The 36 deals in this collection were played September 17, 1998 in the 12th 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 2, 1998
I hope you enjoyed playing in the ACBL Instant Matchpoint Pairs, an annual event begun in 1987 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ACBL. Whether you won or lost, try to find time to compare your results with my analyses in this booklet. You might find some helpful tips to improve your game, and who knows? You might even show me up with a spectacular success of your own.
In addition to the analyses of the deals I have included several quizzes in the boxes at the bottom of the pages (beginning after Board 8). Most of these are instructive, like the ones on finessing techniques. Nonetheless, I also appreciate useless knowledge so I threw in a few novelty puzzles you might enjoy if not, just clip the boxes and mail them in for a refund (ha-ha).
After Board 36 you will find a statistical analysis of all the deals, showing the average HCP and hand freakness for each player. This year East had the most HCP (10.56 average per deal) and North had the fewest (8.94 average). Overall, the hands were rather tame, so if you are one of those who often complain about wild computer deals you wont find any fodder here.
I welcome any feedback questions, criticisms, or whatever about the analyses. If you wish a reply, please contact me by e-mail (see letterhead). Also, if you have access to the Internet, check out my Worldwide Web site (see letterhead) where you will find lots of complimentary bridge material.
This should be the flattest board of the set. Here is one of many ways to reach the obvious spot:
Some North players may deem their hand worth only a single raise; others might use Drury; and I suppose a few will jump directly to 4 . But all roads lead to the same contract.
The South hand also might be bid differently. It is reasonable to open 1 NT (strong), after which a Stayman sequence will reach 4 . Which opening is better? I have no strong feelings, but I prefer 1 since there is no rebid problem if partner responds 1 NT, you have a perfect raise to 2 NT.
The play is straightforward, virtually etched in stone for 11 tricks. It makes no difference what the lead is, or whether or not East covers one of Norths heart honors with the king. Declarer is destined to lose one trick in each minor suit.
This standard auction should be very common:
Note the handling of Easts 6-4 shape. Generally, it is better to show the four-card suit before repeating the six-carder, especially with a four-card major. Easts plan was to complete his pattern by bidding spades next, but this was unnecessary when West raised hearts.
Listen to the bidding! The contract is doomed if South leads the unbid suit and North finesses against dummys queen. It might appear that declarer has only three losers (by finessing hearts correctly), but there is no way to win 10 tricks. If he draws trumps, he is a trick short; and if not, North will score a heart trick sooner or later.
Some East-Wests will be allowed to make 4 , either without a club lead, or if North wins the A at trick one. The latter is a reasonable play and might be crucial when East has the K. Evidently, this is a case where leading low to promise an honor is beneficial.
Despite the awkward pattern, Wests hand is clearly worth a 2 opening. Here is one route to slam:
West finds that all the aces and kings are held, but he certainly cannot bid seven when no fit is found. If East had more body cards (like the J) he is allowed to bid seven, since 5 NT guarantees all the aces are held.
Assume the 10 lead. West wins and takes the A and three top diamonds to find he has 12 top tricks. The best play for the overtrick is simply to finesse North for the Q, which works. Note that finessing South for the Q would jeopardize the contract since it would be necessary to cash the top spades first. Another possibility is to play for a squeeze (double or club-spade simple), but these all fail with correct defense.
Why bother. Just take your 13 tricks with a finesse. Let the experts run the squeeze plays and make 12.
Tit for tat. North-South even the score with a similar non-fit slam decision. Heres a reasonable auction:
Even if North had shown the K, South would still bid 6 NT. The only purpose of 5 NT was to allow North a chance to bid seven with an exceptional hand.
After a spade lead, it looks like an easy 13 tricks with the K onside and the Q falling. Thats an illusion. Suppose declarer crosses to the A and finesses the club. Even though it wins, there is no assurance it will win again a good East player would routinely duck. Further, declarer does not know the Q is falling so it is dangerous to lead a second heart. And if South were to cross to his hand with a low diamond and the next club finesse lost, a heart return is deadly. Very annoying.
