September 10, 2003
I hope you enjoyed playing in the 2003 ACBL Instant Matchpoint Pairs, an annual event inaugurated in 1987 to celebrate the ACBLs 50th anniversary. Curiously, it even fell on my birthday this year. No matter how well you did, try to find time to read the analyses and compare your results. You might find some helpful advice, or even discover times where you topped 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Also, if you have access to the Internet, please visit my web site (rpbridge.net) where you will find a vast assortment of bridge material quizzes, puzzles, humor, articles, systems, bidding practice, and more all complimentary. Each month I conduct either a bidding poll (odd months) or a play contest (even months). This month its bidding, so stop by and cast your votes! October will feature a spooky Halloween play contest.
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 many bridge teaching 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 17th 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.
The 2003 ACBL Instant Matchpoint Pairs begins with an auction that should be duplicated by all standard bidders:
I suppose a few hungry Souths might use Stayman, winding up too high in 3 NT, but its hard to see any merit in bidding with 3 points. Even when opener has a maximum, the lopsided partnership assets usually make the play difficult. Id rather throw away all of Souths cards but the clubs and draw for an inside straight flush.
Against notrump, I think East should lead the J; its safe and it could be productive if partner has heart length. Even here, with declarer having all the hearts, its still best as it allows the defense to kill dummys entry before the fourth club can be established.
Declarer has several options, but it seems best to lead a club from hand and see what happens. Eight tricks can always be made by using dummys only entry to lead diamonds (low to the 10) or by arriving at various end positions, forcing the opponents to lead diamonds. Even running hearts immediately will usually work, as East has two awkward discards to make; and a careless diamond pitch could hand over nine tricks.
As a passed hand, there is a case for responding 2 as East, but 1 NT seems normal. The real problem comes at the next turn:
After 2 , my philosophy is to bid 2 on the theory that it might uncover a superior 5-3 fit and possibly a good game. For example, if West held K-J-x-x-x A-x-x A-K-x-x x, he would pass a 2 preference. If we have a 5-2 fit in both majors, it is still likely that hearts will play better, especially with the K protected on the opening lead. The downside, of course, is that West may pass with a singleton heart when 2 is better.
In hearts, the play is tricky. Assume the 10 lead (best); club to king, ace; diamond. Declarer must now cash three spades, pitching a diamond, and lead a club, taken by North. On a low trump shift, East must win the king; but if North leads a diamond, East must ruff low (anything but king) to succeed. All considered, seven tricks seems more likely.
In spades, the play is straightforward, probably on a heart guess for eight tricks. After a club lead to the queen, declarer should get it right, as North rates to have the A when South is marked with A-Q and never bid.
A doomed game for North-South, but weve all been there before. This auction looks normal to me:
South is close to a jump shift, but the misfit and dubious Q suggest caution. Over 2 NT, North takes the plunge to 4 based on his self-sufficient suit. North should never raise hearts despite the known eight-card fit since his hand might provide no tricks in hearts.
In spades, nine tricks should be made. After the 10 lead (my choice), finessed to the king, West should probably return a club in case East has a singleton. Alas, declarer cant benefit and must lose three more tricks.
East could earn a gold medal with this performance: Start a low heart (or the jack); then assume declarer cashes the A and leads a diamond to the jack, ace. East then shifts to club, and declarer can win only eight tricks. Note that leading the A at trick one or giving West a heart ruff too soon is not good enough. And who says bridge isnt an Olympic sport? At least, wed know where to start drug testing.
Despite the lack of two defensive tricks, the abundance of 10s should persuade North to open, usually producing this simple auction:
In notrump, East can be held to his five top tricks if South leads his partners suit; but I suspect most will lead a club and run the suit immediately. While this may look good on the surface, it actually lets declarer escape with six tricks if he reads the ending correctly: North must keep three spades to prevent establishment of spades, after which he can be endplayed, either with the third diamond or a low spade to the nine (or queen if South plays the jack).
Some Souths may risk a light double of 1 NT, which might spur West into a rescue maneuver, landing in 2 . This contract is unbeatable if declarer opts for the intrafinesse in trumps (low to the nine, then run the queen). Even if the defense starts hearts, allowing North to get rid of a club, declarer can thwart the overruff by transferring the club ruff to diamonds.
