The 36 deals in this collection were played September 19, 1996 in the 10th annual Instant Matchpoint Pairs, a continent-wide event conducted by the American Contract Bridge League. 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.
July 15, 1996
Whether you won or lost, I hope you enjoyed playing in this ACBL-wide event. Try to find time to read my analyses in this souvenir booklet, and have your convention card handy to compare your results. You might gain a few tips from your bad results, or perhaps even show me up with some spectacular tops.
Like last year, I did a statistical analysis of the 36 deals showing the average HCP and hand freakness for each player. (See the box after Deal 32.) This year South had the best in the way of high cards (10.53 average HCP) and West had the best in the way of shape (3.06 average freakness). I also calculated the 10-year statistics since I began doing these analyses, and the results appear very well behaved at least there is no reason to complain about computer deals. (See the box after Deal 34.)
You will also find a few items of bridge humor and some bridge-trivia puzzles in the boxes at the bottom of each page. Have fun!
I welcome any feedback questions, criticisms, or whatever about the analyses. If you wish a reply, please contact me by e-mail (see address above). Also, if you have access to the Internet, check out my Worldwide Web site (see URL above) which has a variety of complimentary bridge material.
After two passes many Souths will open 1 , though a weak two-bid is more likely to create problems, as in this scenario:
West was aggressive to overcall opposite a passed hand, although I see no obvious criticism for East-West missing their heart fit. Had West chose to make a takeout double instead, it would have worked this time, but a club response could have been disastrous.
There is virtually no play for 3 NT with 20 HCP this shouldnt be a great surprise and the likely result is down two.
In hearts, East-West can win 10 tricks with proper timing (set up diamonds and finesse North in trumps).
If South is allowed to play in 2 , he can make it by guessing hearts and taking the double spade finesse. The latter would surely be indicated if East leads a fourth club (dubious defense) and declarer discovers that West is unable to overruff.
An excellent 7 NT, but most will miss it, including this writer. I like to think I would reach 7 , but even this has a stumbling block:
The 2 raise is inverted (10+, forcing) and 2 shows a stopper. Assume 4 NT is Roman key-card Blackwood, then 5 shows two key cards without the club queen. Fearing a club loser, West probably should bid 6 NT.
Perhaps East should consider his five clubs to be extra length and respond as if he held the queen. West should then bid 5 NT and, when East admits to both major kings, 13 tricks in notrump are a big favorite.
There is nothing to the play, which makes me wonder about the surprising number of past 990 results. Could these be 2 NT doubled, making seven? Possible, but ridiculous. I guess they miscounted (or never counted) their tricks in 6 NT and gave up a diamond.
Most standard bidders will have a simple auction:
A case can be made for North to explore for a minor-suit contract, e.g., with minor-suit Stayman or other systemic gadgets. But this will be a waste of time, since Souths stoppers in the majors make 3 NT the obvious resting place.
Weak notrumpers will open the South hand one of a suit (any suit is possible according to methods), but the contract will inevitably be the same.
West has an awkward choice of leads. Between the black suits, I have a slight preference for the J (or 10 if conventional) but neither really matters. Declarer has 11 routine tricks. The only chance to win 12 might be if West fails to cover the Q-10; then declarer can bring about a squeeze throw-in. Realistically, though, this will be one of the flattest boards.
Question: Besides the J-10, what are the two other cards West can lead that prevent South from winning 12 tricks? Think about it. (Answer after Board 22.)
The best contract is obvious in view of the East-West hands, but the road is bumpy. A reasonable auction:
Easts 2 bid is fourth suit forcing which, as I play, promises game-invitational or better strength. (Those who play the fourth suit as game forcing may bid 2 NT instead.) West then describes his 6-4 pattern with 3 (forcing in my methods) and East settles for an uncomfortable 3 NT.
Good partners always lay down at least K-J-x when you have a doubtful stopper, so 3 NT is comfortable after all. With the likely spade lead, 10 tricks are routine as long as declarer is careful with his entries and starts diamonds correctly (low to the jack). There is no way to win more; even without a heart shift by North, declarer cannot squeeze an 11th trick.
An original club lead makes the play tougher (declarer must hop with the ace to win 10 tricks legitimately), but this is unlikely. Those held to nine tricks or less probably have only themselves to blame.
