the lead-directing double makes this undesirable. Better is 3 to show a stopper, after which West can bid 3 NT to protect his club holding.
North has no attractive lead against 3 NT. After a club lead, declarer wins and finesses the Q; club through and North clears the suit; A; A-K, and when the queen drops, declarer has nine tricks unless he gets greedy and takes the spade finesse.
After the Q lead, declarer should finesse the J, win the heart return with the jack, finesse the J, and North can win only two clubs tricks before declarer takes nine.
Easts who declare 3 NT should fail unless they make a double-dummy play in spades or diamonds hold your cards back!
Heres a cute one. Each side can win 11 tricks, yet only West has extreme distribution. How many diamonds did you bid as West in third seat?
Opening 5 is a standout not just resultwise, but based on the exceptional playing strength and shortness in the majors after which North will double (optional as most experts play). Souths hand seems too balanced to remove the double, so West is headed for an excellent score, unless he misguesses clubs.
If West opens anything less than 5 , North-South will surely bid to 4 or 4 ; then if West bids further, they will be more likely to compete to the five level.
The play in spades is routine for 11 tricks, irrespective of the lead, but in hearts, declarer is in danger of a spade ruff. This ruff is unlikely to be found, so West does best to bid one more for the road.
East-West can make a grand slam in hearts, but this should elude all but a few after a highly competitive auction. Heres one possibility:
North-South are slowed by the vulnerability, but some pairs will take the sacrifice in 6 or 7 , either of which is profitable. But this may tempt East to bid 7 , after which North-South must bid 7 to salvage any kind of score.
In spades it appears that declarer will lose just two trumps and a diamond, but the defense can do better: Lead a heart to tap South, then if declarer leads: (1) the K, duck; (2) low to the Q, win and continue hearts; (3) a diamond, continue diamonds to tap North; (4) a club, dont ruff. After any of these starts, proper defense can win at least four tricks.
Most East-West pairs will duplicate this auction:
But some West players may forgo Stayman and raise immediately to 2 NT or 3 NT, which is not a bad idea with scattered, aceless values.
Four hearts is makable against any defense, but the play is tenuous and many will fail. Assume South starts a low diamond to the 10, ace; and North returns the suit. It is premature to draw trumps, so I would lead a spade to the king; South wins and probably returns a spade the old scare tactic. Anyway, declarer doesnt need the finesse, so Q; heart to the ace; Q; spade ruff; A; K; club ruff with the 9 (dont send a boy). South can overruff, but declarer wins the rest with routine play.
The key to success was not leading a second round of trumps after the ominous 10 appeared.
Most North-South pairs will begin:
Whether Souths hand is worth a raise to 2 NT is moot. If North could have 15 HCP, the raise is correct; but if his maximum is 14 (as it would be if playing 15-17 notrumps), I favor the pass. In any event, it is right to pass this time.
East has no outstanding lead; in fact, any of the four suits might be chosen. The Q turns out to be the killer; a low spade is about neutral; a low club helps declarer; and a diamond
well, the manure pile.
After the Q lead, declarer does well to win seven tricks. Hold up to discover the heart lie; test diamonds (oops); knock out the A; then guess clubs correctly the odds favor East to have the A if West passed with K-J-8-x-x in hearts. Declarer has an easier time with other leads and could win as many as 10 tricks with misdefense.
Some West players, persuaded no doubt by the vulnerability, will open 1 in third seat. North will double, then a raise to 2 puts South on the spot. I would overbid slightly with 2 NT (its hard to ignore three stoppers) and North probably would bid 3 NT a little high, but with chances.
If West passes originally, North will open 1 and South will respond 1 NT, which should go undisturbed.
Well, lets see if West was smart to open. Can 3 NT be made? Assuming a heart lead (dont tell me you wouldnt), declarer can develop nine tricks by leading a spade to the jack; A; Q (ducked); diamond. Win the heart return, cash the last diamond and the last heart (else you can be locked out of it), then lead a spade.