A few Souths will bid 2 , which makes rather easily, but plus 90 is only peanuts when compared to the sets coming from most East-West contracts. It rarely pays to compete in a minor over 1 NT with both sides vulnerable, as there are several ways to get pipped with 90 versus 100.
A highly competitive auction will occur at most tables, and spades will often win out. Heres one possible scenario:
I never like to raise an overcall with three low trumps because (1) partner is likely to bid too much hoping for a better fit and (2) if partner is on lead, he will often lead his suit to disadvantage. Hence, 2 by West; then a spade raise is justified when East rebids his suit. When North competes accurately to 4 , Id try 4 as East. Oops, caught in another speeding trap. Oh well; Ill begin the postmortem: But partner, I had two honors in your suit.
In spades, declarer can be held to eight tricks. Assume a club lead to the ace, then a diamond shift and a ruff. North must now return a club to remove dummys entry before diamonds can be used; then North must get two heart tricks. Indeed, declarer must play carefully to avoid three heart losers.
In clubs, 10 tricks are routine since there is no way to escape a heart loser. The only game available for North-South is in 4 (same 10 tricks), but it seems illogical to bid it particularly over 4 .
Is it plausible to reach 6 ? The slam is virtually laydown, but someone has to take a rosy view. Id start the ball rolling with a weak two-bid:
Many would shudder at 2 , especially with the side four-card major and a void, but I think its the right strategy. Failing to bid immediately often entails greater risk later. The key factors to me are the body cards in hearts and the weakness in spades. Imagine if partner held A-x-x-x 10-x K-Q-x A-K-x-x. Which game would you want to play?
After South doubles, West redoubles to create a forcing auction, then East doubles the spade runout. Dont laugh; 2 can be set four tricks. West wants no part of that, of course, and settles for the heart game. Perhaps West should cue-bid 3 ; then 4 by East; 5 to ask for club control. Bingo! Maybe the weak-two bid wasnt so bad after all.
If East passes originally, South will open 1 , and West will double (too strong for 1 NT). Even if East now jumps to 4 , West is likely to give up facing a passed hand. Even five hearts would be too high if East held K-x Q-x-x-x-x-x A-x x-x-x, and West cant bid 4 NT to play.
Bidding a minor-suit game at matchpoints is often difficult due to other temptations, and this deal is no exception. Heres a sensible route:
Souths cue-bid implies a club fit, else a responsive double would be in order. North shows his second suit then uses good judgment to continue to game opposite a passed hand. A key factor is Souths failure to bid notrump, which suggests dummy will have all working values. Grant Bazes poetic advice, Six-four, bid one more! also comes to mind.
In clubs, 11 tricks are almost cast in stone. Even if East leads a spade, declarer cannot take advantage; and it costs nothing to try.
A more interesting matchpoint contract is 4 , but diamond taps are too wicked to handle. After ruffing the second diamond, suppose a club is led (East pitches a spade) to the king, ace. West must now lead a third diamond, a ruff-sluff declarer will not enjoy. Declarer does best to ruff in dummy and lead a club, but East must not ruff; nor the next club, pitching spades. Nine tricks is the limit unless the defense slips.
This amazing deal should stir some excitement with both sides in action, often ending with a double. Heres a typical scenario:
Five spades looks cold, but what if South leads a heart? Being an obvious singleton, declarer may lead a trump (not intending to finesse) to ensure the contract against any 2-1 spade break. Ouch. Now South can clear trumps to limit declarer to one diamond ruff; down one. Declarers play of a trump is wrong in theory as South is unlikely to have two singletons; so if spades are 2-1, the ruff wont matter.
The gold ring goes to North, who is cold for 6 . Should North or South really bid it? This seems super-human to me; in fact, I suspect many pairs will not even compete to 5 .
This deal is also an aberration for believers in the Law of Total Tricks. With 19 total trumps, there are 23 total tricks. Oh, well; thats about as equal as Mabel balances her checkbook. [She didnt like that remark, so I have to say its all a lie if I want any meals this month.]
Do you open 1 NT with a five-card major? I usually do with 5-3-3-2 shape unless the doubleton is worthless, so I would bid this way:
Two spades is like a raise to 2 NT but promising both minors. With a minimum, opener chooses among 2 NT, 3 and 3 ; with a maximum, he bids a strong major (forcing) or 3 NT with both majors stopped. (Opener may also bid 4 or 4 with a pure hand for suit play.) Most players will no doubt reach 3 NT more simply.