Another option after the club finesse wins is to lead a low club (or the J) from dummy. This mangles the club suit, and a diamond return sets the contract.
East-West have a sound game in hearts, but it takes an aggressive move to reach it. Heres a reasonable route for those who play secondary jumps invitational:
Wests second bid is a borderline case, but 2 would be a distinct underbid. East shows his three-card heart support, and West continues to the obvious game. Note that Easts preference to 3 should be forcing because a player who bids over a game invitation is deemed to have accepted it.
Some North-Souths may get in the bidding, although neither hand warrants action at the vulnerability. Indeed, this might even help East-West get to game.
The play in hearts is routine for 10 tricks. There is no legitimate way to make more regardless of the lead (well, OK, if North leads the K
) since North-South have a second chance to cash their diamonds. But there will be gifts like a club lead, heart finesse, and club back; then North covers the J, handing declarer 11 tricks.
With 27 HCP, no trump fit, and tame distribution, almost all North-Souths will reach the worlds favorite contract. I like this auction:
Note Norths 1 rebid (fourth suit forcing) since he is not sure of the best contract. South might have more extreme distribution, perhaps with three diamonds to make 6 a good bet. Further, Souths spades might be Q-x or K-J, which would right-side the contract.
After a spade lead (assume the J) the contract is doomed, or at least I would go down. The first five plays seem routine: Win K, cross in diamonds; club to king, and cash the top diamonds. Declarer now can succeed by giving up a diamond and holding up in spades, but this doesnt appeal to me as it only ensures eight tricks. Leading a second club rates to do at least that well and might yield 10 tricks. Alas, the clubs split even worse; East wins the A and returns the Q down one.
At double-dummy 11 tricks can be made.
Opening the South hand would make Al Roth shiver, but I suspect many will. Here is a plausible auction, resulting in a treacherous Moysian fit:
Assume the K lead to the ace, and a spade to the queen. To succeed against best defense, declarer must immediately cash the A; then with East out of the picture 11 tricks come home. Even after an original club lead and ruff, 11 tricks can be won with exact play.
If South chooses to pass over 2 (or make a support double to show three-card spade support), North-South are likely to wind up in 3 NT not a glamorous contract, but a lucky make thanks to the entryless East hand. Routine finessing plays can win 11 tricks.
Some Easts will jump directly to 4 and play it there (surely doubled). Eight tricks can always be won for a profitable save, but there are pitfalls. For example, after a club lead, North may shift to the Q when he wins the A; if East covers he will suffer a diamond ruff and go for 800.
Almost all East-Wests will reach 3 NT or 4 , with the former probably more likely. Here is one route:
Easts 3 rebid is of the forcing genre, and West is cornered into bidding 3 NT with an unattractive spade holding. Perhaps West should bid 3 to be flexible (e.g., East might have Q-x), but this may depend on partnership agreements, as some would consider it a forward going move to look for slam. Those who use limit jump rebids by responder would bid 2 (fourth suit forcing) over 2 , then 3 (forcing) next.
In notrump the obvious spade lead is annoying, but a holdup play will save the day for nine tricks. Some will be given 10, e.g., if South fails to cash the A after winning the K.
East-West do better in hearts, with 10 tricks makable against best defense. Here too is a cash-out problem: Assume the 4 lead to the ace, heart finesse lost, then the Q. North should overtake and shift to a club since he knows there are no more spades to be won.
This should be another landslide to the obvious 3 NT. I would expect this sequence at most tables:
Easts overcall shows 15-18 HCP with a club stopper, and West happily jumps to game. The auction would be more difficult after a 1 opening (say, playing four-card majors); East then should double and West should bid 3 , followed by 3 NT from East.
This contract will make from 10 to 12 tricks depending on the opening lead and the diamond guess. After the friendly 10 lead (covered), North is likely to win and continue, hoping South has the nine. Declarer now can win the rest if he plunks down the A, but this is not clear-cut; North might have 11 HCP without the K, plus a little shape. After a spade lead, the best declarer can do is win 11 tricks if he gets diamonds right.
