The 36 deals in this collection were played September 15, 1999 in the 13th 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 1, 1999
I hope you enjoyed playing in the 1999 ACBL Instant Matchpoint Pairs, an annual event begun in 1987 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our ACBL. Regardless of how well you did, try to find time to compare your results with my analyses in this booklet. You might garner some tips to improve your bridge game, and occasionally may discover that your own success topped my prediction.
Besides the analyses of the deals, I have included some goodies in the boxes at the bottom of the pages (beginning after Board 8). Some of these are instructive, like the quizzes on when to cover an honor, and others are just for entertainment. But they all come with my money-back guarantee: You may as well enjoy them because I guarantee youll never get your money back.
This was a wild set of deals. After Board 32 you will find a statistical analysis, which shows the average HCP and hand freakness for each player. East had the most HCP (11.08 average HCP per deal) and South the fewest (9.42 average), but South more than made up for this by having the wildest hand patterns. But there is no cause for alarm. On the facing page is a 13-year analysis of all the deals since this event began, and it does show a closeness to theoretical expectations.
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.
Fasten your seat belts for an exciting set of boards. We begin with a deal on which both sides can make a game. Heres a sequence I like, especially if East-West:
Easts passed-hand Michaels cue-bid (showing five spades and an undisclosed five-card minor) is a little aggressive but justified by the heart void. West senses a good fitting hand and saves in 4 , or so he thinks. South thinks so too and doubles, but it cant be beat.
In spades, after a heart lead ruffed and the J to the queen, 10 tricks are easily made, and the defense must be careful to stop an overtrick. If North returns another heart, declarer can ruff and lead a diamond, then negotiate a third heart ruff for a neat dummy reversal. If North returns any other suit, the entries are lacking.
In hearts, 10 tricks are available by setting up Norths long diamond (necessary if West leads trumps). A few may get the A lead and no club shift for 11 tricks.
Many standard bidders will follow this route:
Wests jump to game is a bit optimistic perhaps he should invite with 3 or a help-suit try of 2 or 3 but weve all done worse things. Whether a game is good probably depends on the degree of fit, although trying to be too scientific may help the opponents.
The defense can shine here. Four hearts can be beaten if North leads the J and South ducks, which is surely the right play lacking a side entry. Even if the lead were a singleton, South couldnt benefit by winning the ace (Norths only ruff would be declarers loser). After any other lead (except A, then J) 10 tricks are easily won by drawing trumps and establishing the Q.
The only unbeatable game is 3 NT and again the key is a spade duck, but this time by declarer. No matter who plays it, Norths J must be allowed to win the first spade lead to break the defenders communication.
Fast and furious! You pay your entry fee and take your shots. Here is one gallery:
After Souths weak two-bid, North has many tactical options, but I dont like a timid 4 . At least 5 takes away Easts opportunity to use Blackwood. Another possibility is to bid 4 NT as a Blackwood psych, which might almost be convincing when South shows no aces. No, East has just too much to be fooled here.
As East I would fight fire with fire and take my shot in 6 , which North is happy to defend with five trumps. Too bad, its cold with a heart lead: Draw four rounds of trumps and run the diamonds; you need the diamond finesse but not the club finesse. Curiously, if South led either minor against 6 , I would fear a singleton and hop with the ace ugh, down one when trumps go 5-1. But I guess it would serve me right for being a matchpoint hog, not playing in diamonds.
In diamonds (or with trepidation in notrump) 13 tricks are available, but declarer might make only 12 playing for a spade-club squeeze instead of the club finesse.
Many North-South pairs will reach 4 , perhaps after this sequence:
Norths spade suit is rather skimpy for an overcall of a weak two-bid, but its probably the least of evils. East competes to 3 , and South takes a shot at game since 3 might be strained in competition.
