The 36 deals in this collection were played September 17, 1997 in the 11th 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 9, 1997
I hope you enjoyed playing in this event as much as I enjoyed writing about the many exciting deals. Try to find the time to read the analyses in this booklet, and have your convention card handy to compare the results. Who knows? You might even find that your bid or play was a spectacular success and mine failed.
Besides the analyses I have included some related sidelights in the boxed text at the bottom of each page, starting after Deal 7. This year I couldnt come up with enough new bridge jokes (ha-ha) so the themes are instructive or informative and pertain to one of the deals on the same page. I think you will find some helpful tips.
I also included a statistical analysis of the deals showing the average HCP and hand freakness for each player. (See the box after Deal 36.) This year East had the best in the way of high cards (10.44 average HCP per deal) and South had the best in the way of shape (3.22 average freakness). It is also worth mentioning that East-West outgunned North-South in total HCP, 750 to 690 all you skeptics take note!
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.
Norths choice of opening will have a great impact, usually determining which side will declare. I slightly prefer 1 NT to avoid a rebid problem, then perhaps:
Above is the Standard American Yellow Card way to sign off in a minor; 2 forces opener to bid 3 , then responder passes or corrects to 3 . Other ways include a direct 3 response to play, or the use of 2 NT as a transfer to clubs (my own preference).
In the never lead from a king school East will lead a heart; 10, jack, ace; then declarer has a chance for some trickery: Cash the K and lead the eight. If East casually discards, away goes a diamond, then the Q allows declarer to win nine tricks. Note, however, that if East ruffs with the 10, declarer may still go wrong.
If North opens 1 , it is likely to be passed to West, who will balance with 1 NT, which has nine easy tricks. If South competes with 2 , East should try 2 NT. Some East-West pairs may even bid the cold game.
North-South own this deal in high cards, but East-West have the upper hand in playing ability. I would expect this auction to be repeated at many tables:
When West bids 5 on so few high cards, it feels like a sacrifice, but in fact its unbeatable. This emphasizes why good players put more faith in distribution than in point count when making competitive decisions. With exciting shape, bid one more.
In spades South can win nine tricks, but its tricky. After ruffing the second heart lead, declarer may think he has been handed 11 tricks and draw trumps; then accurate defense will win five tricks. To win nine tricks, declarer must lead diamonds early (optionally after one round of trumps) to pursue a diamond ruff.
The North-South hands play better in clubs (10 easy tricks), but the only benefit against hearts is that 6 doubled (minus 500) beats those who double 5 .
Not much action here. Strong notrumpers should have a simple auction:
West can always win 10 tricks by guessing clubs, and the opening lead should provide the clue. If North leads the 3, declarer can deduce he has no 5+ card suit, hence North is more likely to have longer clubs. Therefore the proper play is to cash the K first, and when the queen drops, follow restricted choice principles to finesse against the jack.
If North leads the K or the 5, declarer is still able to diagnose it is a short suit and guess the club layout, although he later has to guess hearts as well to win the maximum.
Evidently, this is good case for making a deceptive lead such as the 6 (to imply a longer heart suit), after which declarer would be inclined to win the A first. Or better yet, how about leading the 7, top of my doubleton; thank you.
Lacking a major fit and a diamond stopper, the North-South hands are awkward to bid. I like this auction:
Norths 1 NT response is flawed, but I would not pass 1 . South cue-bids to get additional information, North shows his heart suit, and Souths hand is ideal to play in the Moysian fit. Note that the diamond ruff(s) will come in the shorter trump hand.
In hearts 11 tricks can be won. After a diamond lead and a club shift (best), there are several successful lines. I think it is best to win the K, cash two high trumps, and lead the J. Whether or not East ruffs, declarer can win all but the high trump trick by establishing spades, and not ruffing a diamond prematurely.
Other North-South pairs may play in spades (10 tricks maximum) or in clubs. The latter is the only normal trump fit, but the 4-1 break is a nuisance; 11 tricks can be won (e.g., ruff the second diamond, cash A-Q and duck a spade), but this is far from clear-cut.
South has a pitiful hand, but the desire for a heart lead would persuade me to open in third seat. I would not criticize 1 but slightly prefer a weak two-bid:
West has no sensible action over 2 so he passes; East chances 3 at favorable vulnerability; West cue-bids to try for game, and then wisely gives up in 4 .