In isolation (with adequate entries) the proper play of the diamond suit is low to the queen, guarding against a singleton king onside; then if it wins, return to hand and lead the 10, guarding against K-9-x-x onside. But as anyone can see, this only works in theory.
Another dull auction, which at least might dispel suspicions that these deals are rigged or hand-picked.
Ideally this contract should be declared by East to protect the K, and traditionalists might achieve this by not opening 1 NT with a worthless doubleton. Nonetheless, most experts prefer to show their strength and shape immediately and ignore the slight defect. I agree. In the long run it pays to simplify the bidding.
Wests concerns are realized as North tables the Q. Ducking the first trick is surely right, but when North continues with the J its a tough guess. Ducking again works, but it would be crucial to cover if North has the ace, or if he has Q-J-10 alone (the suit blocks). Mathematically, it seems right to cover (sorry, down one), but being at the table and knowing your opponents might be helpful. Nine tricks are cold if you get it right, and many will win 10 when South errs and sluffs a diamond.
With South on lead 3 NT is a cakewalk. Assuming a diamond lead only nine tricks are likely, though it is possible to win 10 with mirrors.
Most Souths will begin with a weak two-bid, and this might steal the show:
Some Wests will double 2 (or overcall 3 ), which rates to work out well as East has an obvious 3 NT response. But a double could backfire: As North I would bid 2 (fearing a penalty pass), after which East is likely to make the same bid, counting on West for a spade stopper. Viva la difference! South, with no outside entry, should then lead the Q and East is down two. Note that 3 NT would come home after the K lead thanks to the 3-3 club break and the diamond finesse.
The play in hearts is a drudgery. Assume the defense wins two diamonds, then a low diamond as South sheds a club and West ruffs; A and a club to the king; spade to queen, ace; J (East throws his last spade) ruffed; K to the ace; high diamond. South must ruff with the 9 to escape for down two.
In spades, it appears North can do a trick better, but there are dangers there too. For example, if West shifts to a low club early, you better fly with the king.
There are many paths to the obvious 3 NT spot, depending on both system and judgment. This one appeals to me:
With a strong hand East bids his better diamond suit, rather than the topless spades; and West judges well to rebid 1 NT with his major-suit kings, rather than 2 on such a lousy suit.
Assume North leads his better major a six-spot does beat a three-spot and South wins the ace. In view of dummys spade holding (and declarers jack) it looks right to shift to a heart, which could be deadly on some layouts (e.g., switch the K and Q). In this case, however, declarer has 11 tricks after establishing clubs. It takes a spade return (and a later cash-out) to hold it to 10 tricks. An original heart lead also holds declarer to 10 tricks, since he can never enjoy the K.
Im sure some lucky West player will get a diamond lead, and later guess to lead a spade to the king (when South ducks), scoring up 12 tricks. The winning East-West pair, no doubt!
How many clubs would you bid as South? If you answered one or three, you are a soft opponent. Much better is:
In fact, a good case can be made to open 5 , but thats a little too rich for me. (Speaking of rich my son might bid five.) The point is to put the maximum pressure on your opponents so they have a chance to go wrong. The presence of a four-card heart suit has little bearing once partner is a passed hand.
This time West has a routine takeout double and East lands in 4 , which may look easy but requires careful play. Assume the K lead then a low club (not best) which is ruffed high (pitching simplifies the play); K; 9 to the queen; A-K-Q (discard a club); diamond ruff; spade to jack; then a diamond to North (tossing a club) for the guaranteed endplay.
At double-dummy it is possible to win 11 tricks run the 9 as your one and only spade play, then crossruff. On the bidding this is almost realistic, but imagine your dismay if it lost to the 10.