The body cards in the South hand would influence me to upgrade it to 15 HCP and open with a strong notrump (15-17). Short and simple:
West will start the K which causes declarer no grief did I say something about body cards? Assume South wins the A and returns a sneaky 5. If West ducks this, declarer will get his second spade trick early. Then it is possible to win eight tricks by crossing in diamonds to lead the J, and later leading toward the K.
Declarer can be held to seven tricks if West wins the second spade, although a heart shift is necessary if West cashes a third spade. This gives the defense two spades, three hearts and a club before declarer can win a second club trick.
If South opens one of a suit, North may declare 1 NT. This receives no help from the lead (other than a club), and declarer is likely to fail if he tries in vain to develop a spade trick. Declarer can always win seven tricks if he guesses to work on clubs, leading the jack.
Standard bidders should conduct a routine Stayman auction:
I suppose some pairs will overbid to game, but making even 2 NT here is a challenge. If South leads a heart, declarers task will be easier. Proper technique is to win the J and lead a club to the king, ace. North could create problems with a shrewd diamond shift, but few will find this. Declarer will usually win two spades, three hearts, two diamonds and a club to make 2 NT.
I prefer a spade lead as South, after which declarer is unlikely to guess the hearts and go down. A common practice when leading a worthless suit is to lead second highest ( 6) to help partner gauge the situation.
Many declarers will diminish their own chances by leading diamonds early. This is poor for several reasons: There is no sure entry to reach the good diamonds, and the diamond suit itself provides vital communication. As I pointed out above, it is the defense that should be leading diamonds.
Some might deem the West hand a weak two-bid, but surely it is too good. This auction should be repeated at many tables:
The value of the West hand is even greater emphasized when declarer is able to win 11 tricks. I suppose a few pairs will have the right stuff to discover the perfect fit and bid this game; but more likely, they will be blind overbidders.
The only play problem is the club suit, and declarer should get it right based on his communication needs. The K entry is used for the first heart finesse; then declarer should lead a club to the jack going the other way (club to ace) forces declarer to give up on the club finesse. Also note the first-round finesse to minimize the danger of a ruff (e.g., if South held Q-x-x).
A few North-South pairs may compete in diamonds. Result merchants will show that 3 down one is an excellent spot (undoubled), but the downside is that it may help East-West realize their potential in hearts.
A variety of options makes it difficult to predict the bidding. Heres one possibility:
Most of the calls are debatable: West might upgrade his quality 14 points to open 1 NT (15-17); North might bid 1 or pass; East might pass in lieu of a light double to show 4+ spades; and West might rebid 2 NT. Further, South might bid on some auctions. Nonetheless, 2 should be a popular contract, however reached.
Against 2 North should lead a club, and South should duck dummys king. It seems right to start with two top diamonds to throw a club, ruff a diamond, then lead the J, which South should not cover. Assuming declarer ducks this to the ace, he can win eight tricks. It appears he might win nine, but the defenders can always generate two trump tricks in the end position.
Those who play 2 from the East side will likely win nine tricks after the friendly Q lead. If North shifts to a club and the king is ducked, declarer can lead two hearts to put the defenders at bay.
After Easts 1 opening, virtually all South players will bid some number of hearts. With North a passed hand, I prefer a weak jump overcall:
West will start to lick his chops over 3 , but the sensible course is just to raise spades. First, partner might be strong enough to bid and make a vulnerable game; and second, a double would be negative as most people play.
After a heart lead, East can easily win nine tricks in spades; in fact, a few might steal 10 by finessing the heart if North-South later fail to cash their clubs. Ah, but my armchair opening lead is the K. Down one!
In hearts South can win only seven tricks. There is no way to avoid the four obvious trump losers as well as two diamonds.
This deal surely belongs to East-West, right? Wrong! Playing in diamonds, North-South can win an amazing 10 tricks against any defense. Would you get there? Is the North hand worth bidding at any point? Hopefully, your answer on both counts is no.
All East-West have to do is sit quietly, and North will be endplayed in the bidding:
Not a happy contract. As clubs are run, declarer has various discarding options, but nothing really helps. The defense should get three more tricks to put declarer down two. North is probably wondering why he didnt just pass the hand out.
