September 12, 2002
I hope you enjoyed playing in this ACBL Instant Matchpoint Pairs, an annual event inaugurated in 1987 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ACBL. Regardless of how well you did, try to find time to compare your results with my analyses in this booklet. You may find some helpful tips, or even discover that some of your results beat my predictions. Determine your matchpoint scores from the tables (top is 100); double-dummy par scores are shown in bold.
I welcome any feedback questions, criticisms, or whatever about the analyses. If you wish a reply, please contact me by e-mail (email@example.com).
Also, if you have access to the Internet, please visit my web site (rpbridge.net) where you will find a large assortment of complimentary bridge material quizzes, puzzles, humor, articles, systems, bidding practice, and more. Each month I also conduct a fun participation project: a bidding poll on odd months, and a play contest on even months. In September its bidding, so please stop by and cast your votes.
Richard Pavlicek of Fort Lauderdale FL is one of the leading ACBL bridge players. He has won 10 North American championships including the coveted Vanderbilt Cup (1983, 86, 95), the Reisinger Cup (1982, 83, 84, 90), the Grand National Teams (1973, 97), and the Open Swiss Teams (1992).
Mr. Pavlicek is the author of a variety of bridge booklets and lesson materials, and hosts an instructive web site dedicated to the advancement of bridge. He and his wife Mabel are successful bridge teachers in South Florida.
For the 16th year in a row, Pavlicek, a respected bridge analyst, has focused his highly skilled critical examination on each of the 36 deals in the ACBL Instant Matchpoint Pairs.
It doesnt take long for the action to start. A routine weak two-bid by North is likely to spark this sequence:
Wests push to 5 seems right in theory (sometimes 4 will be making) but proves wrong here. Credit South for the great setup, and also for the final double unsound, to be sure, but probably the right strategy in an instant matchpoint event. This nets a fine result for North-South, as only 10 tricks are available.
Many North-Souths will play in spades (often 4 , sometimes doubled) which shifts the spotlight to the play. After two top hearts, declarer ruffs and does best to lead the Q (or jack). If East ducks (catering to a blank king), declarer can secure nine tricks by establishing the 10 ( A, K, diamond) for a club discard. To prevent this, and to foil all elimination attempts, East must win the A and shift to a club: Assume the J is led and ducked, then a low club is won by the ace as West unblocks. Now if declarer draws the last trump and exits with a club, East must win and lead the 9 to trap dummys 10.
After two passes, the West hand is not everyones idea of a 3 bid; but the vulnerability is hard to resist. Bid em up, I say:
North has a close choice whether to overcall or double, but its probably better to bid the six-bagger; and East competes in clubs (passing and 5 are also reasonable). Norths reopening double is dubious, but it catches South with just enough to have a good play for game.
Four hearts is a sound contract, but the 4-1 trump split is likely to beat it. After the Q lead, it seems right to win the king and lead the K; East wins and returns a diamond (a trump from the queen is better but unlikely); Q pitching a diamond; A; give up a spade. Declarer now can get home against any defense, and perhaps should based on the bidding and play; essentially, it comes down to assuming a 4-1 heart break.
In Fort Lauderdale we used to have a guy who would open the West hand 1 NT; his partner would bid 2 , then he would alert: Thats nonforcing Stayman. All pass. I heard hes in the state penitentiary now.
Standard bidders are likely to duplicate this auction, assuming East is not too ambitious:
The danger, of course, is that East may invite with 2 NT probably right at IMPs but wrong at matchpoints. The three low spades portend of danger, so the wise choice is to take the plus.
West can always win eight tricks, but it takes good views against tough defense. Assume the 10 lead to the king and ace, then a low club won by the queen. North, already in trouble, does best to exit with ace and another club; then a fourth club is cashed ending in East. Of the many variations, suppose North discards a spade and South two spades. Cash the K-A (North unblocking, best) then lead the J and duck when North covers; North cannot cash his spade, so win the heart return and exit with the fourth heart to endplay South pretty fancy footwork for an overtrick.
A few will play in clubs, where nine tricks are available on a crossruff. Curiously, even if East declares with three rounds of trumps led, declarer can duck two spades and catch South in a ruffout squeeze for nine tricks.
After a routine strong notrump opening, North should probably stay out of the bidding, leaving rise to this sequence:
Two diamonds is a Jacoby transfer, and openers jump indicates maximum values and excellent trump support (usually four).