Assuming South chooses to open 1 (not a thing of beauty), I would bid this way:
After a 1 NT overcall it is best to play system on (as after a 1 NT opening) and I use 2 to show the minors. Wests jump to 3 NT shows a maximum with strength in the majors. Of course there are many other ways to bid these hands, depending mostly on system.
This will be a battle for overtricks. After the J lead declarer can win 12 tricks if he guesses diamonds and finesses the J. If he goes wrong in diamonds, he should win only 10 tricks because South clearly should shift to the K after winning the A.
The normal percentage play in diamonds is to try to drop the jack. Souths known heart length changes the odds to favor a second-round finesse, but this is tainted because South rates to have the high cards.
The double-dummy spot for East-West is 6 . Even a spade lead is no problem with the quick discards available, so it hinges only on the diamond play.
Not much excitement here. Standard bidders are likely to follow this route:
Since South is a passed hand, 1 is nonforcing and North smartly passes to reach a superior contract. Note that if North instead rebids 1 NT, he would surely fail after the likely diamond lead.
The play in spades is complex. After a friendly heart lead to the queen, South leads a diamond to the king, ace. If East-West clear trumps, Souths clubs will set up for eight tricks, so assume a heart back to the ace. Declarer now can score eight tricks on a crossruff: A; diamond ruff; K; diamond ruff; club ruff; diamond ruff with Q, overruffed; then later finesse West for the 10.
Those who play super-weak notrumps (10-12) should do well here, buying the contract with 1 NT by West. Regardless of the lead, eight tricks can be made by picking up the diamonds run the queen then finesse for the 10 (if North covers the Q, the seven falls so Wests six can hold the lead on the second round).
With accurate bidding North-South should stop short of game. I like this sequence:
Souths takeout double is a close choice over 1 NT, but it seems right with diamonds being the shortest suit. After that it is well-judged all around. There are those who almost never stop in 2 NT, barging every hand into game; and too often it seems the defense is lacking and they succeed. This is a typical case; only eight tricks can be made legitimately but many will be given nine.
East has an opening lead problem; either the 4 or the 5 is reasonable (Id never lay down the A). To make a good fight assume the latter, ducked to the king. West should use his only entry to lead the J; queen, ace; then a diamond to the ace; spade to queen; club to king. Declarer now can cross to the Q (dangerous if hearts were 4-3) to lead another club or just bang down the Q, either way coming to eight tricks. Note that when East wins the A, he must not cash the Q. In short, a lot of opportunities for defensive errors.
Those who play two-over-one game forcing will use a forcing 1 NT, probably producing this sequence:
East cannot pass 1 NT so he follows the usual practice of bidding a three-card minor; West invites game in notrump and East rejects. Considering some of the lousy opening bids of today, perhaps East should accept.
If North finds the best lead of the 10, declarer can win eight tricks by leading twice toward the K-Q. It appears he can do better by capitalizing on the spade lie, but entry problems prevent it. For example: Q; club to king; duck a spade; heart to ace; run the spades. Ouch! Declarer gets squeezed and eight tricks are the limit.
If North instead leads the J, declarer is a tempo ahead and is able to win nine tricks. Doing so, however, requires an anti-percentage play in spades the proper finessing technique is low to the ten plus, it seems like a better overall plan to work on diamonds. I think most experts would still wind up with eight tricks. To make nine, you really need help, like a diamond lead.
There are those who would pass the East hand, but its a clear-cut opening one-bid for most. This should be a popular sequence:
After Souths overcall, West should consider a forcing club raise (there might be a slam); but the balanced nature of the hand plus two diamond stoppers suggests the practical bid. Note that a jump to 2 NT would be nonforcing in competition, so West has to bid game.
In notrump there are 10 easy tricks (with the diamond finesse) and no way to make more aside from a gross defensive error. Hows this for gross: North has a brainstorm to lead a spade, and declarer holds up dummys ace until the third round. Now theres a cold double squeeze for 11 tricks, left to the reader.