In diamonds the obvious heart lead and continuation hold declarer to 10 tricks. If the defenders fail to cash two hearts, one will disappear on the club suit.
In hearts (or spades) North-South can win only seven tricks, so venturing to the three level could be costly, especially if West wields the ax.
If Souths opening bid makes you shudder, consider what would happen if he passed: West would routinely open 1 NT, and East would probably take a shot at 3 NT cold for 9 or 10 tricks without a heart lead. And please dont tell me youd lead a heart as North. In the practical world it is often more dangerous to pass.
Standard bidders should repeat this auction at many tables:
It has often been said that 1 NT is the most difficult contract, and the many possible play variations here add fuel to that. After the best lead of a heart, declarer can always win seven tricks if he opts for the entry-saving maneuver of ducking the first spade, but this is dubious at matchpoints. Note that if declarer leads first to a spade honor, South should duck to shut out the long spades; if declarer then switches to diamonds, continued heart leads defeat the contract.
Some East-Wests will play in 2 , particularly those using weak notrumps. Eight tricks can be won if trumps are cleared early, but theres a cute trap: Assume a heart lead, won by the ace; then a spade to the king, and South ducks smoothly a much easier play if West is declarer after a transfer bid. If declarer leads anything but another spade now, the defenders can prevail with a heart ruff. I must admit I would fall for it.
Both sides can make a game, so aggressive bidding will pay. Heres a well-judged auction all around:
All the bids seem routine except for Souths push to 5 . This is dubious with only a five-card trump suit, and contrary to advice against bidding five over five. But I would be persuaded by the diamond void to take the chance. In any case its right here.
In spades 10 tricks are easy, and it is possible to win 11 (except against the K lead) by guessing spades. Normally, declarer would go wrong because of Wests 3 bid; but if West leads the 8 (obvious singleton), it would be sensible to play him for at least two trumps and cash the A first. When the Q drops, odds favor the finesse (compare Board 3).
There is nothing to the play in diamonds for East-West, with 11 tricks virtually assured.
Proponents of the Law of Total Tricks may find it curious that this deal and Board 2 each have 20 total trumps and produce 21 tricks. Call it inflation.
Once again its a bidders game. Would you have the courage to bid 4 on the East cards?
A weak two-bid in diamonds may not be stylish any more, but it suits me fine. In fact in a recent tournament it caught two top internationalists by surprise. They were prepared for Roman, Multi, Flannery, and just about everything else; but when 2 showed diamonds they were lost. Is that legal? they quipped.
When East overcalls in his topless suit and West raises, the push to 4 is dubious but justified by Easts excellent controls. Of course, if 4 had no play, I would write that East had lost his mind bidding such a lousy suit. Armchair quarterbacks go with the flow.
Ten tricks are routine in hearts, and there is no conceivable way to make more or less.
North-South can win seven tricks in diamonds, so 3 is the safety limit. Anything higher could be doubled and set more than the value of East-Wests game except for 3 NT, which also yields seven tricks with a correct diamond guess.
Most North-Souths will reach 3 NT, though the roads will vary. Heres a standard scientific auction:
A good case could be made for North to ignore his worthless heart suit and respond 2 NT immediately (11-12 HCP as a passed hand), but the same contract would be reached.
After any lead but a spade, 3 NT is doomed. The contract can be set outright with a club lead, but even after a heart lead (or a diamond lead by West) it would take double-dummy play to get spades right.
Evidently, this is a good hand for weak notrumps (12-14). When South opens 1 NT, North might elect to pass his flat 11 and go plus. Passing with borderline values is also a good tactical maneuver, as it sets a trap to lure East into balancing. In this case East would have to be insane to bite, but it is curious to note that 2 can be made against any defense. Could there be a reward for insanity?
Many East-West pairs will have a straightforward auction to the best contract:
Besides simplicity, this also has the effect of silencing North. If West were to show his club suit (either with a transfer bid or by starting with 2 Stayman), it would allow North to bid hearts to direct the best lead. The chances of reaching a makable slam are dubious at best, so the direct approach seems right.
In notrump there are 10 easy tricks with a heart lead, or 11 after any other lead. Some Norths might slip on defense, allowing declarer to win 12 or even 13 tricks e.g., if declarer leads a low diamond toward his queen before running the black suits, North may abandon his heart stopper to keep A-J.