In hearts, 11 tricks should be made with a textbook endplay. The lead makes no difference; just clear trumps and cash all the black winners before leading a diamond to the nine. Even with East declarer and an original diamond lead, a different endplay is available with only a slight risk: Duck the lead, then after cashing one trump, strip the clubs and spades before throwing North in with the K.
Some pairs may get greedy and try 3 NT (especially if North enters the bidding in clubs), but in notrump there are no workable endplays. Even so, winning 10 tricks is still above average for East-West. Bridge justice is often like political intelligence, just another oxymoron.
If North enters the bidding, it will invariably require bidding up to 3 (few players can bid 2 natural over 1 NT), which gives East-West the opportunity to collect 800 with accurate defense.
Many West players will be disappointed when their fine hand turns sour, but heres a sequence that might bring sunshine:
As East, it is tempting to pass 3 despite the game force created by 2 , however, this would be bad for partnership morale. The quality of Easts heart suit is certainly below par for a Moysian fit, but the alternatives seem even worse. Note that a 4-3 spade fit is unattractive because the diamond ruff comes in the longer trump hand.
In hearts, assume the K lead, then the K to Norths ace. North is likely to return a diamond, ruffing out the queen; then the A-Q reveals the bad break. Next comes the K to the ace, and a diamond to East. No problem: Just cash the black winners then lead the fourth spade to score the 9 (if North ruffs high, discard to endplay him).
Curiously, to beat 4 , North must return a low trump when he wins the A. But even then, East-West are better off than in 3 NT (down three with a low diamond lead) or 5 (down two with heart leads).
After two passes, a weak two-bid by West will pose a challenge to North-South. I would bid this way:
The double followed by 3 shows a strong hand but doubts about the best strain. (With a heart one-suiter, North should bid some number of hearts immediately.) South then repeats his spades to show five with some useful values, and this leads to the routine game in 4 .
The friendly layout allows declarer to win 12 tricks with almost any reasonable play. After the K lead, assume West shifts to the Q (the proper card to avoid giving declarer three club tricks) won by the king. Not knowing the Q is falling, I think the best matchpoint play is to ruff a diamond, then draw trumps overtaking the second round. Assuming trumps break, the plan is to draw the last trump and take a ruffing heart finesse (pitching the last diamond) to ensure 11 tricks and make 12 when East has the Q (barring Q-9-x-x-x). A 4-1 trump break would complicate matters, but youd still end up with at least 10 tricks.
Many standard bidders will duplicate this auction to a reasonable heart partscore:
Despite the hefty values for a takeout double, North should retire peacefully. Reopening with a double (after 2 ) is a daring adventure too rich for me that could salvage a good score if South bids 2 and escapes for down one undoubled; but there are more scenarios for disaster.
In hearts, East can always win eight tricks, and perfect defense is necessary to stop nine. South must lead a diamond, ducked to the queen; North exits safely in hearts or clubs; then South must win the first defensive trump trick to lead a second diamond. This is the only way the defense can get two diamond tricks.
Some Wests will pass their 11-count, allowing North to open 1 NT and probably buy the contract. After a heart lead won by the queen, the J holds; diamond to queen; K (bad news), then a heart to East. If West shrewdly pitches a spade, the defense can run clubs to squeeze-endplay declarer for down two.
This should be a battle between hearts and clubs, and the little fellows should win for a change:
Easts 3 bid is a little aggressive, but the alternative of passing seems wimpy. When 3 comes back to North, 4 is well judged because of the fourth trump. Finally, West will be tempted to push to 4 , but with such doubtful assets a pass seems prudent; indeed, 4 would probably be doubled for 300, a horrible result for East-West.
In clubs, 10 tricks should emerge on the fortunate layout. Note that East is endplayed after winning two heart tricks, so he may as well lead the K (South should drop it anyway); then a simple spade finesse (or a diamond finesse through West) does the trick. The alternative of running the J through East is clearly poor because if East had the Q, he could always cover with Q-x or Q-x-x and force you to rely on the spade finesse. The best technique is to cash A-K first in case the queen drops, then play West for the Q.
The war wages on, this time at a higher level. An unusual notrump overcall is likely to spur a lively auction:
South shows at least 5-5 in the minors, and North blasts into game with his exceptional club fit. Alas, this is routinely down one while 4 probably would have bought the contract; at least its hard to imagine East or West bidding again.