In notrump, Souths lead should decide the result; the K and continuation holds it to nine tricks, while a spade offers 10. In the latter case, some declarers will steal 11 when North fails to hold up twice in clubs. From Norths point of view it is possible, though a long shot, that South has Q-J-8-6-2; so it could be right to grab the A. Evidently, this is a good case for Smith echo, with which South would high-low in diamonds if his spades were running.
If East opens 1 , West will be declarer in 3 NT. Now a spade lead is treacherous; if you duck it to the jack, you will go down with a heart switch. So much for second hand low.
Splinter bids are almost standard for tournament players today, so this auction should be the popular choice:
The unusual jump to 4 shows game-forcing values with four spades and a singleton or void in diamonds. South has the perfect diamond holding but, alas, barely enough for his first response; so he signs off in game.
Also note Souths 1 response, rather than the traditional 1 . Strict up-the-line bidding has three disadvantages: (1) It complicates the auction, (2) it provides information usually more helpful to the opponents, and (3) it risks losing a major-suit fit with interference. Most experts skip diamonds with 4-4; some do so with 5+ diamonds, but this is more controversial.
In spades, the foul breaks foil any legitimate play for game. The defense need not be brilliant; just sensible. Assume a trump lead (my choice) ducked to the nine; club ducked; trump back. If declarer next leads the K, East ducks; then declarer must either suffer a heart ruff or lose dummys fourth heart. Only one club can be ruffed successfully (high). Nine tricks.
A case can be made for South to pass or make any spade bid from one to four well, four might deserve a cage, not a case. I like this auction:
North does well not to double 3 , as it probably would make. Some Easts might double 3 , which seems dubious but reaps a bonanza. I would go quietly, giving partner a little leeway. Note that the 3 raise is not the same as if Easts 2 were forced; here it just shows a sound double with four clubs, so West could have less.
In spades, the cards lay brutal for declarer. Three rounds of diamonds, ruffed; then the A-K and a heart shift leave declarer no way to escape a heart loser as well. Seven tricks. Nice dummy, partner.
If East plays in clubs, I lead a low heart. Any questions? Seriously, there is a chance to beat 3 if South does not lead a top heart. On a spade lead, declarer must eventually guess whether to play South for the J or A-K; so if South has opened one spade, the latter is almost a cinch when North turns up with the A.
With such a poor 15 points, North probably should open 1 ; but most 15-17 notrumpers will stick to their guns. Heres some action:
Easts overcall is Cappelletti, showing hearts and a minor. South then cue-bids (a la Stayman); West applies maximum pressure with an advance sacrifice; and North chooses to defend with his flat minimum. This seems well-judged all-around, at least in theory. Even though 5 happens to be successful this time, the likelihood of bad breaks makes it a treacherous undertaking. Translation: Those who venture to 5 will usually be calling an undertaker.
In hearts, the play is routine for eight tricks; so down three in 5 doubled is a good score for East-West.
In spades, the unexpected friendly breaks make 11 tricks easy. After a heart lead, ruffed, and the Q to the ace, East should probably just cash the A and be done. If he gets cute and leads any other red card, declarer can win 12 tricks, though it involves additional risk (club ruff) on a heart return. If East returns a spade or club, declarer has no way to avoid losing a diamond trick.
After a convenient minor opening, most standard bidders should follow this route to the best game:
No doubt some have ways after the 2 raise to check if opener has four trumps, but this seems a waste. If opener raised with three, it was because his hand had a defect for notrump; so a Moysian fit may be better than 3 NT anyway. At matchpoints nobody could seriously want to play 5 .
In hearts, 10 tricks are routine by finessing repeatedly in trumps. The proper technique is to win the first opportunity in South and run the 8; then continue with the jack. Even an original club lead followed by two more clubs doesnt matter, as South can ruff; then West is clubless.
But wait! What if West leads a low heart? It is then logical to assume East has the Q, so Id hop with the king. Next Id lead the K, trusting the enemy count (dangerous to falsecard) and run the pointed suit I thought was 3-3 for a club discard. If West held A-x-x (or A-x) as expected, I succeed no matter who ruffs. Alas, here I go down (even after four diamonds live). As West rides off into the sunset, I wonder: Who was that masked man?