Those who play in clubs should win 11 tricks. No doubt, a few desperadoes will be in slam going down. The best chance for 12 tricks is to cash the A early, draw the enemy trumps, strip out the red suits, and exit with a spade. Its all in vain here, but imagine if South held K-x and failed to unblock.
West has a borderline opening, but lacking two defensive tricks and at unfavorable vulnerability it seems right to pass. A standard auction:
After five routine bids, West must decide whether to make a move toward slam. Certainly, one can construct East hands that make slam a good bet, but the known spade duplication (K-Q opposite shortness) and likely heart duplication suggest 3 NT to me. This proves right in theory 6 is about 34 percent; 6 only slightly better but in practice either slam comes home.
Assuming a spade lead against 3 NT, declarer can win all 13 tricks by crossing to the K to finesse diamonds, a dubious play as it risks losing the long diamonds. More sensible is to play A and a diamond, which makes 10 to 12 tricks depending on the defense. North should find the heart switch (from Souths spade signal), then South should cash out since he cant stop the clubs.
After a routine weak two-bid South must decide how to investigate slam on a misfit. A practical solution:
Norths 3 rebid shows a minimum. South still cant be sure about slam North might have three-card heart support or a side four-card minor but the odds surely favor giving up. The above sequence could also produce an unexpected bonanza: East, looking at a spade stack, might double. Oops. Redouble!
In notrump 10 tricks are easy and it is possible to win more. For example, a diamond lead gives North an extra entry to finesse hearts twice for 11 tricks. And consider this scenario: Against 3 NT redoubled, West dutifully leads a spade and East ducks the king. Bang, zoom 12 tricks! The only hard part is adding up the score.
Two slams are makable, but dont be proud if you bid either one. In 6 declarer can use the Q and a club ruff as entries to finesse hearts twice. In 6 declarer can ruff one club and discard the other on the Q (after a ruffing finesse) and lose just a trump trick.
Most North-Souths should have no problem reaching this near laydown slam. Here is one of many routes:
The purpose of 3 is to investigate the possibility of a grand slam, but when North offers no encouragement I would settle for six. There is really no point in using Blackwood South is missing only one ace (or key card) and it might be detrimental: Norths response would be 5 , allowing East a free double to request the only lead South fears. Further, if 6 happened to be doubled for a diamond lead, it is still possible for North to be the declarer in 6 NT if he has the K.
There is nothing to the play, other than the chance to make seven if West were to lead a club. Even without Souths 3 bid, I wouldnt risk such a lead because of Wests sturdy diamond holding; Id lead a spade.
A few greedy pairs might try 6 NT which is cold with any lead but a diamond. But if West leads the K, you may as well be in 7 NT, needing the K onside.
With few clear-cut actions the bidding will take many turns. Here is one, using a convention I like:
I play weak jump shift responses at all times, so 2 is perfect and North knows right away to cool it. Another advantage of this agreement is that when you bid 1 then 2 , partner can rule out terrible hands.
But there are many scenarios. Some Souths will open 3 at the vulnerability (dubious in second seat). Many Wests will open in third seat, but this begs for disaster with a flat, suitless hand at unfavorable vulnerability.
In hearts South should win nine tricks unless East-West find their spade ruff. Assume the Q lead; king, ace; East shifts to the J to the king, then the Q goes to the king. West now knows there is no future in clubs, but the diamond layout is unclear; the winning defense of a low spade would be disastrous if Souths spades and diamonds were reversed. Perhaps East should have led the 10 at trick two, or grabbed the Q at trick three to do so. In any event, finding the ruff is not easy.
The borderline slam in clubs (easy to make) seems out of reach. I think most experts would bid this way:
Norths 1 rebid is fourth suit forcing to elicit more information. When South next bids 1 NT, North settles for the obvious game. Both players have a tad extra for their bids, but not enough to warrant bidding further.