Despite only 19 HCP including three unneeded jacks, East-West are gin for 4 . Of course, you may need to drink some of that gin to bid so high. The crafty defense of North winning the A and shifting to a low diamond might fool some declarers, but it is wrong to duck this to the jack because it assumes misdefense (4 could not be made legitimately if South held the A). Therefore, put up the king.
The gods of distribution can be fickle. Note that in hearts only eight tricks are available because South can get two spade ruffs. If instead you gave South A-x and a blank Q, then 4 would make and 4 could be set with a heart ruff. If you bid for 10 tricks, you better guess right.
Players who bid by the book (if there are any still around) will duplicate this sequence:
Unfortunately, its a mighty jungle out there, and the lion doesnt always sleep. Some Wests (OK, Im one of them) will open in third seat. I would bid 2 . This may look foolish with only five cards and so many losers, but in practice it generates many more good results than bad. The preemptive and lead-directing effect gives your side a big edge. In this case 2 would probably be passed out, and careful play results in down one for a good score. (I justify all my 800 sets with stories like this.)
In clubs, 10 tricks can be won. This is easy with the helpful K lead, but otherwise double-dummy. After, say, three rounds of hearts, declarer can take one diamond finesse, then squeeze East in the pointed suits (including a spade finesse). The proper play, of course, is to use dummys two entries to take diamond finesses, winning only nine tricks.
In notrump, eight tricks are routine; probably nine without a heart lead.
The South hand will not meet everyones standards for an opening one-bid, but it does mine, and this auction might ensue:
West shows a balanced 15-18; North doubles for penalty, and East runs to safety. Souths 2 shows long diamonds and poor defense against clubs (usually a singleton or void) as it deprives North of the chance to double. North then bids his hearts, which should be nonforcing in light of the enemy 1 NT overcall.
In hearts, nine tricks should be made, either by ruffing a club in dummy or by picking up the Q-J-x if East leads a trump and West persists to stop the club ruff. Despite the lucky heart lie, it is impossible to make 10 tricks barring misdefense. Even an original spade lead, ducked to the king, does not hurt the defense if West is careful (best is to lead the A and another club); but if West continues spades or leads trumps, declarer can benefit.
Is there any game on? Yes, North or South can make 3 NT with the double heart finesse, but its the old Kojak special. Youll make it sometimes, but youll lose all your hair in the process.
With only 21 HCP it will be a challenge for North-South to reach game, though it seems well within grasp on this sequence:
Some would argue that South is not worth a 3 bid, but its a 17-point dummy by my evaluation method (15 HCP, 1 for the doubleton diamond, 1 extra for four or more aces and/or tens). North then has a close decision, but since he cannot determine whether the K-Q is duplicated (facing a singleton), it is routine to accept. Having a fifth spade is a big plus.
In spades, the outcome depends on the lead. After a diamond lead (best), declarer is destined to win 10 tricks; otherwise, declarer can win 11. Note that after a heart lead won by the ace, then the J (ducked), declarer must lead hearts to benefit the long heart can be established for a diamond pitch. If instead he continues clubs, the obvious diamond shift will lock him in dummy, unable to reach his hand to rid the diamond.
At some tables, a light opening bid by West may steal the show. This will almost surely keep North-South out of game, and it may shut them out entirely if East bids 1 .
After two passes, South has a textbook weak two-bid (almost embarrassing these days), which might produce this auction:
North will consider competing to 3 , but the flat shape and dubious Q suggest conservatism, especially if South is an aggressive bidder (note my suggested weak two-bid on Board 10).
In clubs, eight tricks are routine. Regardless of the lead (well, except for a low spade, hehe) there is no way to avoid losing two spades, two hearts and a club. Even if South fails to shift to a heart, North cannot be endplayed as long as he refuses to ruff and clings to his third spade.
In spades, the outcome will vary from 7-9 tricks depending on the spade guess and whether West gets a heart trick. After a top diamond lead, declarer can always win nine tricks if he does everything right: On a heart shift, he must win and return a diamond (optionally cashing one or two spades first) to kill Wests entry; then in time he can develop a club discard for his losing heart. Only the double-dummy lead of a heart will ensure a heart trick for the defense. Also, note that declarer will often misguess spades, abandoning the usual nine never in light of Wests takeout double.