The preceding works nicely but has a double-dummy tinge. It is also reasonable arguably better to run the J at trick two, after which communication issues prevent declarer from succeeding.
Some South players may open 1 , but most will opt for 2 (strong and artificial). I like this auction:
Hands with 5-4-2-2 shape are best treated as balanced when both doubletons include stoppers; hence, the 2 NT rebid. North offers a choice between 3 NT and 4 , and South prefers notrump.
After the obvious club lead, declarer has 11 easy tricks and is well advised to take them for an above-average score.
Did you notice how diabolical a diamond would be? If declarer wins in hand (saving the J as an entry) and unblocks hearts, he can be defeated East wins the first spade and leads a club through to establish Wests suit before declarer can win nine tricks. Ten tricks can be made by running the diamonds first, unblocking hearts, then leading either black suit.
Point-count zealots may pass the West hand, but three quick tricks, a five-card suit and a couple of tens should persuade most to open. A probable one-sided auction:
Or if South, disguised as Clark Kent, interjects a 1 overcall, West will pass, North will raise, and East should take a stab at the same game.
Four hearts is a sound contract, basically requiring the A onside, but it is destined to go down, unless South inexplicably leads a diamond. The defenders can end it quickly with a spade lead and a diamond shift, but most will start passively with a club or a trump. Nevertheless, analysis shows that 4 can always be defeated even with double-dummy play but North has some painful discards to make if declarer runs trumps.
A few desperadoes may open the North hand with 2 causing the late, great Howard Schenken to turn in his grave but lets get back to bridge. Most East-West pairs will duplicate this auction:
A few Easts may raise spades directly with A-K-x, ready with the I owe you a spade line when they lay down the dummy.
Four spades is routinely down one if North leads the A, then shifts to a diamond so South can win the K and give North a ruff. Any other defense, of course, gives declarer a cakewalk.
How do you reach the laydown 3 NT? I see no logical sequence unless
Yes, of course! If North opens 2 , it might go 3 , pass, 3 NT 10 tricks with a heart lead. And who said theres no justice in this game?
Using negative doubles, the bidding should begin:
North might compete to 3 nonvulnerable to some means invulnerable but East will raise to 3 , which should become the final contract.
Against 3 North will cash two clubs; then he should shift to a trump, else declarer can make 10 tricks with a well-timed crossruff. Even so, declarer has a clever counter: Win the J; A; ruff a heart, and lead the 10 to pitch a spade (South cannot gain by ruffing) North then has no trump to return, so the crossruff is back in town.
Can 3 be held to nine tricks? Yes, but even one round of clubs is too many. It takes an opening trump lead; then South can gain the lead in spades to lead a second trump before declarer can execute the avoidance maneuver in clubs.
Some Wests will open 2 poor tactics holding seven major-suit cards. Failing that, a few Norths will open a third-seat 1 not bad if thats your style. But most East-West pairs will replicate this auction:
Against 3 NT South does best to lead a spade, after which declarer may be held to nine tricks. Ten tricks can be won by leading a heart from dummy (after holding up in spades and before cashing clubs); but this risks going down if South holds the ace. Note that declarer should put up the king, as the only chance to gain is that North has the ace.
If South leads a club originally, 11 tricks are routine.
Those who play 5 will make it on the nose for the expected below-average score though it beats those who play 6 , or any other number of diamonds.
In second seat some Norths will open a sickly weak two-bid weve all done worse things but three passes to South is the norm. I like this auction:
The best contract (considering North-South only) is 5 , which requires little more than a 3-2 trump break; but its a tough commitment at matchpoints witness Board 23. In the long run it pays to play 3 NT if theres a reasonable chance; you may be set more often, but the rewards are worth it.
After a spade lead, declarer cannot succeed by finessing and running clubs; the only chance is to find the Q doubleton or singleton. Win the A and lead the J (bait) to your ace. If East covers, you can win 12 tricks; otherwise you must settle for 10. (Note the 8 entry.) Bridge is such an easy game when youre lucky.