Four spades is likely to fail, but the play is interesting. Assume a heart lead and a diamond shift, ducked to East; then a club return. Declarer does best to cash the A, ruff a heart and win his remaining clubs. Then exit with a trump to endplay East. But what if East unblocks the K under the ace? No problem: Cash the A before exiting with a spade then West will be endplayed. Neat, but maybe not realistic.
At double-dummy 4 can always be set. Do you see how? East must lead a trump (either will do). Then when West wins the first heart and returns a diamond, East can cash his spade and exit with a heart to foil any endplay. Remember this the next time you hold king-doubleton in declarers trump suit. Yeah, right.
A heart barrage may make it tough for North-South to reach their best spot. Here is one successful route:
Norths negative double shows four spades, and East makes a weak jump raise. When this is passed back to North I dont like doubling again (too likely to be converted to penalty) so I would cue-bid 4 , allowing for the possibility to play in spades. South then chooses the obvious game.
In clubs, 11 tricks are easy unless West is inspired to lead a diamond and East ducks unrealistic, perhaps, because East would expect a singleton. Declarer can still survive with careful play: Win the A; heart ruff; K throwing a diamond; then lead a diamond (not a trump). Declarer now has a successful crossruff (with a ruffing heart finesse) unless the defense plays ace and trump; then the diamonds can be used.
Those who play in 3 NT should not be pleased, going down two after a heart lead and accurate defense.
Most East-West pairs should end up in 4 . I would bid this way:
Wests 1 response shows five (a negative double would show four) and East routinely raises. I think the West hand is now worth a game bid, treating the A-Q behind South as if it were A-K. Nonetheless, many will just invite and East probably should accept anyway.
The friendly layout makes 11 tricks routine. Assuming a heart lead, just draw trumps and duck a diamond.
Those who play in notrump are blessed with the same 11 tricks on a heart lead. But after a club lead won by the king, declarer can win only 10 for an inferior result. Curiously, if North were to win the A at trick one and continue clubs, declarer can prevail for the 11th trick on the spades South is squeezed out of his remaining club, then a diamond is ducked to South (if North plays the 10 first, win it then duck a diamond).
This is Houston, Mission Control, to Richard: Please return to earth.
Here is a standard auction to the borderline game for North-South:
Norths raise to 4 is a close decision but correct in my view. Chances are good that at least one of Norths queens will be useful (Souths shortness is most likely to be in spades) and the presence of a doubleton heart instead of one would sway me to bid. A case could also be made to try 3 NT, but that appears too dangerous with Norths tenuous stoppers.
In hearts, barring a gift, winning 10 tricks depends on the club finesse which works. If West leads a spade (or A then a spade), Norths entry will be driven out early and declarer must immediately lead a club to the 10. Failure to do this allows the defense to prevail.
If North plays in 3 NT, only a spade lead (or a diamond lead and timely spade switch) can beat it. But even after a friendly club lead, declarer can be held to nine tricks for an inferior result. If declarer tries for 10 by leading a second club, East shifts to a low diamond.
A sensible weak two-bid by North is likely to produce this auction at many tables:
The winning decision by South is to sacrifice in 4 , however, this feels wrong holding three top tricks on defense, as too many times you will defeat their game. It is also possible that 4 could be cold (e.g., give North a stiff heart and Q-x-x), but my philosophy is that North is allowed to bid 4 with a suitable hand after Souths raise. Hence, when he fails to do so the odds are overwhelming it will fail.
In hearts, 10 tricks are routine and its hard to imagine any scenario for more or less.
In spades, the play is more interesting. If East carelessly leads three rounds of hearts, declarer can win 10 tricks with the lucky diamond lie. Of course, a club shift by East is a standout and completely safe, then declarer is held to nine tricks. Note that in the diamond suit the double finesse (leading the jack) is the best percentage play. Even after the club shift, this is better than trying to drop the Q singleton or doubleton.
Aggressive preemptive bidding is the hallmark of a winning player. How many diamonds would you bid with the South hand in this situation?