North-South players face the difficult bidding challenge to stop below game with two opening bids. I like this auction:
Norths negative double shows both minors, giving South an easy rebid. The real problem comes next, and Norths straightforward game invitation seems best. South rejects with his bare minimum.
No doubt many North players will trot out the old western cue-bid, asking South to bid 3 NT with a spade stopper. Terrific. Even if West leads a low spade, this is set (barring double-dummy play); and if West leads the K, its probably down three. This shows why it is often foolish to force a player to bid notrump when he did not choose that course in the bidding.
Even 4 will often fail, as it depends on a club guess that is contraindicated by Wests weak jump overcall. Assuming the K lead, I would win the ace and lead a club immediately, hoping West will fear a singleton and hop with the ace; if West ducks, Id finesse the 10 for my usual result.
Is there any possible game for North-South? Yes, 4 can be made with an anti-percentage heart finesse and guessing clubs.
Almost all roads lead to 4 by South. If West goes quietly, this will be a common route:
The vulnerability will attract many West players to bid. A case can be made for 2 or 3 (or even 4 if were counting mental cases), but with a topless club suit I much prefer an off-shape Michaels cue-bid to show hearts and a minor. The latter also has the favorable consequence of spurring East into a profitable 5 sacrifice (down three with best play and defense) or pushing South to 5 , which can be set.
In spades, 10 tricks are easy. If the defense finds the club ruff (club lead, diamond return), thats the limit; but after winning the A, East is more likely to return a heart (except perhaps in my Michaels scenario), giving declarer the opportunity to guess spades for an 11th trick. If West was active in the bidding, or if declarer infers that East has no more clubs, the odds favor a second-round spade finesse against East. (Compare Board 13 for a similar nine-trump finessing issue.)
This excellent slam for East-West may be difficult to reach with the heart misfit. Heres a good auction, using strong jump shifts:
East indicates a self-sufficient heart suit, then 4 NT is a natural slam invitation. West accepts with his sturdy hand, offering 6 as an alternative; then East wisely returns to 6 NT. Note the great superiority of West playing notrump as opposed to East playing hearts: The A-Q is protected from the lead, there is no danger of a club ruff, and you dont necessarily require a 4-3 heart break.
After a spade lead, the proper play is to cash three hearts (pitching a spade and two diamonds). When hearts break 4-3, it is easy. If hearts were 5-2 or worse, you will need the diamond finesse, and you must also decide whether to guard against A-x with the long hearts (lead the 4) or A-9-x-x in the opposite hand (lead the K). Note that if the player with 5+ hearts has A-x-x, he could always foil you with a holdup play.
An easy notrump game should be reached at most tables, perhaps via this auction:
Souths negative double shows four hearts, and 2 creates a game force. As North it is tempting to pursue a slam in clubs; but having already shown a strong hand, it seems prudent to leave that move to partner. Bidding 3 NT after the cue-bid suggests indecision as to the best strain (with a hand like K-Q-10 8-2 K-Q-4 A-K-Q-8-3, North should bid 3 NT directly over the double).
There is little to the play. With clubs breaking, declarer has 10 tricks, and the defense has three tricks after a spade lead (and continuation if ducked). A cunning declarer might attempt two risky holdups (banking on the A with East); then he could steal an 11th trick if East leads a third spade (after crushing Wests 10), or if East does not win the A on the first heart lead. Matchpoints is like shooting craps; youll roll a few sevens, but every now and then East will produce the Q at trick three snake eyes.
There are many roads to this fine heart slam. Heres one using Jacoby transfers with splinter follow-ups and Roman key-card Blackwood:
Because of the intermediate heart strength, it seems best to treat the North hand as a one-suiter (e.g., if partner held K-x-x and K-x, hearts would still be the better trump suit). Four diamonds shows that singleton or void with slam interest; 4 NT asks for key cards; 5 shows two plus the trump queen. (Alternatively, North might make a response to show the void.)
In hearts, 12 tricks are easy if you draw trumps and play on clubs, but this is hardly the proper play. By ruffing spades, the contract is virtually assured if spades are 4-2 or 3-3, and there are chances when spades are foul. A spade lead is another consideration, but this does not suggest a singleton (at least on my auction). Assuming standard spot leads, I would try the J at trick one, then lead the 5. Sigh. After West ruffs and I find the K offside, the final sword is to learn that Easts clubs were queen-third.