A routine 2 NT opening and Stayman sequence will be the fare at most tables, reaching the obvious game:
First, an opening lead problem. While it is usually better to lead an unbid major against notrump, I take exception here. The risk isnt justified at matchpoints, especially when declarer is likely to face bad breaks. I lead a club. Sure, you say, everybody leads a club looking at all four hands. Hey! Come on! I could figure it out from only three hands.
Even after a stingy club lead, 3 NT can be made but not by any realistic line of play. It seems normal for declarer to start with a low diamond, won by the jack; club to the ace; A and a heart. South does best to win and lead another club, which is won in dummy to cash the Q. Everything now hinges on diamonds running. Oops. Declarer cant even save a trick in the ending; down two.
At some tables soft defense (e.g., a spade lead to the queen, king) will hand over nine tricks (or 10 if declarer attacks hearts). North, of course, should not play the Q since declarer is odds-on to have ace or king.
The only potential grand in the set is likely to have few takers, especially if West enters the fray. This auction looks typical to me:
Wests unusual 2 NT bid shows the two lowest unbid suits yes, its a disgusting hand, but note the vulnerability. North doubles to show a good hand; East picks a suit; and South speculates on 3 NT (odds are good that North has a heart stopper when East prefers diamonds). This leaves little room for North to do anything but take a stab at the most likely slam.
Would you be able to reach 7 on that auction? Im not even sure Id get there without interference, but its a fine contract and makes easily after the normal K lead. The killer is a heart lead, which removes a crucial entry needed to establish spades; but who would find it?
In notrump, there are 12 top tricks and no chance for 13. (No doubt some defender will invent a way for me to eat those words.)
Those who reach 6 will be stung by the 4-1 trump break; down one. Heres an extra-credit assignment: Can you make 6 with the J lead? It can be done.
The West hand is not everyones idea of a vulnerable weak two-bid, and the outcome certainly shows why. For the brave souls:
North passes, hoping for a reopening double, which never comes as South is too weak. Even so, North-South are destined for a good score with West declaring the misfit. Perhaps if North stood up on his chair and said, You bid two what? South might evaluate his hand better.
In spades, West can be held to five tricks. After cashing two clubs, North shifts to a heart and discards his remaining heart on the Q. South next gives North a heart ruff (leading a fourth club is not good enough as West can ruff with the J and maneuver six tricks). Thats the first five tricks, and North still has three natural trump winners. Could there be a message here about suit quality?
Curiously, if West passes originally, his fate might be worse. North will open 1 , and East may overcall 2 (dubious but normal at matchpoints). This is passed around to North, who reopens with a double; all pass; down two for minus 500. Hmm. At least this supports the general principle that, if youre going to make a risky bid, the sooner the better.
After two routine bids, North faces the classic 6-4 dilemma. Holding both majors, almost all experts would show the second suit:
Another way to determine the better strategy is to realize that rebidding 2 shows only six of Norths cards, while bidding 2 shows nine. It is also easy to miss a game by rebidding 2 , as a great heart fit may never be found; but not vice versa. In this case, however, everything comes to a screeching halt.
In hearts, the play is erratic. Assume East leads the Q (least of evils), won by the ace. If declarer now takes the spade finesse, A and ruffs a spade, he should come to nine tricks; and if West overruffs and returns a trump (poor), 10 tricks. If declarer rejects the spade finesse, only eight tricks can be made.
In spades, the play is straightforward. On the same lead, trumps can be drawn with one loser, and a heart established for nine tricks. Note that a lack of entries prevents declarer from making the optimal play in hearts: Low toward dummy (East hops with the king) then run the jack.
After two passes, most Wests will begin this dull partscore deal with 1 , which might produce this auction:
As West, I dislike to rebid 1 NT with a worthless doubleton (OK, almost worthless). If partner were not a passed hand, Id raise to 2 ; but here it seems wise to check out. North should probably balance with 1 on the nobody-plays-one-bids philosophy, and East tries 1 NT. South will consider a raise to 2 , but Norths failure to overcall should be a warning.
In notrump, East should win seven tricks. After a spade lead (best), hold up until the third round and attack clubs; then South does best to lead a heart. As long as declarer ducks one heart, the defense can win only six tricks, and the Q eventually gives declarer seven. Even if North finds the amazing K shift after winning the first spade, declarer can prevail.