No doubt there will be some numbers floating around when North gets doubled in hearts Nice dummy, partner; now show me your real hand. It looks like continued club leads will hold North to just five tricks, but he can manage six with best play. Playing in spades North-South can do a trick better.
An easy 6 NT as the cards lie, but difficult to bid. Heres a reasonable auction that almost gets there:
Souths weak two-bid is not a thing of beauty OK, its just plain ugly, though a winning tactic. Easts 3 NT seems like an overbid, but its based on the expected point range of a balancing 2 NT (14-17 in my methods). West invites slam and East rejects with minimal values. Perhaps West should chance 6 NT himself.
The singleton J makes 12 tricks easy, but an expert would succeed if South held A-J-9-x-x-x. Assuming a club lead, the technique is to run diamonds (throwing two hearts) then cash the top hearts to force South to part with his long club. Finally, strip clubs and exit with the K to endplay South.
As on the last board, some East-Wests will collect numbers, especially when North preempts in hearts (he can win only five tricks). I guess the 2 bid wasnt so ugly after all, as it was virtually impossible to double for penalty, and it kept partner quiet.
Some East players might respond 1 at the favorable vulnerability, but those on good behavior will pass and hear this likely auction:
Eight tricks are easy in notrump, so the goal is to win nine. After the J lead; queen, ace, and a low club back, declarer must finesse the seven the correct percentage play by 3:2 odds assuming the 5-2 club break. Then it is a simple matter to knock out the A for nine tricks.
An original spade lead and continuations will hold declarer to eight tricks regardless of his play. Wests long spade can be set up as a fifth defensive trick.
Some weak notrumpers may treat the West hand as balanced and open 1 NT. If North-South win nine tricks, this yields the same score (down 3, 150) as North-South declaring. Of course, if South is shrewd enough to double, East-West have nowhere to run.
If South plays in hearts, the limit is eight tricks. It may seem possible to develop a trump coup against East, but accurate defense can prevent it.
Almost all North-South pairs will reach 4 . Standard bidders will have a routine Stayman auction:
East is unlikely to lead a diamond, so most declarers will have a chance to win 12 tricks. I must admit I would lead a trump, eliminating any guess in that suit. Declarer can just draw trumps, cash four spades (throwing the diamond), and play ace and a club. Of course, some may be too greedy and try an early club finesse, allowing the defense to recover.
Heres a cute play: Win the trump lead in North and immediately lead a low club toward dummy. As East, would you climb with the king? Perhaps you should, but it is routine to duck, since partner rates to have the ace from declarers play. Oops! You now lost your ace and king, as declarer wins all 13 tricks.
Weak notrumpers will be forced to open the North hand with a minor, so South will become declarer. West is more likely to lead a diamond to hold declarer to 11 tricks, assuming he plays hearts correctly.
Conservative bidders will land in a comfortable 3 NT, probably after this auction:
It is illogical for North to lead a heart, so 12 tricks are easy with the J coming down just give up a club. A few will even bid 6 NT and make it.
The best contract based on the East-West hands alone is 6 , which has two chances: either the J falls or the K is onside. Except in the actual case, the 5-1 spade break cant be handled if East is forced to ruff, so the heart lead is again the killer.
What about 6 ? Then a spade lead hurts. If declarer cashes diamonds to pitch a spade (to avert a spade ruff), communication is lost. But wait! Declarer can succeed if he ruffs two hearts before cashing the third diamond; then high spade, overruffed; heart ruff (North cant gain ruffing); high spade, overruffed. Finally, exit with ace and a trump, keeping a spade if North wins, or a diamond if South wins. Cute, but also double-dummy.
Bottom line: Bid hearts with authority, then 6 NT.
Most players will deem the West hand too strong for a simple overcall, so the bidding is likely to go:
In spades West can win nine tricks with sound technique. Assume the J lead to the ace; cash one top trump, and lead a low club to the king, ace. South cannot benefit by leading hearts, so he shifts to a diamond, taken by the ace. Cash the remaining top trumps, then run the 10, etc.
At some tables North might gum up the works by responding 1 (a disgusting bid) over Wests double. South rebids 2 , then West may still bid 2 which is natural, not a cue-bid. Important rule: When you make a takeout double, the only suit you can later cue-bid is the suit you doubled.