After a routine 1 NT opening by South, most Norths will appreciate the potential of their club suit and raise to game:
After the J lead, how do you play to guarantee the contract? The answer is to win the lead in hand and cash a top club, which ensures 10 tricks against any distribution. In the worst case, West will show out; then cross to the Q, finesse the 9, etc. Note that if you win the Q at trick one, you lack the entries to do this, and the contract is in jeopardy when East has four clubs (you would then have to give East a club trick and hope they dont cash four diamonds).
At matchpoints, a case can be made to win the Q first to allow the club suit to be run before the spades. Barring four clubs with East, you can then capitalize on a defensive error, i.e., if the player with long spades lets go his stopper. This is a feeble case, however, as it should be obvious you have the A-K, and only a weak opponent might misdefend.
Fast Eddie would lead the 8, and when declarer looks at his convention card he volunteers, Eight shows weakness. East wins the ace and returns the five; queen, king. Eddie chuckles, Yes, been feeling weak all day.
The West hand is not strong enough for a 2 opening, so I would expect this auction to be the popular choice:
West is tempted to raise spades but wisely passes, expecting East to have a sturdy club stopper. With a feeble holding such as J-x-x-x, East should give a preference to 3 with a doubleton or rebid a five-card spade suit in lieu of 3 NT. Further, the Q rates to enhance the protection in notrump, and may have no benefit in spades.
And so it proves. Notrump is indeed the best contract, and 11 tricks should be won. After a club lead to the ace and back to the king, it seems best to pitch a heart from West and take the diamond finesse (low to the 10); the K reveals the 5-1 break; then duck a heart. A greedy alternative is to hope spades are 3-3 and try for all the remaining tricks on a squeeze; but this fizzles, and the end result is probably 10 tricks. Note that North must pitch a club and a heart on the diamonds; if he unguards either black suit, declarer has a double squeeze for 12 tricks. If South instead leads a diamond, ducked to the jack, then back to the 10, North must duck the Q; else a simple black-suit squeeze provides a 12th trick.
The North hand doesnt qualify for 3 at unfavorable vulnerability, yet I would hate to pass. So lets compromise:
Action! It certainly seems right for South to double 3 , but many will regret it. Assume South leads a top diamond and shifts to a trump (crucial). Declarer does best to cross to dummy with a spade and lead a heart, which North must duck to the king. On the next heart lead, South can ruff with the 10 (not mandatory) and lead a second trump to limit declarer to just eight tricks. Curiously, the contract can also be beaten after an original heart lead if North finds the brilliant duck at trick one. Hmm. Why do I keep thinking of those AFLAC commercials?
In hearts, North can win only eight tricks against best defense. East can get a diamond ruff (or a spade ruff for that matter) in addition to his two natural trump tricks. No doubt many North-Souths will bid beyond 2 and be set, perhaps doubled by East who is privy to the foul distribution.
Heres some useless trivia: Which side can win the odd trick in notrump? Despite being outgunned 23-17 in HCP, the answer is East-West. Scary. Maybe its time to go out and buy that AFLAC policy.
Virtually every East-West pair will reach this notrump game, often after a routine Stayman sequence:
Considering Easts weak four-card major and strong doubleton, it might have been better to eschew Stayman. Besides the chance that a 4-4 fit may not provide an extra trick, bidding 3 NT directly makes the defense more difficult by not revealing anything about openers shape.
North will probably lead a diamond (even without the 2 bid, it is dubious to lead from K-x-x-x at matchpoints), and the friendly layout allows 11 tricks to be won. Just lead red suits from dummy and spades from hand, and the defense is helpless to win more than the A and K.
Only an original club lead creates problems for declarer. It is still possible to win 11 tricks, but it involves double-dummy play: Either win the first club with the ace and play as above, or play South specifically for K-x (i.e., so the J can provide an extra entry to East). More likely, declarer will be held to 10 tricks for a below-average score.
With only 23 combined HCP, many East-Wests will miss this good game in hearts. Heres one route, perhaps slightly optimistic:
The West hand is barely worth a game try. The shape is unattractive, but the presence of three aces and two tens surely ups the worth. Two spades is the popular help-suit game try, directing partners attention to where high cards or shortness are needed most. East has a clear-cut acceptance.