Some Wests may ruin their good fortune with a light 1 opening in third seat. North will double, and East will either redouble or make a systemic bid to show a limit club raise. This will keep North out of notrump; and if he doubles again (dubious over 3 ), South may end up in 3 , where he can escape for down one with careful play. (Three diamonds is also down one.)
In clubs, three rounds of diamonds (best) holds West to eight tricks. If North leads one top diamond then the K to the ace, nine tricks can be made by leading four rounds of clubs and gauging the ending right. Of course, East-West do better to play in notrump, where they are likely to win the same eight tricks as on defense.
My reference to body cards on Board 5 is dwarfed in comparison to Souths hand here. No card below a nine! A standard auction is likely to be:
Norths 2 response is only a one-round force, and the 2 preference is nonforcing. (Most advocates of two-over-one game forcing make this adjustment in competition.) South then can forget about slam and jump directly to the obvious game.
The play is straightforward for 10 tricks. The only chance for 11 might be if West leads the J. Declarer might try the con job of winning the ace and leading a low diamond right back, hoping to catch East off guard. Of course, declarer might be conned himself if West had made a tricky lead from K-J. Ouch.
Some greedy Souths may instead try 3 NT. It is nice to see the notrump hogs pay once in a while, as with a club lead this is routinely down two maybe three if declarer tries the diamond finesse.
Is the West hand worth an opening bid? According to Roth it isnt even close, but I expect many will open, especially at the vulnerability. I know I would.
This is an aggressive auction to a tenuous contract, but accurate play can bring it home. Assume North leads the Q, ducked, then a trump won by the king. The Q is led, covered by the king-ace, then a second trump is won by the ace. Next comes the A; diamond ruff; club to the jack, ace. It makes no difference if or when North ruffs; declarer can establish diamonds with another ruff and lead toward the 10 to make the West hand high. Only two clubs and a trump are lost.
The winning play has two key elements: (1) ducking the first trick and (2) winning two trumps before ruffing a diamond. One of these will surely be missed at most tables, which accounts for the popular result of down one. Another danger is that a clever South might not split his K-J, causing declarer to shun the finesse for fear of it losing and having a third trump led.
Most North-South pairs should diagnose the excellent fit and reach 4 . Heres a probable auction:
Four spades will easily produce 10 tricks, so the goal is to win 11. After a club lead to the ace, West must shift to a diamond, won by the ace. A club is ruffed, then a low heart is won by Wests king. A second diamond now removes dummys entry, making it impossible to ruff the last club and enjoy the fifth heart 10 tricks.
But wait! There is a counter maneuver. After winning the K, lead a spade to hand and ruff the last club high. Return to hand with a trump and lead all the trumps to squeeze East. Cute, but this is an inferior line, as it gives up on the better chance of 2-2 trumps or 3-3 hearts.
Note that without the diamond leads, declarer is able to win 11 tricks with routine technique, since the K will provide an entry to the established heart.
East-West appear to have a good sacrifice in 5 , but actually not. After the K and another spade, accurate defense can achieve a trump promotion for 800.
Most roads lead to 4 , and this one should have a lot of traffic:
Like the previous deal, this is a battle for the overtrick. An original spade lead and accurate defense will seal declarers fate at 10 tricks. Note that there is no way to bring about an endplay to force the opponents to break the club suit.
But what if South leads the K? Now declarer has the time to establish a spade discard if he plays clubs correctly: Low to the nine, then low to the 10. Of course, this involves an additional risk if South shifts to spade; but I would go for it, especially in this event.
I remember a similar situation that a student asked me about recently. When she explained how she had played safe for her contract, I added that a lesser player would have gone down
but I left out the part, so would an expert. Matchpoints is a crazy game; rather than a test of pure bridge ability, it is often a contest to see who is the biggest crook.
This exciting deal is likely to produce many doubled contracts. Heres one scenario:
The North-South bidding allows East to picture his partners singleton spade, so the push to 5 is routine. Those who instead overcall 1 are likely to encounter a similar situation after partner raises hearts.
West may have a nervous breakdown waiting for the dummy to hit, but he will soon be thankful. My, what nice trumps you have! Five hearts rolls home, most directly by ruffing three spades in the West hand. Only a heart and a diamond need be lost.