At favorable vulnerability I like five to put some real pressure on the opponents. Notice how uncomfortable this makes it for West; he would have an easy 4 bid over anything less, but now he has to grope at the five level. This time it is right to bid, but next time he might look foolish.
In spades, 11 tricks are routine regardless of the lead (unless for some strange reason East becomes declarer and South leads a diamond). Darn! It would be nice if I could switch the J and 3, and make West pay with an uppercut on the third round of clubs.
In diamonds, South can easily win eight tricks just lead a diamond to the king so the bid was right on the money for a good save. Hmm
I wonder if West would have bid 6 if South jumped to 6 . Well never know, but I suspect they might be calling the paramedics for North instead.
It is easy to get overboard on the North-South cards, which have a lot of potential but fit poorly. Here is a sound auction:
South barely has the values for a reverse bid (a jump to 3 is also reasonable). Over 3 NT North senses the misfit and judges well to make a quantitative invitation in notrump, which South rejects. Some players would treat 4 NT as Blackwood here, but my rule is this: If our side has bid notrump as a natural bid and no major suit is agreed, then 4 NT is natural.
As West, would you lead the unbid suit? If you dont, declarer has all 13 tricks (and a 14th to spare) when the J comes down. And imagine if you were on lead against 6 NT. Would you find it then? Another thing that makes me wonder: In the past scores I noticed that eight North-South pairs bid 6 NT and won exactly 12 tricks. Does this mean that West led the K and then shifted? It boggles the mind.
West will usually buy this one in spades after a little competition:
After Souths passed-hand takeout double, West bids his second suit as a game try, North competes in hearts, and East in spades.
West can win eight tricks in spades. The defense has three aces and a natural trump trick, and North is entitled to a diamond ruff whether he pursues it or not. Declarer has to play diamonds early himself.
In hearts, North can win nine tricks. Assume a spade lead and a trump shift (best) won by the ace. If declarer starts a crossruff by ruffing a spade, he will fail East overruffs the third diamond and cashes the K. One winning line is to negotiate three spade ruffs by leading a club to the queen early, but this seems presumptuous of a bad diamond break. Better I think is: A; diamond ruff; club ace; diamond ruff and overruff; K; spade return (best) ruffed; then a club and West is endplayed either the Q or the 10 will win a trick.
With 3-3 in the majors, the West hand is not ideal for a preempt, but one cant wait for perfect hands:
It is also sensible to open 2 (weak) or even 1 , but these will lead to the same futile contract and phantom save. (As shown, perhaps South should double.) I guess the moral is to wait for those perfect hands and pass.
In diamonds, routine defense will take four fast tricks. After the K lead, South should probably overtake and lead the Q for an easy cash-out. The danger in not overtaking is that North might lead the A next.
In spades, after a high club lead, North can win nine tricks with best play. This is easiest if East leads four rounds of clubs discard from South on a low club and ruff the last club high. If East shifts to diamonds, ruff and lead clubs to do the same. If East shifts to trumps at any time, win the ace, finesse hearts, draw trumps and set up a club. What about a club ruff at trick two and a trump shift? Oops! Ace and a heart now nets 10 tricks. Curiously, North can be held to just eight tricks after any opening lead but a club, but if East ever found this they might lock him up and throw away the key.
Good bidding will not be rewarded here due to a bad trump break. I like this sequence:
Norths reverse bid is forcing, and South repeats his meaty spade suit. (After openers reverse, most experts play that responder should rebid any five-card major with a weak hand.) North next cue-bids to elicit more information, and after the welcome diamond preference, uses Blackwood en route to 5 . Note that 6 would be a sound contract if South held either black ace.
Ouch! The bidding was too accurate and a shrewd East player would double, expecting his side to have two cashable aces plus a trump trick. And so it is; 5 is down one, with nothing to the play.
A lesson to be learned here is that, to win at bridge, you have to be in the right place at the right time. No matter how well you bid or play, it seems that fate has the edge.