If North-South buy the contract they are destined to fail. Against best defense only seven tricks can be won in hearts or diamonds, and only five in notrump.
Most Norths will drive their solid suit to 4 , perhaps in this repetitive manner:
In hearts 11 tricks can always be won, although declarer must be careful not to lose trump control before establishing his spade trick. Assume a diamond lead, won by the ace. The proper play is to ruff a diamond immediately, draw trumps and run the J to the queen. North cannot be tapped, so it is routine to pitch two clubs on the top diamonds and force out the A.
Some will reach the awkward 3 NT contract. After a diamond lead, 10 tricks can always be won, but it takes some fancy footwork and good guessing. Win the A and lead the 7 to Wests queen; win the next diamond (pitching a spade) and lead another low club to the king. Wests best return is a club, which forces declarer to read the ending for the overtrick. But wait! What if West is clever and ducks the first club lead sure enough, I would let it ride and go down.
Many possibilities exist here, depending on system and judgment. If South passes in third seat, standard bidders may take this route:
Assume the 10 lead, won by the ace, then a spade to the king. If declarer next leads a diamond to the queen (how sweet) then another spade, he can come to nine tricks by taking all his finesses. (Note the club suit is blocked.) Of course, if the 9 is finessed first, the defense can cash six tricks.
Weak notrumpers may play 1 NT from the West side. Assuming the 5 lead (fourth best) the same diamond guess allows declarer to win nine tricks. On a technical basis (without tempo consideration) the proper play is the queen, as this allows declarer to win three diamond tricks when South has any singleton except the king.
Some East-Wests will play in hearts, most likely after a weak notrump opening and a transfer bid. Once again a correct diamond guess allows nine tricks; otherwise probably just seven.
After 1 , would you overcall or double as South? I prefer the latter to bring spades into the picture:
It is possible to win 10 tricks in spades (except against the A and a low diamond), but most will win only nine. Assume East cashes a top diamond and the A; he should next lead a low diamond to tap the South hand (West should request this by dropping the Q or by suit preference in clubs). The only road now to 10 tricks is a heart finesse against East, a risky play few will make. More likely, those winning 10 will be helped by East with a heart or spade switch.
In hearts the North-South cards play worse, usually just eight tricks unless declarer gets a trump lead or is inspired to finesse East for the jack.
Some East-Wests will buy the contract in diamonds. After the likely high heart lead, South should shift to a trump, then North can gain the lead in hearts or spades to lead a second trump, holding declarer to eight tricks. Without trump leads declarer could ruff twice in dummy and win nine tricks.
Heres a little excitement. Active North-South bidders will take advantage of the vulnerability to torment West, perhaps like this:
Four spades looks routinely down one, but West has to be careful. Assuming a high heart lead, West must cash both of his top clubs immediately. After any other play, declarer can strip out the hand (ruffing three hearts and one diamond) and exit with a club to force West to concede a ruff and discard.
This turns out to be a phantom sacrifice, since East-West cannot make 4 ; in fact it requires careful play to win nine tricks. Assume the defense starts with two rounds of spades, ruffed. If declarer draws two rounds of trumps immediately, North can win the first diamond and fire back the J; then when South wins the A, he can lead a spade to tap out the last trump. To circumvent this, declarer must lead diamonds right away (or after one round of trumps).
Most Wests will wind up in 4 , though the auctions will vary. Here is one possibility, which allows South to make a lead-director:
After the indicated heart lead, declarer will probably win the ace and be held to 10 tricks. It is possible to win 11 by ducking the first heart (a risky play since it could be a singleton). One way is simply to finesse the 10 after drawing trumps. A more elegant way is to lead a diamond to the king, ruff a few diamonds, and lead all the trumps to catch South in a squeeze throw-in if he keeps his K guarded, he is thrown in with a heart for the endplay.
At some tables South will not get his heart bid in, so North will have to guess what to lead. A club lead threatens defeat if declarer finesses (dubious), allowing the obvious heart switch then he has to duck the first heart to survive. If North leads the A, declarer is in clover; in fact, if North doesnt shift to a club, 12 tricks can be won on a club-heart squeeze.