Some Wests will instead open 1 NT (a close decision to me), then East will discover the heart fit with Stayman and invite with 3 . Should West accept? Yes. The fifth heart and control-rich hand surely suggest optimism. Only a pedant mired by point count would pass.
In hearts, 10 tricks are routine. There is no need to guess clubs since you can develop a pitch on the Q. Even if North were to duck the K and you also ducked (figuring South had the king), the king ruffs out anyway. If North leads the Q, marking South with A-K, leading a diamond to the queen is a virtual lock; if South wins the king, that is 10 HCP for a passed hand, so the Q should be in North unless maybe South is Al Roth.
Aggressive bidding is likely to land some East-West pairs in game. Lebensohl users will face this familiar predicament:
After the 2 overcall, West cannot invite game in notrump if playing Lebensohl, so he must invoke the partnership method to show a heart stopper en route to 3 NT. Most players favor the direct denies version (an immediate 3 NT denies a stopper), so 2 NT (relay to 3 ) followed by 3 NT is a sign-off. Fortunately, opener has a little extra wood this time to have a fair chance for nine tricks. Too many times, it seems, you have the stoppers but no source of tricks.
After a heart lead, the best play is moot. With South showing (probably) six hearts, the odds slightly favor playing North for Q-x-x, however, an immediate finesse might lose to a stiff queen. Suppose you guess correctly to win the K. You can now get home with a simple spade finesse, but it is also reasonable to play South for the K. In that event you probably could succeed by running the clubs and guessing the end position.
A slightly good slam awaits the North-South pairs. I would follow the Old Trusty route:
After a two-over-one response, an immediate raise should not be made with three low cards (by my beliefs), so facing as little as J-x-x makes South a favorite (53 percent) not to lose a heart trick. Hence, it seems clear-cut to use Blackwood and bid the slam off an ace. If partner had both missing aces, the Roman key-card response (5 or 5 ) would indicate whether the Q was held to allow a more accurate grand-slam decision.
There is little to the play. Either the defense takes its diamond trick or it loses it, and Easts double of 5 should prevent any chance of the latter. Declarer has an early claim when trumps behave.
Those who play in 6 will achieve the same result; and those in 6 NT will achieve, well, the last seven tricks and a lunacy award. If youre going to attempt that coup, you better bid two diamonds first.
A competitive auction should develop at most tables, probably ending in game. This looks reasonable all around:
North has quite a good hand in high cards, but with defensive prospects dimmed by the diamond raise, it seems wise to go quietly over 4 . Doubling with hands that are top-heavy in your long suit often backfires (as it would here), and it seems foolish to sacrifice in 5 .
In spades (or hearts), 10 tricks are laydown, with virtually nothing to the play. The only variation I can see is if North cashes the A-K and then underleads in diamonds, hoping to put South in to get a heart ruff. Oops. Im sure North will be delighted to find out that his partner had no hearts to lead anyway. Some days are like that.
In diamonds, only eight tricks can be made against best defense. After a spade lead to the king, West leads his singleton club to the ace; the 9 (suit preference) is returned for a ruff; then West underleads in spades for a second ruff. This puts the nail in the coffin of anyone doubled in 5 .
A routine 1 NT overcall and a transfer sequence will land many Easts in an unglamorous heart contract:
Most players treat a 1 NT overcall just like an opening bid, so 2 is Jacoby, showing five hearts. This approach is a good general philosophy, as it simplifies your bidding methods. Why learn a different structure when the same one will suffice? I recommend system on after all natural 1 NT and 2 NT overcalls in both direct and balancing seat.
It looks like 2 is destined to fail, losing three trumps and a trick in each side suit. Not necessarily. After a diamond lead, declarer can compress the losers with elopement technique. Suppose North wins the A and returns a spade, finessed to the king; then a spade is returned. Cash the last spade; K; diamond ruff; cash both clubs, and lead the last diamond. Then you need only to guess hearts right, as suggested by Norths opening bid.
In notrump, East can win only six tricks. An extra club trick might be developed with an intrafinesse (low to the 10, then finesse through North) but entries prevent doing this and leading toward the K.