Most East-Wests will get to 3 NT, though the paths will vary. Here is one sensible route:
Some Easts will rebid 2 over 2 , but I prefer 2 NT since West would use a negative double with four hearts (unless he intended to bid hearts himself later).
After a spade lead to the king, declarer does not have time to develop diamonds so it is logical to attack clubs. I think low to the jack is best because: (1) South bid and is more likely to hold high cards, (2) if North held the Q it would often be four-long and uncapturable, and most convincing, (3) I can see all four hands. After this start, 10 tricks are routine, and some will steal 11.
If West plays 3 NT, the J lead is troublesome. The right play is the king (assuming South bid spades) which South wins, and a spade is returned. Maybe West should infer that South would not lead a spade from the 10 and hop with the queen. But more often he will duck and be held to nine tricks; though he might still finagle 10 by getting clubs right if the defense fails to cash out.
The bidding could take many turns here, but this looks normal to me:
Norths hefty overcall fits the modern style, and East doubles to show the minors; South wisely passes at the vulnerability, and West bids his better minor. North then doubles to show a strong overcall, and South has an easy takeout to spades. East competes, and so does South.
In spades, North can win eight tricks. Routine defense starts with three rounds of hearts and a diamond to the ace. If West returns a diamond the play is easier: Win the king, draw trumps and exit with a diamond to endplay East. If West instead returns a club, North must win and lead all his trumps to effect a squeeze throw-in.
Some Norths will play in 1 NT or 2 NT. Assume the J lead. If West ducks or continues hearts, eight tricks are available (lead to the K). The killing defense is a club at trick two, which holds North to six tricks.
In clubs, 10 tricks can be won on the friendly lie.
The smart money here is on defense, as most contracts will be set. A typical auction:
After the takeout double Souths jump is borderline but justified I think with the well-placed values. West competes to 3 , a dangerous bid which South would double, but he escapes when North raises spades. Not pretty, but realistic.
Alas, the K turns out to be useless, and the limit in spades is eight tricks. After the K lead to the ace, heart to the ace and a spade, West can win and continue clubs (high, then low) to leave declarer without resource. Note that if declarer ruffs with the 10, cashes the K and leads hearts, West must not ruff.
Those Wests who play in clubs will not enjoy it either. Assume the K lead, a low heart to the ace and a trump shift (four, king, ace) then a heart ruffed. If West cashes the Q-J he can be held to six tricks with sharp defense. West can do a trick better by winning only one top club and exiting with the 9 (or ace then nine) eventually throwing South in lead a diamond.
Some Norths will cast their fate to the wind and open 3 (or maybe 2 ). A more traditional auction:
This is far from clear-cut, however, as there are many alternatives. West might raise clubs instead of bidding notrump; North might bid spades earlier, and East might bid only 2 NT or double 2 .
In notrump, nine tricks can always be made by West. There are seven top tricks assuming declarer plays clubs right and doesnt take a first-round spade finesse (ouch), and it is easy to develop two more in the red suits.
If East plays 3 NT, the defense can prevail. South must lead a low diamond, then if an honor is played from dummy, North wins and returns the eight which South overtakes. But what if declarer plays low from dummy at trick one? The winning defense now has a double-dummy flavor: North must shift to a heart, then the defense can develop five red-suit tricks before declarer can develop two. If North does anything else, declarer can succeed with accurate play. Try it.
Almost every East player will preempt. Indeed, this case could be found in a textbook unlike North on Board 17, found only at the zoo. A normal auction:
South might give a fleeting thought to 3 NT, but wisely avoids that disaster after a club lead. (Actually, North probably should remove 3 NT to 4 anyway.)
In spades, assuming no gifts (like the A lead and no club shift), North should win exactly 10 tricks. The only problem is the trump suit, and the second-round finesse is strongly indicated, not only by restricted choice but also by the known diamond division.