Im sure a lot of Wests will play in spades, but some may be blocked out after this auction:
It is actually a blessing for West to be shut out, even after the irritating diamond lead. Assume West pitches a club (an error if North held a spade stopper and precisely J-x). Declarer will try the club finesse, then West will shift to a low spade allowing the entire suit to be run down two.
Although difficult to reach, a North-South heart contract has potential for a great score (compare Board 4), and some will win 10 tricks.
In spades West can win eight tricks against best defense. After a high diamond lead, ruffed, best technique is a low club from hand; North wins and leads a trump, won in dummy, then a second club is led. It is tempting for South to duck, after which declarer can win nine tricks if he goes up, or only seven tricks if he ducks. If South instead wins the A, he must lead a diamond (or a club equal); if he leads a heart, declarer can win a ninth trick with proper timing.
Most Norths will buy the contract in hearts, usually below game as with this auction:
Two hearts is a Jacoby transfer to spades, so 3 is natural. East uses good judgment not to compete to 3 he knows West may have almost nothing, and the Q-J is probably worthless.
In hearts North can always win 10 tricks. Assume East leads a heart honor; then North leads the J, taken by the ace. The K provides a 10th trick (dummy can be reached in diamonds) so there is nothing the defense can do. Some will be handed 11 tricks, e.g., if East leads a second club or if he takes his A on the first round (after not switching to spades).
In spades East-West can win only seven tricks, so those who get too frisky will pay. On the above auction if East competed to 3 , I think North should double (optional) to protect his investment hoping to collect 200 (instead of 100) to offset the likely 140 in hearts. In this case the defense does a trick better.
Most East-Wests will reach an easy 4 . Standard bidders might produce this auction:
Most players treat Easts 3 bid as invitational, and West is happy to accept with his fine hand. In my methods 3 is forcing, so Id bid 2 (new minor forcing) followed by a spade bid to invite game.
In spades East-West can win 10 tricks always, or 11 if North-South fail to attack hearts. Note the defense has a second opportunity to lead hearts when North wins the A (or K if declarer plays diamonds first).
Heres a cute swindle: Assume a club lead to the ace; diamond finesse, losing; heart to the ace; then a low spade. Would you fly with the ace? I doubt it. If declarer gauges the position, he can now win 11 tricks.
Some Souths will enter the fray, either with a hungry weak two-bid or a passed-hand Michaels (or unusual 1 NT). North-South almost have a good save in 5 , but sound defense will find the club ruff to collect 800.
East-West easily make 5 or 5 , but who wants that if theres action for higher stakes:
Norths weak jump overcall is not a thing of beauty I would never make such a bid (cough, choke) but it certainly makes things difficult. After Easts negative double, South preempts to game, and West makes an uncertain double.
In 4 doubled, North will surely guess trumps, so everything hinges on the spade guess. Get it right for above average; get it wrong and youre close to bottom. It is a moot psychological issue whether West should lead a spade early; an average declarer might be steered into the winning play, while an expert might be suspicious and put up the king.
Whenever the par contract is five of a minor, you can be sure many pairs will stray. Some East-Wests will try a frightening 3 NT, and others will stretch to a minor-suit slam all hopeless with the expected heart lead. This accounts for the seemingly unfair awards; its just a fact of bridge life that players shun five of a minor.
There are many ways to bid the East-West hands, including whether East should open or pass. This auction appeals to me:
The Moysian fit is a delicate contract with no clear-cut line of play, but 10 tricks should come home if declarer is patient. Assume a trump lead to the 10 and queen, then the J (North smartly ducks) and a second finesse is lost to Norths king. On a trump return, declarer can draw trumps, finish hearts and establish a club trick. On a diamond return, win the ace and concede a diamond to establish that suit for an overtrick no less. On a low club return, duck.
A more popular contract will be 3 NT. Nine tricks are easy by conceding a heart, and many will win 10 when the defense is not perfect. If East plays 3 NT with a club lead (jack, queen, ace) North will surely return a club when he wins the K, allowing the overtrick; only a double-dummy diamond shift holds declarer to nine.
Most North-Souths will find their spade fit and reach game despite Easts opening. Heres one scenario:
Norths vulnerable 1 NT overcall is frightening between two bidders, but people often have so little for their bids that you have to take the chance. South uses Stayman to reach the routine contract.