In hearts, there seem to be chances for eight tricks, but accurate defense prevents it. Despite the sturdy trump spots, one way or another declarer will have to lose three trumps and a trick in each side suit.
Curious deal: E-W make 1 , 1 or 1 NT; N-S make 1 or 1 .
The theme of this set must be 2 NT openings opposite meager hands (see Boards 1 and 14). This time the Stayman sequence is productive:
On second thought, down one is hardly productive. Maybe the Q-J-10 was an omen for North to leave well enough alone in notrump.
Against hearts, it seems normal for West to lead a diamond (longest suit but not from a king). East wins and shifts to a club, ducked to the king, then a club back. Curtains. The only way to avoid the imminent club ruff is to pitch two clubs on diamonds; but this fares even worse, allowing the defense to get a trump promotion and a spade trick. The best declarer can do is concede the club ruff and go down one peacefully.
The best chance for game is 3 NT, which is easy with any lead but a diamond. After a diamond to the ace and a diamond back, declarer leads the K to the ace, wins the diamond return and runs hearts. Both defenders pitch clubs. Declarer has eight tricks with the spade finesse, but there is no workable endplay; and if a club is conceded, the defense has five tricks. Down one. So what else is new?
Is the West hand worth a jump shift rebid? Purists may say no, but I prefer to go long and take my chances:
East raises with the excellent fit, and West continues to the sound game. Even 6 is a fair contract but doomed on the actual layout. Those who rebid only 2 are likely to play it there, as it seems pushy for East to bid 3 when the singleton diamond is a dubious asset.
Against clubs, suppose North leads the K, won by the ace. The proper play is to draw two rounds of trumps ending in East and run the 10. When this holds, cross to hand in clubs (drawing Norths last trump), cash the A and ruff a diamond. Then ruff a heart, ruff a diamond, and try a spade to the king for an overtrick. No extras, but 11 easy tricks.
Some will play 3 NT surprise, surprise which is likely to produce the same score (600), but there are scenarios for more or less. On the K lead, declarer has only eight tricks with the diamond finesse, but Souths discarding woes lead to nine with careful play. More realistically, North may lead a low heart or the J; then its Christmastime.
Another 6-4 decision (compare Board 17), and once again I prefer to show the four-card suit. A sensible auction:
After North offers a false preference (usually a doubleton), South invites game; then North tries 3 NT not the bid South wanted to hear, as it dims all game chances. Perhaps South should now pass, but I would bid 4 .
In spades, the limit is nine tricks with accurate defense. Suppose West leads a heart, then a diamond goes to the king, and West must shift to a club. Even if declarer wins the A and ruffs a heart, he cant benefit; if he crosses to the Q to lead the good Q, East ruffs. This costs the defense a trump trick, but West gets it back with a ruff or a trump promotion.
Game is also elusive in notrump. Assume the K lead, ducked, and a heart to the ace; then a spade to the 10 and jack. If East cashes the K and leads a club, declarer can succeed at double-dummy; but East should never lead a club, and any other defense suffices. Eight tricks.
A good slam for East-West, but with only 26 HCP it takes inspiration to get there. OK, so Ill be inspired. In my dreams I bid:
West fudges a redouble with his prime values, then both players take rosy views with cue-bids after the trump fit is clarified. Four notrump is Roman key-card Blackwood, and 5 shows two key cards plus the trump queen. Probably the only thing missing from this auction is the Laurel and Hardy theme music. Whats the problem?
In hearts, routine play brings home 12 tricks. Assume the K lead to the ace; K; club finesse to king; diamond ruffed; A; club. When the queen pops, declarer can claim (drawing trumps of course).
North-South have a profitable save in 7 , down at least five (six with trump leads at each opportunity). Nonetheless, going for 1100 or 1400 to stop 1430 is a tough way to earn matchpoints when few will bid the slam. The odds are much better to stay fixed and hope the slam fails.
Shades of Board 18, but this version of blandeur could produce some excitement, for instance:
Over the double, Norths redouble is questionable with a bare 10 HCP and four hearts (some experts would prefer 1 ), but the flatness of the hand suggests defense. This is an area in which many opportunities are lost by eagerness to bid. The chance of a lucrative penalty outweighs the danger of losing the heart suit, or at least it does this time.