If allowed to play 4 (often doubled), North-South are at the mercy of the defense. If South is declarer, an original club lead is brutal, especially if South hops with the K in an effort to curb ruffs down four. The contract plays better from the North side, but even after the A lead it can be set two tricks. A few will make 4 when the defense fails to get a club ruff.
Most North-South pairs will land in 4 , though the paths may vary greatly. I prefer this auction:
Over Easts takeout double, 2 NT is Truscott (aka Jordan) showing a limit raise in hearts. As most people play, this bid implies four trumps, but I see no better option. Further, the singleton spade makes it attractive to jump the bidding.
After the likely club lead, it is impossible to make 4 with accurate defense. Assume declarer guesses well to duck the club to his 10 and leads a spade. East wins the Q and leads the J (essential) to Wests ace, then a second trump is returned. Even knowing where all the cards are, the best declarer can do is win nine tricks.
An original heart lead produces a labyrinthine double-dummy exercise. West must win the ace, but the indicated heart return allows declarer to succeed, as East will be squeezed in three suits (variations left to the reader). Curiously, the only winning defense is for West to return a spade, then for East to shift to the club queen. Wow. Strange game, this bridge.
Heres a somewhat bold auction, featuring Mighty Mouse in the South seat:
Three clubs should roll for 10 tricks with careful play. Declarer is able to ruff a heart and a spade in dummy; then he can retain control and use his good hearts if not tapped, else ruff two diamonds low and crossruff.
While plus 130 is good for North-South, some will better that playing in hearts. Without a trump lead (or a diamond and a trump shift), nine tricks can be made by ruffing a spade. A few might even be handed 10 with misdefense.
East-West pairs who compete to 3 may get doubled (for sure by Mighty Mouse), and this will probably be set two tricks. After three rounds of hearts, the defense can do almost anything next. Note that South does not need a ruff, since declarer cannot avoid a diamond loser if trumps are drawn. In fact, some declarers may go down an extra trick by playing A-K early.
Strong notrumpers will typically use a transfer, and some will reach game via this route:
Wests 2 NT bid is questionable. The only other way to invite game is a raise to 3 , which implies six trumps, so a good case could be made to pass 2 . West cannot rebid 3 , which is game forcing in mainstream methods. East happily chooses the spade game with his maximum and three trumps.
There is nothing the defense can do to stop 4 . With proper timing, declarer can ruff a club to establish that suit, allowing South to overruff with his natural trump trick if he wishes. Only a diamond, club and spade trick are lost, in that order. Unfortunately, proper timing is too often the exception, not the rule.
If West is able to show his club suit, East may be tempted to try 3 NT with his sturdy red suits. This can be held to nine tricks, but some defenders will allow declarer to score the Q for a 10th trick and 92 percent of the matchpoints.
The South hand qualifies to open in my methods, but the awkward pattern suggests passing. Often you can make a Michaels cue-bid later. Well, not this time:
West steals Souths suit, then North takes advantage of the vulnerability to make an egregious weak jump overcall dont laugh, its a winning strategy. East probably should pass and hope for a reopening double, but the negative double is OK. West tries one major, then the other, to reach a decent game.
With passive defense 4 is likely to fail. Despite only three apparent losers, declarer has difficulty coming to 10 tricks. (At double-dummy the defense must start a heart to prevail.) In real life, however, many Norths will lead the K, which gives declarer an easy time provided he hops with the K if put to the guess.
What happens to 2 doubled? Not pretty; North gets only his top cards (down four). South can do better by rescuing to clubs (or even hearts), but thats dubious.
Deja vu. Another borderline opening is passed, in this case to avoid directing the wrong lead (switch Wests minors and Id open 1 ). A well-judged auction:
The key decision is by East to raise clubs and not bid notrump. Even if West held a more typical hand, such as A-K-Q-x-x, there would be only eight tricks in notrump after a spade lead. Experience has proved you need more than just stoppers to make 3 NT.
The fine East-West bidding is only slightly rewarded. Assuming the A lead and a diamond shift, 5 is down one with the subsequent ruff. Still, the ugly 3 NT contract would be down two, so its an improvement or at least the same score if North or South elected to double 5 on general principles.
In spades, North-South can be held to just seven tricks with a heart lead if West finds the diabolical underlead in diamonds to get a second ruff. Eight tricks seem more likely, however, and some will garner nine after the K lead by just clearing trumps.