Sound technique should manage 12 tricks. Assume a spade lead, won by the queen, then the J; king, ace. It is tempting to continue diamonds, but this is inferior. Lead the 7 (a potential unblocking play) to the jack, then a low club to the 10, queen. If East returns a heart (or a spade), take the heart finesse. If East returns a club to remove your hand entry, running the clubs and spades will squeeze East in the red suits. But there is a defense: On the 7 suppose East plays an honor. You would win the ace (not knowing East has both); then East takes his club trick on the third round. Now you cant benefit from the finesse or the squeeze 11 tricks.
This is a cruel deal for aggressive East-Wests. I can picture this from my been there, done that catalog:
Norths jump overcall is dubious but on the mark in my view. West might pass 4 , but Easts raise shows a good hand (from a limit raise to perhaps 15-16 points) so I must admit I would try for slam. The raise to 5 shows concern about diamond control.
Too bad. The slam is sound but doomed by a diamond lead. Declarer has two reasonable options: Try for a fast discard on the clubs, or lead trumps hoping South has the A and a singleton diamond. The latter would also work if South ducks he is not sure a diamond will cash and North might have a blank K. Unfortunately, the 5 bid gave away the show if South is alert.
Curiously, despite their 10-card fit and slam potential, East-West do best to double 3 . Assuming a spade lead won by the ace, declarer cannot enjoy his fourth heart against best defense. Either he will lose trump control, or East can maneuver a heart ruff and deny dummy the same. Thats a cool 500.
Perhaps North should downgrade his hand and open 1 NT, but most will honor its HCP to produce this:
Norths reopening 1 NT logically shows 18-19 since he would pass with 12-14 and heart length or strength. (Reopening is obligatory only if short in the enemy suit.) East is worth a second heart bid, which is likely to end the auction.
In hearts eight tricks can always be won, and imperfect defense will often allow nine. Assume a club lead, then a trump shift (needed to stop a diamond ruff) won by the king; Q ducked by North; then a spade. South should realize the spade layout and put up the king won by the ace; then a club ruff and a spade to the nine, queen. North exits with ace and a heart, and declarer is obliged to lose two diamonds. Note that if East leads the Q, North must duck to deny the entry to dummy. All considered, it takes sharp defense to stop the overtrick.
In notrump North-South should win six tricks, hence pushing to 2 NT over 2 would be a profitable sacrifice unless East-West were inspired to double.
There are two schools of thought on bidding the East hand: Open the bidding, or pass then make a two-suit takeout (like Michaels). I believe in getting in first:
Many would scoff at the jack-high two-bid, but rules have to be bent occasionally to give your opponents problems. Further, when East is raised he should push to 4 (an abnormal action) because of his wild shape. Note that 4 doubled is a fine result for East-West probably down two (500) against the cold North-South game. South judges well to push on to 5 .
In hearts a lot depends on the lead. If West cashes the A, declarer can win 12 tricks cash all the winners and crossruff. After any other lead (I prefer a trump) the limit is 11 tricks with best defense.
In spades the outcome should be eight or nine tricks. More likely, declarer will guess wrong in diamonds by leading to the king, ending up with eight tricks. Proper technique is to start diamonds before drawing trumps, else there is danger of losing control.
It takes fine judgment for East-West to shun 3 NT and reach game in their 5-2 fit. I like this sequence:
East is too strong for a balancing 1 NT (not to mention no spade stopper) so he doubles, West jumps to invite, then East cue-bids to show doubt as to the best game. West wisely repeats his hearts (3 only promised four) rather than 3 NT with short spades and one stopper.
In hearts 11 tricks can be won. Assume a spade lead to the ace and a spade. If you know North has another spade from the lead, it seems best to lead a diamond to the king immediately; South wins and returns a spade, ruffed. Draw all the trumps (pitching clubs), then lead a diamond, finesse, and dummy is good. But the finesse is not so obvious (you would be set if it lost). Being in an excellent contract, you might reject the finesse to guard against A-J doubleton. Note that you still make 10 tricks when North has the J since he is out of spades.
Those in 3 NT will be down one with a spade lead.