Those who stumble into 4 have a better chance for overtricks since the defense must now cash their clubs. For example, East might lead his singleton spade giving declarer 12 tricks with routine play. This illustrates the advantage of having the evenly divided suit as trumps and the unevenly divided suit to provide discards.
East-West have a profitable sacrifice in clubs, though its unrealistic to find. Declarer can win only eight tricks (just enough) with the foul diamond layout.
Those who play one notrump forcing after a major opening will probably bid this way:
Traditional Norths will respond 2 instead and arrive at the same contract. In fact, I cant imagine any method that wouldnt reach 4 (famous last words).
In hearts, 11 tricks should be won. Assume the J lead taken by the king, J to the ace, and a club shift won by the queen. A variety of plays will achieve the same result, but best I think is: K; A; A pitching the last club loser; K; spade ruff; A; spade ruff. The South hand is now good except for the high trump.
A few declarers might be lured into a dubious safety play after the K drops the nine: finessing and losing to the queen. With this wasted effort declarer must take the spade finesse to recoup his 11 tricks. Even at IMPs I dont like this safety play because declarer can succeed with two trump losers on most layouts, and it could be the dreaded unsafety play. For example, if East returned a spade you might be set with a bad spade break.
This will be a trouble deal for many East-West pairs. One sensible auction might be:
Some brazen Wests will open 2 (poor judgment I think with such a flat, barren hand) and get even higher when East tries for game.
In spades, East can win only six tricks if South gets his heart ruff. Even after the K lead, declarer is unlikely to win and draw trumps, so the opportunity remains.
The outcome in hearts should be the same. After a club lead, declarer is helpless to do anything effective.
In clubs, South can win 10 tricks with good guessing. Assume three rounds of spades, ruffed with the 9. To avoid a trump promotion, cross to the A and lead a club, ducked to the king. Next lead the Q, and all that remains is to guess diamonds. Poor defense! On the first club lead East should play the ten, the card he is known to hold. Now declarer is likely to assume A-10 alone and continue with a low club to avoid the promotion when West has 8-7-4. A cute swindle.
Most will deem the East hand worth a 2 opening. Here is a sound standard sequence:
West barely has enough for a positive response, and East wisely suppresses his spade support to declare notrump. East later invites slam with 4 NT (natural, not Blackwood) and West declines.
Is this a good slam? The probability of success is hard to figure with chances in every suit, plus the advantage of the lead, but my rough estimate is about even money. So its definitely not good; call it fair at best.
In notrump, assume the 10 lead to the king, then ace and a spade to North, and a heart return. At double-dummy its easy finesse hearts twice, or win the A and finesse in both red suits but its more realistic to cash the top hearts, after which the limit is 11 tricks.
Those who play in spades may do worse; for example, if North leads a heart and South later gets a heart ruff. But they may do better if East becomes declarer (after a transfer bid) and South leads his singleton.
Competition for a partscore is likely to produce an auction like this:
Some Norths may double 1 since they can support all the unbid suits, but I prefer to overcall first so as not to miss a 5-3 spade fit. (North is not strong enough to double and then bid spades.) East competes in hearts, and South finally comes to life with a spade raise.
In spades, 10 tricks can be made on the friendly layout. After two rounds of hearts, ruffed, I would lead the K won by West, then assume a heart return, ruffed. Now, the only problem is the spade guess, and I see no reason not to go with the slight favorite, trying to drop the jack. Even against shrewd defense (West ducks the K and East denies dummy a club entry), declarer can maneuver two entries to dummy to finesse diamonds.
In hearts, West can win nine tricks with careful play. The key is to keep South off lead while establishing the club suit, i.e., duck the first round if North plays high, or win the ace if he plays the ten.
Bidding a grand slam after a preempt is a difficult feat, especially without Blackwood. So lets dream:
Souths 4 bid is aggressive but on target in my view (I estimate the hand to take seven tricks and overbid by three). West is too weak to act the first time, and East bids his long suit. West shows spade control en route to 6 , East shows club control (implying tiptop values), and West takes the intelligent stab at seven. Admittedly, this is far easier on paper than at the bridge table.