A game in hearts should be reached at most tables, perhaps after this splinter-bid sequence:
Norths response to 1 is controversial. Traditional ways suggest 1 ; practical ways suggest 1 . Since the probability of a diamond slam is too low to consider, I agree with 1 ; it simplifies the bidding toward the most likely contracts and is less revealing to the opponents. Souths 4 is the equivalent of a 4 raise with a singleton or void in diamonds. North is close to making a slam try but wisely settles for game.
In hearts, 10 or 11 tricks should be won depending on how declarer times the crossruff. After a spade lead, I would cash the top spades and begin ruffing diamonds first. This seems to offer the best chance for 12 tricks, but, alas, falls victim to an early overruff and yields only 10. The successful path for an overtrick is to ruff clubs first. Another possibility (inferior I think) is to ruff only clubs and establish the long club (using spades as entries to dummy) then run the Q to West, hoping the 10 drops for 12 tricks; but this also nets only 10.
South has a borderline 2 opening, but considering the awkward pattern it is better to open 1 . This might produce:
North wisely remains quiet over Wests double, and then shows his spade suit after South shows extra strength with a takeout double. South has more than enough to bid game. As East I would be tempted to bid 5 . If West had a singleton diamond (as he probably should), this would be a great save. Alas, its another toll-free number.
In spades, the play is straightforward for 10 tricks, losing two trumps and the A. The only faint hope for an overtrick might be to give West his trump tricks and con him into ducking one heart before running the diamonds. Not much of a chance, but hey, Im always trying. This reminds me of the Richard Nixon coup: Lead the Q from dummy and wait
and wait. Finally, when somebody says something, you promptly answer, Oh! Was that my trick? Darn; even that might not work with the diamond suit blocked.
Another good slam, albeit ill-fated, should be reached at many tables:
Easts 5 NT is not the grand slam force but asks partner to pick a slam from the obvious alternatives. It is dubious to choose hearts with three low trumps, but at matchpoints it can be costly to play in a minor. Further, East could have bid 6 over 4 to show favoritism toward diamonds.
Declarer has an interesting option in 6 . Assume a club lead to the ace; A; club ruff; heart finesse lost; club return ruffed; K; A-K. Do you give up a diamond? Or lead the last trump hoping to squeeze South with Q-x-x-x (or make outright if Q-10-x)? Its probably right to concede down one, as South always could have beaten you by returning a spade.
In diamonds, declarer should cash the top diamonds, then pursue the extra chance of Q-x-x in either hand before eventually trying the heart finesse; down one. The double-dummy make is to run the J to smother the 10; but if anyone found this against you, hold your cards back.
A massive spade fit will propel many North-South pairs to 4 , though accurate bidding should put on the brakes:
Some steadfast Law followers will raise 1 to game, but this makes no sense to me. With both opponents passing, it must be right to bid your values with a single raise. North makes a help-suit game try in diamonds, and South rejects with his nullo holding in that suit. Justice served; nine easy tricks and virtually no chance for 10.
Some East-West pairs will enter the fray, perhaps with 3 (or a takeout double) by West. Eight tricks is the limit in either clubs or hearts. Against clubs, South gets a heart ruff. Against hearts, North can get a club ruff, though its not so easy: After a spade lead to the king, North should not lead a club immediately (South will assume a singleton) but return a diamond; then upon winning the K, the 6 should be read as a doubleton, and South ducks to preserve the entry.
Action will be brewing at many tables, but events are likely to end in a peaceful partscore:
Souths overcall is not a thing of beauty, but the vulnerability is right. East reopens with 2 (rather than double) to indicate at least 5-5 shape, and West takes a preference.
When I first looked at this deal, it appeared that 2 would be an easy make, and 2 would go down. Wrong. Lets try the flip side: 2 can be made, and 2 should go down. Against spades, South leads a diamond (least of evils) to the king, ace; then a trump to the king, and a trump back. Whether or not declarer draws trumps, he lacks control to enjoy the long hearts. In fact, it requires double-dummy play not to go down two.
In clubs, South can win eight tricks if he avoids the temptation of leading a club to the jack (not so easy). The play is complex; in some variations West will be endplayed to give declarer a fourth trump trick. Alternatively, declarer can establish a second heart trick by leading low to the 10.
A good spade game should be reached by many pairs, often via a Jacoby transfer sequence:
West shows a five-card spade suit, and then jumps to 3 NT, offering a choice of games. Some might argue that 2 NT is adequate with only 9 HCP, but Q-J-10-2 looks like more than 3 points to me. East wisely corrects to spades, though it is tempting to try for the same number of tricks in notrump with 4-3-3-3 shape.