In spades an immediate club lead is devastating, allowing the defense to take the first five tricks. In real life though East will probably lead a trump. Declarer now can succeed with an unusual procedure: Draw trumps; lead the Q to the ace, and duck the club return to the nine. Without this spectacle, the defense can prevail.
Some North-Souths, by accident or design, will bid 3 NT which has a more realistic chance. If East leads a heart honor, declarer will have to take the same view of the club suit to succeed; but many Easts will lead a minor suit to make it easier. After a diamond lead, East may end up getting squeezed.
A strong East-West pair should appreciate the power of fit and controls to reach this excellent slam despite only 26 HCP. Heres a sensible auction:
After Easts Jacoby transfer, South doubles for a heart lead so West passes a routine action trying to right-side the contract. (West should bid 2 only if happy with a heart lead.) East continues with 3 (natural, GF) and West shows the location of his strength with 3 . The jump to 4 is a splinter, which encourages West to check for aces. Those using key-card Blackwood might assume a club fit and show two key cards.
The 3-3 diamond split makes the play easy, but note that a 4-2 break would be no problem since the long card could be established with a ruff. Only a 5-1 diamond break could defeat the slam, and even then there would be a slim chance of a minor-suit squeeze.
Easts hand seems a little thin to open 2 NT, but what the heck; take an extra point for all the aces and simplify the bidding:
The useful spot cards make 3 NT a fair contract, and declarer probably should succeed. South leads a spade and the jack is played to win in dummy. It is surely right to play a diamond, but I dont like leading low to the jack after North is known to be short in spades. Much better: Lead the 10! If North ducks it becomes easy; if he covers there are some hurdles to clear, but declarer can prevail even after a diamond misguess. Note how the heart position cramps the defense.
Those who open the East hand 1 may play it right there, probably scoring eight tricks.
A few Souths may ignore the vulnerability and overcall 1 or 2 . This may lead to trouble, especially if East is in a doubling mood, as only six tricks can be won in spades. Even if the defense gives declarer a heart pitch on the J, the trick comes back with a trump promotion.
The North hand is awkward to describe in most systems, so once again it seems right to simplify:
South uses Stayman to ask for a four-card major, and then shows his heart suit to seek three-card support. Perhaps, with such a mediocre suit and 2-2 in the minors, South should not even mention the hearts and rebid 3 NT. In any event, North denies support and the worlds most popular contract is reached.
If North chooses to open a more traditional 1 , South will respond 1 , and North should jump to 3 NT a sequence that shows a long, strong diamond suit.
This will be one of the flattest boards, with 10 tricks almost etched in stone. There is a chance for 11 if East leads a low heart (a dubious choice, especially if South showed hearts). After winning the J, a shrewd play is to cross to the J and lead a club. Its hard to imagine any West player putting up the king to return a heart, but thats the only successful defense.
Most East-Wests should have the means to find their heart fit. Heres a sensible auction if East passes:
Wests 2 rebid is a little hefty, though correct in my view 3 is surely an overbid. At Wests next turn the heart raise normally shows four cards, but it stands out if you consider the alternatives.
At some tables East will open the bidding. If East opens 1 , theres a danger West may push to slam after discovering the major two-suiter. If East opens 2 , West may conservatively pass fearing a misfit.
In hearts it is possible to win 12 tricks ( A-K, ruff a spade and draw trumps), but I dont think that is the proper play. I would ruff the second club, cash the A-K and ruff a diamond with the 7, overruffed by South; ruff the club return; cash A-K and ruff a spade; ruff a diamond, then draw trumps 11 tricks. The advantage of this semi-crossruff is that youll succeed against most bad breaks as well.
A continual debate is whether or not to open 1 NT with a five-card major. I say yes, provided your hand is otherwise suitable. It often simplifies the bidding:
Easts 4 is a Texas transfer showing at least six hearts. The same contract could be reached via 2 (Jacoby transfer), but most experts treat the subsequent raise to game as a slam invitation (else use Texas).
After a 1 opening the road to 4 is less clear. East is not worth 2 so he starts with 1 NT. Standard bidders will play it there, but those playing 1 NT forcing may continue: 2 2 ; 3 4 . These problems only add fuel to the practical solution of opening 1 NT.
In hearts it would be illogical to pick up the Q with a finesse, so the hope for 10 tricks lies in winning a club trick or establishing the long spade. Sound technique fulfills the latter: Win the K (key play); A and ruff a spade; A; K; ruff a spade; A; ruff a spade; diamond ruff; good spade. Anyone too lazy for that can do just as well by finessing North for the 10.