Many tables will begin with this sequence:
East has an awkward rebid after the negative double. I would bid 2 , willing to play a 4-3 fit, rather than venture to the three level in clubs or (worse yet) rebid 2 and be left in a 5-1 fit. This may lead to 4 instead of the normal 4 , but either game should come home as the cards lie.
In 4 declarer ruffs the second diamond; A; J; 10 to king; diamond ruff; A; Q; A; J. If North covers you make an overtrick, but I wouldnt risk the finesse: K; club ruff, and that makes 10 tricks.
In 4 declarer can succeed in a number of ways. Simplest is to ruff the second diamond and run the 10 to North, who had better return a trump else declarer can win 11 tricks, and 99 percent of the matchpoints.
Assuming East passes his 12-point hand, standard North-South bidders will begin:
South has an attractive hand sound values, good controls so it is reasonable to continue. Three notrump would be poor judgment, not because of the singleton heart but because of the likelihood North has a singleton spade. Where will the tricks come from? I like 4 , after which North should appreciate the location of his high cards and cue-bid 4 ; then 5 ends the bidding.
The play in diamonds should net 11 tricks. Declarer can capitalize on the lucky spade lie (only chance after a trump lead) or try this route: A; A; spade ruff; heart ruff; spade ruff; heart ruff; spade ruff. If East overruffs and returns a trump, declarer draws trumps; otherwise, he takes his clubs and ruffs the last spade.
South will not appreciate being outbid with his strong hand, but he can be punished if he competes to the three level. Here is one possibility:
Some Souths will escape the double, but none will escape the loss of four trump tricks and two aces. Wests enterprising action nets 300 for a good score.
The play in spades is routine for eight tricks, but declarer can win nine with accurate play after a heart lead: Win the A and start clubs, low to the seven; win the spade return; heart ruff (do not cash the K); J, covered, ruff; heart ruff; 10, covered, ruff; then exit with a spade. South now must shift to a diamond, else declarer makes an incredible 10 tricks and an unlisted score of 170.
West has an acceptable nonvulnerable weak two-bid, over which North may bid 2 or 2 NT. East usually will bid 3 , although it would be clever to double 2 NT (or simply pass and collect 400). Even if North-South escape to 3 , they can be doubled and set two tricks with a diamond lead.
If West passes originally, North has a similar problem in what to open. This auction should be common:
If North instead opens 1 NT (my choice), a lot will depend on the East-West methods, but most will reach the same contract.
The play in clubs is clear-cut for 10 tricks. Declarer lacks the entries to establish and use the diamonds, so theres no way to avoid a heart loser, unless South comes to the rescue with a careless discard.
The fireworks should begin:
The expert call by East is 4 NT to show both minors, obviously with longer clubs. (4 NT could not logically be Blackwood or natural.) This elicits 5 from West, which North will double.
Five diamonds is untouchable despite the 5-0 trump break. Regardless of the lead, declarer can win the K to get the bad news, cash the A and three top clubs, then ruff a club low. The rest is a merry crossruff, while North is helpless.
Five clubs can be beaten outright with a spade lead and diamond ruff, but should be made after a heart lead with routine play. Win two top clubs; J; heart ruff; all the diamonds; heart ruff, and exit with a spade
Some South players will push to 5 , which has no chance after continued club leads. After a diamond lead it makes, as long as declarer leads the first heart from dummy.
The computer seems to have a fetish for weak two-bids (both real and provocative) on this set of deals. I suppose a prude could find argument with the East hand some disapprove of three cards in the other major but if you dont bid with this hand, you may as well glue a pass sign on your forehead.
After 2 by East, most Souths will climb in with 2 not a thing of beauty, but who likes to be shut out and North will end the bidding with 3 NT.
Declarer has eight sure tricks in notrump with the favorable minor-suit position, and routine play should develop nine. After the K lead, win the ace and run the 9 to Wests queen. Win the club return in dummy (hopefully without wasting the jack), then pound away with spades. East-West can win only three spades and a heart and if East fails to cash the Q, you wind up with an overtrick.