East-Wests will have a slam decision, which accurate bidding should reject. I would bid this way:
I play all second-round jumps by responder forcing, so 2 NT is unlimited; then 4 NT is a natural invitation. West has minimum values (some might not even open) so he passes. If you are wondering why 4 NT is not Blackwood, I have a definite rule which might benefit other partnerships: If notrump has been naturally bid and no major suit has been raised, 4 NT is natural.
Assume a diamond lead, won by the 10. Declarer has an easy 11 or 12 tricks depending on how he plays clubs. In isolation, it is best to win the K then finesse, but there are other concerns. If North gains the lead, a spade shift (though unlikely) would be annoying if the king were offside. Further, if South had Q-x-x-x, finessing either way ensures only three club tricks (lack of entries) while the safety play of cashing the K-A ensures five. (If North has Q-x-x-x it is revealed with any play.)
Those in slam have the same guess at higher stakes.
West has an impossible hand to describe after partner opens in his void suit. Bidding 2 is likely to get you overboard, so I would go quietly with this sequence:
Not pretty, but practical. At least you know there is no major fit (East would bid up-the-line with four spades). My only real concern is that game might be on.
Those who play weak notrumps (12-14) will probably get to game. West uses Stayman; then when he retreats to 2 NT, East goes to 3 NT with his maximum.
Chalk one up for weak notrumps, as nine tricks come home with proper play. South will lead the J, ducked to the king. The best technique is a club to the king then duck the second round (unless the queen or jack appears) hoping to lose the trick to South to minimize the danger of diamond leads through your hand. Even if the defense is clever and North wins the club, you can finesse the 8 and duck the spade return to survive.
Heres a cute swindle: North wins the club and shifts to the Q; king, ace. When he wins the A and leads another diamond, declarer puts up the 10. Ouch.
Few North-Souths will reach this good slam in spades with only 28 HCP and such mild distribution. Heres a sound auction with a touch of optimism:
Easts 1 overcall is dubious, but I couldnt resist it for the lead-directing benefit. After finding the spade fit, North-South cooperate well via control-showing to seek out the optimum spot. Blackwood lovers take note how useless that convention would be in this slam decision.
Six spades basically requires a 3-2 trump break and the diamonds to run, which figures to about 58 percent clearly good, but not excellent. The actual layout fits the bill and 12 tricks are a breeze.
At some tables East may throw in a monkey wrench by opening the bidding, any of 1 , 1 or 1 NT (yuk) according to system. Any North-South who reaches 6 now deserves a medal. This adds fuel to the point I made on Board 26 about getting in the bidding first.
Most North-South pairs will reach the sound game in spades, perhaps with this standard sequence:
Souths jump shift is borderline, but I think its right. If you bid only 2 on these hands, partner must compensate by raising on less, then youll get overboard too often with minimum hands. Norths preference to 3 implies a doubleton, which South is delighted to hear.
Against 4 I would lead the 9 (a diamond is OK too), after which declarer should fail. The best plan is to pitch a club on the A then try to set up a heart trick, either with a 3-3 break or by finessing or capturing an honor. Alas, with only one heart finesse available this doesnt work. At double-dummy declarer can succeed by unblocking the K and leading a low heart (or the jack) from his hand; note that if East wins, the defenders cannot cash two clubs without setting up the 10.
The winning spot is 3 NT, with nine cold tricks. This would be preferred at IMPs but not here, since spades will usually play a trick better.
Are you a practical bidder or a prude? In my view there is only one practical way to bid the North hand:
Yes, 2 NT with a singleton king. Most players would not hesitate to open in notrump with a worthless doubleton, which has no chance as a stopper; but a blank king has excellent prospects with its positional value. How often do you lead an ace against 3 NT? The bidding is greatly simplified: South transfers to hearts, and North jumps to game with his exceptional fit.
If North opens 1 , South will bid 1 and North will drive to game, perhaps with a splinter bid. The defense now knows more about the North-South hands, and the stronger hand will be exposed as dummy.