This seems like a sensible auction with all four players in the bidding:
Particularly note Souths decisions to bid notrump instead of raising hearts. The case for 1 NT is the flat shape and minimal support; the case for 3 NT is that South can picture Norths singleton spade after Wests raise. A diamond opening lead could be embarrassing, but it pays to strive for tops.
Against 3 NT West should lead the 8 (only because he has raised spades), and East should probably duck this to South. With the double heart finesse, 11 tricks are there for the taking (12 if East had won the A), but some may cash the A first to guard against a singleton honor in the East hand.
If you were worried about a diamond lead, consider this: Playing in hearts, a diamond lead would be even more painful.
The optimal spot as the cards lie is 6 (cold with any lead), but dont be proud if you bid it.
At the vulnerability, a seven-card solid suit is a classic three-bid. Alas, I would feel I wasnt dealt the Q for nothing, so Id renew my 4-H Club membership:
The good news is this steals the show. The bad news is the show is a foreign film. The only makable game for North-South is 4 , a contract thats difficult to reach, and successful only because of the lucky layout. I guess this just fuels the old maxim that you shouldnt preempt with more than 10 HCP. Oh well.
Eight tricks are routine in hearts, with virtually no chance to win more or less.
Those who open 3 might buy the contract there for a better result, though I would be tempted to double with the South hand a potential disaster for North-South, but theres a chance to scramble into 4 . Perhaps the best chance for North-South to reach this magic spot will occur when East elects to open 1 .
Board 3 answer: 2 or 6. With a red-suit lead declarer can run diamonds and hearts to catch West in an unusual squeeze without the count.
Misfit deals tend to produce excitement. On behalf of North-South at least, I recommend this auction:
Note that I rebid 2 (not 1 ) over 1 . I certainly believe in bidding up-the-line, but I also believe in common sense. With a hand like Souths I bid clubs and more clubs; you have to draw the line somewhere. Easts double of 4 is a lead director, and West falls into the pattern. Both doubles are questionable.
Theres no defense to beat 5 . After a spade lead, declarer must duck; then king and a ruff makes it easy. With the K lead, declarer (among other ways) can ruff out the Q for the extra trick needed. Toughest lead is a heart, but even then there are several successful paths. One is to lead a low spade from dummy at trick two kind of an in-your-face approach based on the double of 4 . If East ducks the K, declarer can later set up a trick in diamonds with K-Q in the slot.
Stretching every inch out of the East-West cards, heres one auction to an average result:
Easts final bid is doubtful. A boost to 4 would be more conservative, but as long as youre going to try for 10 tricks, it makes sense to gamble on game. It doesnt take much from partner in hearts to give 4 a play. North-South gauge well not to compete to 4 , which would be a phantom save.
Nice catch! Dummys K-Q is a gorgeous sight. Unfortunately, sound defense should prevail. After a spade lead to the ace, North has an obvious shift to the K, although a club shift to sabotage communication would also work. This allows South to grab the first heart and deliver a diamond ruff down one. Declarer might even duck the K (a key play if North held K-Q-10 or K-Q-x-x) and wind up down two.
In spades, North-South can win nine tricks. A heart switch by the defense looks pretty automatic, so any hopes of winning 10 are spoiled.
Heres a well-judged auction by East-West in the teeth of fierce competition:
While North-South have fun at the vulnerability, West makes the key bid of 5 . In my opinion this should not be interpreted as a grand-slam try, but instead to imply doubt as to the best contract and elicit additional input from partner. East uses good judgment to choose hearts with his unshown honor. Voila! The perfect spot well, except for maybe 7 , but thats surreal.
Note that 13 tricks are available in hearts only (not in diamonds) by ruffing a spade in the East hand. After an original diamond lead, however, declarer should settle for 12 tricks because of communication problems and the danger of a diamond ruff.
North-South barely have a good save against 6 (but not against 6 ); 6 is down six (1400) if the defense follows the advice attributed to Marc Jacobus: Double and lead trumps. Or at least shift to trumps so declarer is unable to ruff two clubs.
The South hand is not a classic weak two-bid, but the suit texture is good, and only a pedant would reject it. This is likely to be a common auction:
Perhaps East should double 4 . Not clear by any means, but the more I think about it the more it looks right, though I may be biased by my own weak twos.