Against 1 doubled North should lead a trump, the usual tactic against doubled one-bids. Sound defense thereafter nets eight tricks (down two), although declarer can do one better at double-dummy on a low trump lead: Put up the 10 and lead a club to the queen. Even if North starts a diamond, accurate defense still beats 1 ; basically, the defense must stay away from clubs and lead spades early.
In notrump North or South should win eight tricks. After a heart lead, declarer starts spades (10-jack-king-ace); then it is routine to establish two spades, and the auction suggests the winning play for two diamonds.
With two aces and three 10s, Norths 12 points are surely worth opening, so many standard bidders will produce:
Souths raise to 2 NT is dubious, especially at matchpoints, and some will pass 1 NT for an easier task; but even so, declarer must make at least 2 NT to score above average.
Against notrump, East is likely to lead a heart; then declarer leads a spade to the queen. If spades are continued, only seven tricks can be made as the defense can win two spades, two diamonds and two clubs before the long club is enjoyed. But according to ancient Chinese secrets, clubs break 3-3 more often than spades. The educated ninja will duck a club next and win eight tricks, or as Confucius say, Man who duck club live longer.
As West I would be tempted to open 2 (a matchpoint disease), but the five-bagger is slightly subpar at equal vulnerability. Make it K-Q-10-9-x, then OK. This might create an interesting problem if South balances with a double. Should North pass? If so, he reaps a handsome reward (down two with best play).
An easy spade game should be reached by most East-West pairs, perhaps by this sequence:
Easts spade suit is not a thing of beauty, but the extra values compensate. (Take away the A and pass is correct.) Facing a vulnerable overcall, West should insist on game; the cue-bid is merely a formality to indicate a good hand as opposed to a weak raise to 4 . Easts choice to bid 2 NT next is dubious with a stiff diamond, but the potential of the hand seems too high to risk partner passing 2 .
In spades, 11 tricks will usually be made. Assuming a heart lead, the best technique is to win the A and ruff a heart immediately; then lead the K to the ace. If North errs and leads another heart (or a club), declarer can ruff a second heart and win 12 tricks. If North returns a trump (best), declarer should give up a diamond to rectify the count for a squeeze, but this proves unnecessary with clubs 3-3.
A few greedy East-Wests may play in notrump, but the loss of a heart ruff limits this to 10 tricks with any reasonable defense.
Assuming East passes originally, he will have an interesting choice of responses to his partners overcall. Splinter-mania?
Easts jump to 4 shows excellent spade support with a singleton or void in hearts the perfect choice as a passed hand since partner knows your strength is limited. Souths double is not the inane variety saying lead a heart but invites partner to compete against 4 . North wants no part of this with his dismal shape, so South goes quietly having done his piece.
In spades, 11 tricks are routine. The only chance for 12 is if South ducks (or shifts to) a diamond. A plausible attempt after A, Q is to ruff in dummy; draw trumps; win the A and lead a low diamond. South certainly should win the K since you would play him for it anyway based on the bidding, but stranger things have happened. Some people always accept a challenge to duck smoothly.
Anyone who bids 5 will not enjoy it, as only seven tricks can be won (minus 1100 doubled). The defense can even afford to slop a trick and still get a good score.
Nobody ever said my bidding was pretty (except as a prefix to ugly), and I must admit Id be out there dancing with the South hand:
Opening 1 seems clear with such disparity in suit quality; then 1 NT seems right at matchpoints. When 2 is passed around, South can picture Norths doubleton, so a fit is assured unless North is specifically 2=6=3=2. So I take the plunge, and everyone is amused when dummy hits. Even if the club catch were not so lucky, I might survive in 3 after a preference.
In clubs, 10 tricks are easy with diamonds 3-3, and theres a fair chance to steal 11 (especially on my auction). Declarer should lead a heart to the king early (after one trump) before East can get a count of Souths hand.
In notrump, only eight tricks are available, so its nice to a see a triumph for playing in a minor. The only real chance for nine would be if West led the Q and East ducked.
In spades East can win eight tricks. South can simplify the play by getting a heart ruff, but declarer has no way to avoid a heart loser anyway.
Despite Souths mittful of spades, caution is the keyword after East implies length in the same suit. Heres a sound auction:
North also takes the low road with his 2 1/2 heart bid. No doubt some Easts will compete further with 3 or a second double and get lucky, pushing South to 3 .