In notrump or diamonds, 13 tricks are laydown; well actually there are 14 in notrump and 15 in diamonds (with a club ruff). The only way for East-West to go minus would be if West stumbles into 7 and is beaten by a diamond ruff.
In spades, South can win six tricks (West can get two club ruffs) so bidding 7 (minus 2000) is better than defending 7 . But only a fool would do this because it guarantees a bad score.
Now North-South get their turn with an excellent slam in spades. Here is a standard auction:
Norths 4 is a temporizing move there must be a slam somewhere but he is not sure where then South takes control with Blackwood.
In spades, 12 tricks are easy unless West makes the diabolical lead of a low diamond, and many will win 13. After a club lead, the obvious play is to draw trumps, lead the 8 to the ace, ditch the diamond, and finesse hearts for an overtrick. But wait! The finesse would gain only if East had Q-x-x, which means West played the nine from 9-x-x. Is that possible? Sure, but I dont think so; I would put up the king. Thank you, next case.
Those who play in notrump will have a tougher battle. Say, North is declarer with a club lead. I think the best play is a diamond to the king right away. Even if you misguessed theres a good chance East wont return a diamond, then youll have a second chance.
I would upgrade the East hand to a 2 NT opening because of the strong club suit. Then perhaps:
Souths overcall is a smart strategy at the vulnerability (in fact, a good case could be made to bid 4 ). West bids the obvious game for his side, and North sacrifices when in doubt, raise partner. Lacking a heart fit, East probably should double, but with his ideal spade holding it would also be reasonable to pass the decision.
In spades, South can win eight tricks if he is careful. Assume a heart lead won by the ace; spade to king; high spade to ace; K; A, and a club ruffed. If South draws the last trump and finesses twice in diamonds, he will be tapped out of trumps and lose his long diamond. The simplest solution is just to give up on the second diamond finesse; another would be to postpone drawing Easts last trump.
In hearts, East-West can win 10 or 11 tricks depending on whether South gets a club ruff. Played by West, the ruff is unlikely; but played by East (after a transfer bid) South may lead his singleton and get it.
Most Wests will play in 4 , often after this simple auction if North is quiet:
If North ventures a 2 overcall, it is unlikely to make a difference; but an aggressive 3 (not recommended) might dissuade East from raising spades with his quack collection, and the game could be missed.
In spades, West can win 10 tricks, but the defense can be annoying. Assume North leads three rounds of clubs and South ruffs with the jack and is overruffed. From declarers viewpoint this might be an uppercut attempt with J-x, after which it would be necessary to take a spade finesse against North. Ouch! But with the known club break this is less likely. The straightforward play of cashing the top trumps makes the rest easy, without even needing the diamond finesse.
The top spot for East-West is in notrump, as the same 10 tricks are available. If the defense begins by ducking a club (best), declarer needs the diamond finesse for his life; but its there for the taking.
A borderline game for North-South should produce a variety of auctions. Here is my choice:
Norths 2 NT rebid is not pretty, but neither is the alternative of 3 . Another possibility is to open 1 NT, though the playing potential suggests moving up a notch with this route. I would be worried about spades, but sometimes J-x gives you a positional advantage on the lead (e.g., if South held A-Q-x or K-10-x). Without the J, I would rebid 3 .
In hearts, 10 tricks can be won. Assume a diamond lead (a club makes it easier) won by the ace. Simplest is a low club immediately; besides the extra club, declarer can develop a spade trick by force (finesse the nine). A more exotic line: J to the king; heart return; spade to nine, ace; club shift (if not, East will be endplayed later) ducked to the king; heart return; diamond ruff; finish the trumps and East gets squeezed (if West could beat the 8 it would still work as a double squeeze).