There is virtually nothing to the play. Exactly nine tricks are available in spades, and its hard to imagine any scenario to win more or less. But then again, there is Murphys Law.
The perfect spot for North-South is 3 NT, with nine cold tricks against any distribution. Should North bid 3 NT over 3 ? In my view this would be reasonable at IMPs but doubtful at matchpoints. For instance, even if North could count on a heart lead, there might be a 10th trick available only in spades; e.g., switch Souths hearts and clubs. Further, 3 NT could be down off the top with a minor-suit lead.
North-South have a fine play for slam, which is certainly within reach. I recommend this auction:
The 4 raise denies a singleton or void (else South would splinter), and 5 asks South to bid slam with good trumps the normal interpretation when a single unbid suit cannot be pinpointed.
East should lead a spade. Winning tip: Make attacking leads against suit slams. If you try to defend passively, you will often be waiting until the next deal.
The spade lead is a thorn for declarer. The contract can be made by finessing the J, but this is anti-percentage. The best play is to cash the A, and when the K doesnt fall, run the club suit. This succeeds (1) if the K is singleton, (2) if clubs are 3-3, or (3) if clubs are 4-2 and the player who ruffs has K-x. This can even be improved slightly by cashing K-A after the A; then if East held Q-x, lead the J.
As the saying goes, Down one is good bridge.
I share the beliefs of the late Sonny Moyse that 4-3 major trump fits provide many excellent contracts when chosen diligently. Heres a case in point:
Norths 2 raise seems best when you consider the alternatives. Some Souths might now try for notrump (or systemically ask about trump length), but my feeling is that if partner chose to raise with three, it was probably because of a defect for notrump. Hence I would honor his judgment and accept the consequences in 4 .
Against 4 West leads the K, won by the ace, then a low spade goes to the jack and king. Assume East switches to a heart (best), ducked to the queen. With the black suits running, you have 10 tricks. Did you fall for the trap of ducking the opening lead? Oops. West should switch to a heart, then the tap would beat you.
Note that only nine tricks are available in notrump eight if West finds a heart lead so the Moysian fit is the winner. Justification? Or just plain luck? The truth, no doubt, lies somewhere in between.
Many will disapprove of Souths weak jump overcall, but heres a sensible auction for East-West to cope with the interference:
I suppose there are Wests who will make a negative double to indicate four spades frightening to say the least. An important principle in competitive auctions is to make the call that best describes your hand in a single turn. Clearly this is 2 NT, which makes it easy for East to place the final contract.
Most Norths will find the spade lead irresistible and continue the suit, handing declarer an overtrick. In the postmortem South may get his digs in with, Didnt I bid loud enough? Even so, its hard to fault North, as cashing would be right in many layouts.
If you were thinking about a 4-3 major fit like the previous board, holding four to the nine is not the occasion though you might actually make 4 if North never leads a diamond. You can be sure that if Mr. Moyse ever found out, he would block your admission at the Pearly Gates.
Most standard bidders will use a negative double to reach the right contract from the right side:
Whether South should open 1 or 1 is debatable, though I prefer the better minor. In either case the rest of the auction is likely to be the same.
Weak notrumpers (12-14) will begin 1 NT 2 , then North will usually take a chance with a 3 cue-bid (Stayman). If South didnt have four spades, theres a fair chance that 3 NT will roll with the diamond suit.
After a high heart lead against 4 , West has a curious defensive decision. The only shift to create trouble for declarer is a diamond, but this goes against the grain of normal defense. Still, no other lead is attractive. Left to his own devices, declarer must backward finesse spades to succeed, scoring an overtrick if the J is led from North. Should West just cash the A to avoid tempting declarer into the winning play? Probably not, as holding 4 to 10 tricks is a poor score anyway.
A routine 4 contract should be reached at almost every table, usually with this auction:
East has an automatic trump lead, taken by the king; then a club is led. If declarer guesses to finesse the nine, it is possible to win 11 tricks by timing the play just right declarer can win two hearts, two diamonds, one club, four trumps and two club ruffs. More likely, declarer will end up with 10 tricks after misguessing clubs or not playing all out for the overtrick. And you can be sure that some will mistime the play and go down.