Even with the A offside, friendly breaks allow 10 tricks to be won with routine play. After a trump lead (my choice) declarer can draw trumps and make two heart plays (to the 10 first if South plays low) to establish a 10th trick. After A and a diamond, pitch a heart for an easy 10. Even after the double-dummy lead of a low diamond and a diamond back, declarer can succeed by drawing only two rounds of trumps and playing on hearts.
Notrump is not so pretty. Even with a black-suit lead, there are only nine tricks; and with a red suit, down three. Yes, I know, someone will lead the 10, ducked by North. Merry Christmas in September.
This ones hard to predict with so many options all around, but heres one reasonable path:
Norths balancing double is risky with only 9 HCP (Id be worried about playing 1 doubled). After the redouble, South jumps to invite game. East uses good judgment to bid 3 (inferring short spades in dummy); South states his opinion, and North wisely runs to 3 .
In spades, 10 tricks cant be stopped. With East marked for all the high cards, it is easy to guess spades. After a heart to the king, East will probably lead the J; win in hand and lead a spade to the queen; East can do nothing but clear trumps; then clubs are established with a ruff. Plus 170 scores quite well thanks to Norths enterprise.
In hearts, East can win only eight tricks. If South leads the A (not my choice), the defense must be exact: K; club ruff; diamond underlead; club. Otherwise, the defense only needs to be careful; with only one entry to dummy, declarer cannot establish a club trick without help.
This deal gives the advantage to simple old-fashioned bidding. Can you bid this way in your system?
Many players (alas, including me) use 2 NT conventionally, which forces South to use Stayman, which in turn allows West to double for a club lead. The standard sequence gives no such opportunity, so East will make the normal diamond lead. Also note that with 4-3-3-3 shape South does not pursue a 4-4 heart fit, a philosophy with which most experts agree.
After a diamond lead, declarer has 10 top tricks with the heart finesse; and it is possible to win 11. After running the hearts, the key play is to duck a club before cashing the third spade, then East can be endplayed in diamonds. (If you cash the spades first, West can win a spade trick.)
In hearts, it is possible for North to win 11 tricks without a diamond lead: Win the A; A; finesse and draw trumps; K-Q; exit with a club. Pretty, but a little too four-eyed to be realistic. Normal play should produce 10, losing the obvious club and two diamonds.
This edition will end on a calm note, as my model East-West pair judges well to stop low:
Both players have maximums for their bids, but with 24 HCP and no long suit, even 2 NT is often too high. East-West do best to defend 1 doubled (probably down one; perfect defense sets it two) but its hardly realistic for West to trap pass and convert a reopening double.
In notrump, North leads the J-10 (ducked all around); then assume a heart shift and return, clearing the suit. If declarer now takes a diamond finesse, he makes only seven tricks. It seems better (in theory) to cash the A and top clubs. If North held J-x-x-x, hed have to pitch his long heart; then he could be endplayed in clubs for an extra diamond trick.
The matchpoint difference between 90 and 120 is significant because many East-Wests will score 100 (no doubt through misdefense) or 110 from a diamond partscore. Its hardly significant to me, however, because in the words of Dennis Miller: Im outta here.
Wishing you the best in bridge and in life or together, even.
The following tables shows the average high-card points and freakness* for each player in these deals (2002) as well as for all deals in the 16 years this annual event has been held.
The tables show the distribution was tame this year (only the West hands were wilder than expected). The average freakness of a bridge hand is 2.98, and the average freakness of a deal is 11.93. Over 16 years, the deals were slightly wilder than usual, but close enough to the theoretical expectation to be no cause for concern. The time to start worrying is when the HCP dont average 40 per deal.
*A measurement I invented to rank the 39 hand patterns on a linear scale. My formula counts 1 point for each card over four or under three in each suit, plus 1 extra point if the hand has any singleton (or 2 extra points if the hand has any void). Hence, 4-3-3-3 = 0; 4-4-3-2 = 1; 5-3-3-2 = 2; 4-4-4-1 = 3; 5-4-2-2 = 3;
ending with 13-0-0-0 = 20. The freakness of a deal (0-80) is the sum of the freaknesses of the four hands.
© 2002 Richard Pavlicek