OK, lets all return to Dodge City. I can picture this shoot-out at some tables:
Norths raise to game is questionable but justified I think with three aces and two tens. East, of course, thinks otherwise and doubles to direct a heart lead (the suit bid by dummy). Perhaps South should concede his demise and run to 4 , but the macho thing is to pass.
In notrump South can win only eight tricks. Assume a heart lead, ducked to the eight; K-Q, both ducked (South pitching diamonds); K (its falling anyway) to the ace, then the K. East can win the first or second club and return anything (except the Q) and the result is the same. Note that if East exits passively with a club, South runs the J to develop his eighth trick. On a good day the spade finesse would win. Sigh.
In diamonds South can win 10 tricks if he avoids a trump promotion (e.g., A, 10 to the jack right away). An 11th trick might accrue from a potential ruffout squeeze against East, but this is foiled by continued heart leads or a spade shift by West.
With only 25 HCP this excellent slam for North-South will usually be missed. Heres an expert auction:
Souths 4 is a splinter bid showing a game-forcing spade raise with a singleton or void in clubs. After an exchange of control-bids, North uses Roman key-card Blackwood, and South shows two key cards plus the queen or extra length in trumps. (Note that with 10 trumps including the A-K the queen is a big favorite to drop.) Confident now of at least a small slam, North asks for specific side-suit kings, and South returns to the trump suit to deny any.
As is often the case, well-bid hands are easy to play. Declarers only concern is a possible 3-0 trump break, which would certainly make the play interesting; but trumps behave normally for 12 laydown tricks. There is no way to win more unless East leads a low diamond; but even then, declarers best play for the overtrick is to put up the queen.
A sound game in hearts should be reached at most tables, often after this standard auction:
Norths jump is a limit raise, and South accepts. Some Wests will bid more than 2 (I like 4 with partner a passed had) but this may not matter since North is likely to bid 4 if necessary. Another variation is that some Souths will open 1 NT, which might lead to a hopeless 3 NT (almost surely if West cleverly passed).
A curious deal: Both North-South hands are balanced, and East-West have four singletons. This shapely misfit will result in some numbers floating around, especially if East enters the bidding. Did I hear someone suggest a weak two-bid? Or a 3 opening? Excellent; now please return to your padded cell.
In hearts South can win 10 tricks. After three rounds of diamonds this is simple: Ruff high, draw trumps and claim. But if West shifts to his singleton spade at trick two, declarer will need mirrors, as a trump must be led immediately from hand (if the A, a diamond next). Somehow I dont think Id find it.
Most East-Wests will reach the normal spade game despite any antics by North. A typical auction:
Easts double is negative (showing four spades) and the 4-4 trump fit is easily found. Even if North snubs the vulnerability and bids 3 , it is unlikely to matter. (Most experts play negative doubles through 4 at least, and many include 4 after a minor opening.)
In spades, 10 tricks can be won with reasonable care. Assume North leads the K, won by the ace. I think it is right to lead the K, which South wins and returns a heart, ruffed; then the A and a spade finesse. Declarer now could just cross to the A and draw trumps, or he could cash the A-K letting South ruff either comes to the same. There is no way to make an 11th trick.
In hearts, North can win only eight tricks against best defense. Assume the K lead, two rounds of trumps, then a club ducked to West. The defense must now cash one spade and lead a club, else declarer would be able to squeeze East in the minors for a ninth trick.
There are many roads to this slam for East-West with their 33 HCP. I prefer short and simple:
Wests one-bid is a little heavy, but the alternative of 2 often leads to an awkward auction when opener has diamonds. (Another possibility is to open 2 NT, but that seems deranged.) I use the 3 NT response to show 13-14 HCP but would fudge a point to avoid a clumsy, drawn out sequence. Those who play 2 NT as 11-12 HCP would bid that instead (I play 2 NT as 15+). It hardly matters though, since West should always drive to slam.