North should declare 4 after a routine auction:
Even if South deems his hand worth only 3 , North should carry on to game with his excellent club fit.
In spades, declarer will win nine, 10 or 11 tricks. After a heart lead (most annoying), the first order of business is to avoid a heart loser, so lead the K to Wests ace. Win the heart return, take your discard, and run the Q. At this point there is no standout play, mainly because it is awkward to establish clubs by the normal percentage play (two finesses through East).
The winning line is to draw trumps ending in hand and run the 10 (or any high club) 11 tricks. Another possibility is to lead a low club from dummy, which nets 10 tricks, assuming declarer takes the club finesse later. If declarer goes wrong in clubs (ace and another), he can be defeated whether he draws trumps or not.
Many East-West pairs will bid to the reasonable spade slam. Heres a good auction:
The raise to 5 asks for control in the unbid suit, which East carefully arranged with his 3 bid. Lacking club control, West would pass 5 .
To finesse or not to finesse; that is the question. The normal play with 11 cards is to try to drop the king odds are 52:48 so with no other clue, declarer should go down. Of course, it costs nothing to lead the Q from dummy, as some Souths will foolishly cover.
The logic for a spade finesse might arise if an active North player, savoring the vulnerability, makes a weak jump overcall of 3 . I wont admit it in writing, but
Many North-South pairs will reach 3 NT after a competitive auction such as:
Souths 3 cue-bid is aggressive perhaps, but well within reason. Aside from chances for 3 NT, North may have a hand like x-x-x Q-x-x Q-x-x-x-x-x x, which offers an excellent play for 5 .
In 3 NT declarer should win the K when offered (holding up would be an error) and take the first-round club finesse. Why not? It works, doesnt it? Seriously, of course, declarer should play clubs from the top, after which he must fail (accurate defense nets down three). Unfortunately for North-South, this is another deal of the successful-operation, dead-patient genre.
After 1 by East and 1 by South, West will be torn between bidding notrump and raising diamonds. Much depends on system. West has the values to reach game; so if 2 NT or 3 would be a limit bid (nonforcing), he must commit himself with 3 NT or temporize with 2 . I vote for 3 NT.
In any event, 3 NT by West will be a popular contract. After the Q lead to the king, declarer has only eight tricks, so the club suit must be broached at some stage. A losing finesse into North would be disastrous (spade through); but a losing finesse into South would be OK as long as South has the A, which is likely on the bidding. Therefore, declarer should guess clubs.
Accurate play brings home 11 tricks: Win no more than three top diamonds, then lead a club to the king and back for the finesse; finish the diamonds (discarding a heart); finish the clubs, and exit with a heart. South must give you another trick with the K or the J.
Some Souths will open 1 , which is reasonable at the vulnerability, but most will pass. Heres one scenario:
West would do well to double the frisky 3 bid probably down two but the possibility of getting only 100 is unappealing. Further, there is some chance of a vulnerable game.
Can East-West make a game? Three notrump has no chance with a club lead. Five diamonds looks makable, but the lack of communication will haunt declarer. Even at double-dummy: A; A-Q; Q (South ducks); heart to nine, king; club ruff, and declarer can win only 10 tricks.
You want a game? OK, 4 can be made: A; heart to nine, king; club ruff ( Q); heart to jack; spade to king; diamond to king; spade to ace. Declarer discards on the club return, then he can win the rest.
East should open 1 (good tactics) in third seat, after which everyone will partake. I like this auction:
The key bid is Norths raise to 3 , which falls under the heading: Believe your partner, not the opponents.
If East passes in third seat, South will open, and the same contract should be reached with East-West silent: 1 1 NT; 3 4 . Here the key decision is made by South, whose primary values suggest the borderline jump rebid.
Four spades should make easily, and some will score an overtrick when East-West fail to cash their red tricks. But I once saw a guy go down on this swindle: K to ace; club to ace; J, low, low, nine; spade to 10
© 1988 Richard Pavlicek