In spades, even after the best defense of a club lead and K shift, nine tricks can be won; but this requires mirrors if the ninth is not an overtrick. Those in 2 probably wont risk the heart finesse and get a bonus. Those in 3 will probably take it and go down an extra trick. Kind of poetic when I think about it: Bid two, make three; bid three, down two.
Some lucky Souths may end up in 4 with a heart lead. Easy game: Win the A; clear trumps; 10 tricks. Or even better, how about a low trump lead? Assuming East plays the jack (better to duck) South can win 12 tricks. Hmm. Seems like there should be a grand here, too, but that would take an absurd parlay like the 10 lead, and East covering the 10.
After three passes, most standard bidders will follow this route to the obvious game:
West has barely enough to invite, and East has a clear acceptance despite the concern about diamonds. The auction would be identical for those who play 1 NT forcing (or semiforcing as a passed hand).
In notrump East can win nine tricks, but it takes a visit to the hand-record museum. Assume a diamond lead (best) ducked; win the next; finesse the J; duck a heart; win diamond; cash two hearts to squeeze North out of a club; duck a club, then North can be endplayed in spades. Uhuh, sure.
With realistic play, declarer will finesse the J and attack spades, after which there is no legitimate route to nine tricks. In fact, an expert might win no spade tricks, finessing twice (the percentage play) to make dummy an oasis. As the proverb goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Even if West opens 1 NT, a Stayman sequence should steer North away from the disastrous spade lead. A diamond looks right to me (certainly at matchpoints) so all is the same.
Its not too often that you hold 24 HCP when an opponent opens the bidding. Just keep cool and start doubling:
Norths jump to 3 is not a thing of beauty, but eight diamonds seems to outweigh the two jacks. West doubles again (still takeout) to extract a bid out of East, and then bids game in the discovered fit.
In hearts the play is awkward with few entries to the East hand, but there are various paths to 10 tricks. After the Q lead, one way is to cash both diamonds (pitch a club) and lead the K; South wins and leads a club (best) won by the king; then the J swallows the 10. Either East gets two entries ( 9 plus a club ruff) to finesse spades twice, or South must help by leading a black suit. Another way is to ruff the good diamond and lead a heart to the king (or jack); cash one club (key play) and lead a heart.
In notrump West can also win 10 tricks by doing everything right thanks to the miraculous diamond division.
In diamonds North can win eight tricks, as West drowns in his HCP.
With 26 HCP, two balanced hands, no eight-card fit and all suits stopped, its hard to imagine anything but 3 NT. A standard auction:
Some Easts might not even mention the lousy heart suit, but its certainly right playing five-card majors; the prime high cards strongly suggest that a 4-4 heart fit will play better than notrump. Another advantage is that it may stop a heart lead against 3 NT. Its even more effective if you pull out the 2 bid first and say, Oops, I thought you opened one spade, then change it to 1 . Uh-oh. Why is the Director coming this way with handcuffs?
Nine tricks should be won in notrump. After a club lead to the 10 and king, the proper play is to start hearts, low to the queen and ace. Everything is cozy on the actual club layout, so its routine to give up a diamond and another heart, as the defense can win only four tricks.
Many will take the diamond finesse first and think nothing of it, but this fails if South has Q-J-x-x. North wins the K and leads a club through, then wins the first heart to lead another club while South has a heart entry. Leading hearts twice before diamonds gives declarer the advantage.
Another 26-pointer, this time for North-South, should also lead to the worlds favorite contract. Many will follow this route:
Three-suited hands are usually awkward to bid, and South follows a common strategy: Bid a minor and suppress the other two suits if partner has bid your short suit. Once North raises clubs, he could hardly have four hearts, so there is little reason for South to bid hearts.
In notrump a heart lead and continuation hands over 11 tricks; but it seems clear for West to lead a diamond. After winning the K with ace, declarer drives out the A. The best West can do is put East in with a heart for a diamond return, but Norths 9 saves the day. Hmm. Two deals in a row where 26 HCP produces exactly 3 NT. How con-veen-ient. I can almost picture Milton Work and Charles Goren in the great beyond, giving each other high fives.
There is no other game for North-South. In 5 , a diamond lead gives the defense three obvious tricks; and even a trump lead will suffice. In 4 (however unlikely) a club ruff is the killer, holding North to nine tricks.