Out of curiosity, I fed this deal into two commercial computer programs to see how they would play in 4 . (I wont mention any names.) I was slightly impressed when they didnt draw trumps right away. Alas, the first program misplayed hearts and wound up going down. The second program ducked a round of diamonds, only to have its ace ruffed down two. Ouch. I guess this shows that people have a bright future in this game.
After an opening bid by West, North-South face a borderline game decision. The discreet view:
Souths cue-bid is a one-round force, implying a hand too strong for a raise to 2 . North judges well to treat his hand as a minimum overcall, and South is happy to pass because his K is of dubious value.
It is easy to make 4 by finessing in trumps, but whether this is correct or not is arguable. At IMPs it seems right because it guards against the actual layout, while it still allows declarer to succeed when West holds Q-x and K-x-x (dummys fourth heart provides a diamond discard). But at matchpoints its painful to lose a trick where a novice would not, especially if it hails a chorus of Eight ever, nine never. Ah, its nice to be writing about this board instead of playing it.
A few Souths may bid 2 NT to protect their K, perhaps ending in 3 NT. Then it will be all or nothing depending on the spade guess.
The East hand is not everyones idea of a weak two-bid, but in my view it would be a psych to pass. Here is a sensible auction to a great spot:
Wests 5 NT is the grand slam force to ask about trumps. With two of the top three honors East would bid 7 . A popular adjunct is to use 6 to show the ace or king, and 6 to show the queen provided these bids do not coincide with the trump suit. When East indicates the king only, West settles for the small slam.
After a spade lead, declarer should take care to pitch one spade on a diamond and ruff the other. The best sequence is: A-K; diamond ruff; spade ruff; A; club to queen; K, and claim 12 tricks. Only a trump trick is lost.
The top contract (at least as the cards lie) is 7 . Wow. I can only say this: If you passed the East hand and subsequently bid and made 7 , you have my deepest admiration. Otherwise, get real and start opening those weak two-bids!
Hopefully, North-South can jump off the major-suit bandwagon to reach 3 NT. I like this sequence:
North has some thoughts about slam, but the misfit should quell his optimism. If you are wondering if 3 is forcing, the answer is yes. The general rule is that bidding over a game-invitational bid (3 ) is deemed to have accepted that invitation.
Looking at all four hands, West should lead a spade, but a club looks pretty normal. Now declarer can wrap up 12 tricks by forcing out the A and taking the diamond finesse. If West shifts to a spade after winning the A, it is probably right to stay on course: Grab the A and finesse in diamonds.
If you play in a major suit, it had better be hearts. This is cold for 12 tricks with any lead, and no doubt some will bid six. Note that in spades, North cannot even make game and if you want to play double-dummy, East leads a heart and West shifts to a spade.
Many standard bidders will duplicate this auction:
As North, I would be tempted to try for game, but experience seems to show it is wiser to give up. A game try stands out if you are vulnerable at IMPs; but otherwise, take the plus.
A pertinent story: My frequent teammate and greatest mentor, Edgar Kaplan, was bemused one day that my scorecard had too many down-one results. The next day I heeded his advice, and when we compared scores I was proud to announce plus 140. Edgar paused briefly and said, That cant be right. I got a handshake.
You wouldnt want to be in 4 here, though 10 tricks can be made. East is likely to lead a spade, resolving that guess; then it is normal to get diamonds right, if for no other reason than to play for split aces.
Souths who open a weak notrump (12-14) are likely to play it right there. This can be held to seven tricks with a diamond lead and accurate defense (West must duck the first spade), but many will win eight tricks.
The set finishes with a rather flat board that almost all will bid to game in a major. Heres one possibility:
North uses good judgment to respond 1 NT (instead of 1 or 2 ) because of the square shape and the fact that it describes his point range. Note that 1 would be an underbid, and 2 is right on values but unattractive. South is concerned about diamonds in notrump, so he shows his strong hand with a cue-bid, then North admits to his hearts (which might be three to an honor). Perhaps South should investigate further with 2 rather than leap to game.
There is nothing to the play in hearts (11 easy tricks). In spades it is almost as easy, since a diamond ruff will eliminate the club guess (not that youd misguess on the bidding) or a club lead will give it to you.
It is apparent that Norths 1 NT response was right on the money. The same 11 tricks are available in notrump, and those who find it deserve the gold.
© 1996 Richard Pavlicek