A variety of North-South partscores are predictable according to system and judgment. I like this auction:
South has an awkward rebid problem, but the three-card raise is obvious at matchpoints great results are often achieved with a well-chosen Moysian fit. If North had responded 1 , I would treat the hand as balanced and rebid 1 NT.
In hearts there is great potential, with up to 10 tricks available. Assume a spade lead, then the Q taken by the ace. The best defense is a spade return, ruffed; then the J for a ruffing finesse. Each opponent will score a trump trick, but declarer can win the rest if he picks up the Q. At some tables East may shift to a diamond making the play easier.
Many North-Souths will play in their normal diamond fit, where 11 tricks can be made by guessing the minor suits correctly. Note, however, that if East ducks the 7 lead from North, declarer will almost surely try a ruffing finesse later and be held to 10 tricks.
Despite the 5-3 spade fit, the balanced nature of the North-South hands suggests playing in notrump. Traditional bidding is straightforward:
Nowadays there is a tendency (I call it a disease) to use the 2 NT response as a forcing major raise, so these advocates will have to improvise to steer the contract into notrump.
Assume a heart lead to the jack, ace; South cashes the K, then a spade is ducked as East overtakes to return a heart. Declarer can win 10 tricks by leading toward his Q sooner or later, but this is not obvious. If West held the K, the same 10th trick would be available on an endplay. Its a case of Whos got the button?
A few declarers may swindle an 11th trick if East ducks the first diamond lead, which could result in a minor-suit squeeze or endplay if timed properly.
Those who play in spades will score poorly, since the ruffing ability does not provide an extra trick. After the likely Q lead, declarer has the same opportunities for 10 or 11 tricks as in notrump.
An excellent North-South slam, a killing defense, and a possible sacrifice will make this an exciting deal. I can imagine this scenario at an expert table:
The 2 bid is Michaels (hearts plus a minor) and West takes an advance sacrifice in 5 . North uses good judgment to take a stab at 6 . It is tempting as East to sacrifice further in 7 , but this is rarely wise at matchpoints. In the long run it is better to hope to defeat the slam for an excellent score. Even when a slam sacrifice is profitable, it rarely scores well since many pairs may not bid the slam.
Alas. Would you defeat this slam? East has to lead a club, and West has to switch to a diamond. The latter should be routine (in view of dummy there is no reason to try to cash a second club), but the club lead is difficult. A case can be made for West to bid 4 (or 5 ) as a lead-director, but holding so many clubs East may lead the K anyway. It seems like a lose-lose situation.
East-West have an easy game in either major, but the trick-taking potential is greater in hearts. I would bid this way using 1 NT forcing:
Some may rebid 2 as opener, but it is generally superior to show the hearts partner often has a singleton spade and four or five hearts, so rebidding the spades could miss a game. East intended to show a limit spade raise with three trumps, but now chooses the better heart fit instead.
Unless North is an ace grabber, declarer can win 12 tricks. Assume a diamond lead, won by the ace. The proper technique is to win the K, then lead the 10 to the ace. When South shows out, ruff a diamond with the 9, then finesse and draw trumps. Note the importance of unblocking in hearts, else declarer would be stuck in his hand after the diamond ruff.
In spades just 11 tricks are possible. The only problem is the heart guess, but this should be routine after North shows up with a singleton spade.
South has an interesting problem after East commandeers his long suit. Patience is the key:
Souths 2 bid is natural because of his previous pass over 1 . When East-West come to rest in 2 , South tries a reopening double, so North becomes the surprise declarer in diamonds. Actually, North would do better to pass 2 doubled, which can be set one trick.
In diamonds, the friendly layout allows 11 tricks to be won. Assume the A lead, then a heart switch. The key play is to overtake the Q with the king to finesse the club. Then cash the A; ruff a club (or overruff if necessary) and lead a diamond to the 10. One more ruff establishes the clubs, and East is helpless to win more than his A. A stronger defense is a spade continuation at trick two, but declarer can do the same.
The importance of finding the diamond fit is emphasized by the fact that only 8 tricks are available in clubs, a dismal contract with only one entry to North.
© 1997 Richard Pavlicek