In hearts, a spade lead is likely (no matter who is declarer), won by the king. The best plan is a crossruff, though the exact order of plays is not crucial. I would take this route: Cash the A; A-K; club ruff; A (pitch the diamond); diamond ruff; club ruff; spade ruff; club ruff (unless East ruffs high). Finally, lead the last diamond and ruff to ensure 11 tricks.
With 35 combined HCP almost every East-West will get to slam (yea, right). I see no way to improve on this simple auction:
I would not use Stayman with such a flimsy spade suit and so many HCP, as a likely outcome would be to reach a dangerous suit slam (say, needing a 3-2 trump break) with 12 tricks cold in notrump. Also, there is no need to check for aces since West can account for at least 33 HCP (assuming 1 NT shows 15-17).
Too bad. The contract is doomed unless South elects to lead a spade from his king. After any other lead, declarer should eventually try a spade toward the queen as his best chance. An alternate line (but inferior) is to cash all your winners except the A, and exit with a heart hoping for an endplay. Nothing works this time.
A few lucky pairs will reach 6 , which is cold for 12 tricks with the added ruff; but dont be proud of this. At matchpoints you are bucking the odds and would be a big loser in the long run. In the almost words of Patrick Henry, Give me notrump, or give me death!
One bid by East will end the auction at most tables:
This could be a textbook deal to illustrate fourth from your longest and strongest. On a heart lead declarer can win only five tricks, whether he takes them early or later, as the defense has exactly eight tricks. Oh well. I must admit I would lead a passive spade, which costs me three tricks, as declarer wins eight in a breeze.
Those who use weak notrumps (12-14) will open 1 and reach the same contract after a 1 response unless North doubles 1 , then South will bid 2 ; East might compete to 2 ; and perhaps South to 3 .
In hearts North-South can win eight tricks with best defense (trump leads), but most will win nine. Note that if the defense starts with two rounds of clubs, declarer is off and running on a dummy reversal, and might win 10 tricks if the defense is bad. The play in diamonds is similar nine tricks with trump leads; 10 without.
In spades East-West can be brutalized with a club lead; South can get three ruffs, holding declarer to just five tricks. In clubs East-West can win eight tricks.
A slam in diamonds is a good bet, but it takes some optimism to reach. Heres a reasonable sequence:
After the Jacoby transfer, North bids 3 (natural, game forcing) and South bids 3 NT to deny a trump fit. When North tries again with 4 (showing at least 5-5), South is worth a stab at slam.
Assuming the K lead, I think the proper play is to ruff it and try the club finesse, which works. At this point you could play safe: Draw the missing trumps, repeat the club finesse, lead the J (West must cover) and you have 12 tricks. But perhaps you should endure the slight risk of West having a stiff club or spade and cash only two trumps before taking the spade finesse; then you can ruff a spade in dummy and win all 13 tricks.
Anyone who bids 6 NT will be undeservedly blessed. Assuming a heart lead, you should discard a club and try the spade finesse first because it is always needed. When spades dont split you need the club finesse as well.
There is a perfect opening bid for hands like Wests: One no-hearts (useful on Board 14 too). Realistically, though, you have to bid what you are dealt:
After the single raise, West has a borderline game try. In my methods it qualifies because a single raise shows 7-10 support points with weaker hands (4-6 range) I would bid 1 NT forcing, followed by a preference. East has an absolute maximum so game is easily reached. Isnt that curious? West bids hearts and spades, and almost his entire wealth is in diamonds. I guess thats what they mean by length before strength.
Regardless of the lead, declarer can win 11 tricks in hearts if he plays all out, but in some scenarios this involves an extra risk. Assume a diamond lead, a heart ducked, a second diamond, and a heart to the ace. When hearts split 2-2 the contract is secure for 10 tricks, but to make 11 declarer must immediately lead a spade to his king which, if it lost, could mean going down. Its a tough choice. Note that an original spade lead makes it easier to score the maximum.
© 1998 Richard Pavlicek