In notrump, 11 to 13 tricks will be won depending on the lead and declarers finessing choices. Assume South leads a spade (a club or heart makes it easy) won by the king, and declarer cashes three diamonds ending in East as South pitches clubs. It is logical now to finesse clubs right, and declarer can win all the tricks if he shuns the heart finesse for a major-suit squeeze against South.
In diamonds, 12 tricks can be ensured by giving up a spade and ruffing the fourth, but this rightfully gets little reward in a matchpoint event.
An easy heart game should be reached at most tables, perhaps after this sequence:
Souths double is negative (showing four hearts), and Norths excellent playing potential and controls warrant a jump to game. Indeed, South has a difficult decision whether to pass or bid again, and some will surely get overboard to a hopeless slam.
In hearts, 11 tricks are routine. The only chance to win 12 might be if East shifted to a trump after cashing one spade, but in view of dummy this is a poor strategy; its probably right just to continue spades on the off chance partner has the singleton.
Some Souths will ignore the search for a heart fit and bid 3 NT, a lucky decision as the same 11 tricks can be won. This is easy if South is given a trick with his Q early, but its possible against any defense. For example, say West leads the J to the king, and East shifts to a diamond: On the clubs West is forced to shed diamonds, then the top diamonds catch him in a vice squeeze. If you need help, call 911 and ask for the Vice Squad.
Lights! Camera! Action! I wouldnt be surprised to see this drama unfold at an expert table:
At unfavorable vulnerability Souths unusual notrump (showing 5-5 in the minors) is not clear-cut but justified. West ekes out a heart raise, and North jumps to 5 with his excellent fit. This pressure bid will cause some Easts to bite at 5 ; but its rarely right to bid five over five so a disciplined pass seems best, and West doubles.
In diamonds, 9 or 10 tricks will be won depending on how trumps are played, and the difference is a very big trick. Assume a heart lead and a spade shift. It would be nice to locate the A before playing trumps, but good defenders would duck the first club, then declarer has to worry about a club ruff, too. So it seems right to tackle trumps, and the odds favor the finesse (especially after West has doubled) down two, minus 500 for a terrible score. Oh well; been there, done that.
East-West can win 10 tricks in either major, and many will be given 11 when the defense fails to lead clubs.
A normal preempt by South might be the only bid:
East will be tempted to try 5 , but the vulnerability should dissuade him, as chances of catching the right dummy are poor. Though in fairness, if you swapped Wests black suits so that 5 makes, I might be labeling East a coward. If East does bid, North should not push to 5 ; either double or pass is reasonable.
In hearts South should win nine tricks after the defense takes the first four. On a high club lead, Easts four-spot is ambiguous (South should play the two). A diamond shift could be right, since the A might be lost if South has a stiff club; but the odds favor a club continuation. Four-eyed defense can do even better: an original diamond lead then four rounds of clubs for an uppercut.
In diamonds, the defense also has the first four tricks, but a possible hang-up may occur: If South leads his singleton, North may lead a fourth spade hoping for a trump promotion. Is this right? Yes, because it is Souths duty to ruff the third spade if he has the A. Of course, cashing the A first would simplify all this.
Opposite a passed partner, most Souths will take the direct route to game:
Preempting with a good hand prevents partner from making an intelligent decision if there is further competition or a chance for slam, but these cases are remote after West and North pass. If East opened in first seat, I think most experts would start with a 1 overcall.
In hearts South can win 10 tricks against best defense, but there are ways to connive 11. For example, assume West leads a diamond to the ace, and East shifts to the K. South should duck. Yes, you could be set if East began with five clubs, but this is remote (especially since West might have led his singleton) and ducking greatly increases your chances for a successful squeeze. If East leads another club, bingo; run the trumps and West is history. Of course, a diamond return by East breaks up the squeeze by erasing the threat. Observe that you have no chance for the overtrick if you win the first club.
A few East-Wests might get carried away with their diamond fit and bid 5 . Did I say carried away? Yup, thats minus 800 at least. Call for a stretcher.
© 1999 Richard Pavlicek