Most East-Wests should reach game in a major suit, but there could be 100 different auctions. Heres one path using two popular conventions.
Two clubs is Cappelletti (any one-suited hand) and 4 is Texas (transfer to 4 ). There is a case for West to search for a 4-4 spade fit; but with good hearts and bad spades, the direct route seems much better to me. This also has the advantage of not allowing South to show his real suit at a low level, which might prevent an effective sacrifice if North had a good fit.
In hearts, 10 tricks should always be made. The defense need only follow suit, as declarer has no way to avoid three black-suit losers. I would almost describe it as idiot-proof, but then someone would produce a more perfect idiot to lead the K.
In spades, there is potential to win 11 or 12 tricks (or even 13 with my idiot on lead) if the defenders fail to take their club tricks, but there is no immediate danger. After South leads the K, he only needs to shift to clubs when he wins the K. This is not clear-cut, however, as East might have A-Q-J-x J-x-x A-9-x K-9-8; then 4 is defeated by any return except a club.
After a slow start, this auction should pick up steam as both sides find their nine-card fit. This seems a likely course:
Easts 1 NT shows 18-19 HCP (stronger than a 1 NT opening), and West runs to a safer haven. North shows his long suit, then East and South compete both actions well-judged. If East were clairvoyant, he would compete even further to 3 NT (a miracle make) or 4 .
In spades, North can always win nine tricks as poor East stumbles over his high cards. Assume the A lead and a diamond, ruffed; declarer cashes the A, crosses to the A, ruffs the last diamond and exits with a spade. If East wins the A and exits with the Q, he gets endplayed again with the third club. Even an original club lead doesnt help, as declarer can lead diamonds himself and maneuver an endplay in trumps for a heart lead.
Incredibly, East can win 10 tricks in notrump with a spade lead. Talk about being born under the right star! Switch a few cards, however, and East wins only four. In diamonds, 10 tricks are available with less risk.
Amazingly, yet another 2 NT opening facing just enough rubbish to stretch to game. This should be a common auction:
After Stayman elicits the wrong major, South is endplayed into 3 NT with his wonderful nine-high suit. Everyone seems to think positive in these situations, like assuming each quack will be an entry. Argh. The more I look at that South hand, the more it seems right to pass 2 NT.
East has a tough lead with North showing hearts and South implying spades. It seems even worse to punt with a minor, so Id try a spade, which gives up nothing whether West wins or ducks. Declarer probably should begin with the K from hand (J-10 doubleton would be sweet), but this goes nowhere. Accurate defense holds declarer to seven tricks.
Even if East leads the 5, declarer can win only eight tricks; and he must play well to do that. What about a club lead? Still eight tricks, even if declarer puts up the jack. Extra credit: What are the only two cards East could lead to let declarer make 3 NT against any defense thereafter?
Many events end with fireworks, so why should this one be different? Witness the shrewd bidding by West:
West elects to lay low over 2 because the alternatives are unattractive: Double is takeout, suggesting club support; 2 NT is a dangerous overbid; and anyone who bids 2 should relearn the basics. North passes unhappily, and East backs in with 2 . Its hard to blame South for bidding 3 , and West seizes the opportunity. The real culprit is probably North for such a poor vulnerable overcall, but I can sympathize. Been there, done that.
In diamonds, routine defense holds declarer to seven tricks. The club ruff is irrelevant since West has a natural trump trick, and there is no entry to East to obtain both a ruff and a trump promotion.
In hearts, nine tricks can always be won. This is easy after a diamond lead (the Q establishes for a spade discard) but requires mirrors if North leads a black suit. Even with South bidding diamonds, I like the Q lead, so the winning path becomes: A; K; club ruff; lose diamond; win spade, and lead the J. Not too likely, so eight tricks is the norm.
The following tables show the average high-card points and freakness* for each player in these deals (2003) as well as for all deals in the 17 years this annual event has been held.
The deals this year were the tamest ever, making it a real grind-em-out contest. We dont fix em, folks! Only the South hands were slightly wilder than the expected average of 2.98 (rounded, not exact). Over all 17 years, the average deal freakness of 12.00 is close enough to the expected 11.93 that there is hardly any cause for concern. This might dispel some of the continual rumors about wild computer deals.
*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 all four hands.
© 2003 Richard Pavlicek