September 9, 2004
I hope you enjoyed playing in the 2004 ACBL Instant Matchpoint Pairs, an annual event inaugurated in 1987 to celebrate the ACBLs 50th anniversary. Whether you won or came in average, or set a new record for bottom boards (hehe), try to find time to read these analyses and compare your results. You should find some helpful advice, and you might even 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 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 another 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 18th 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.
Off to a red-hot start! East-West can make a slam in either red suit, but its hardly biddable. A common auction should be:
Some Souths may scrounge a 2 overcall, which should not change the East-West bidding. West might sense a slam after Easts 3 bid, but the four-card fit is less appealing without an honor. The key to slam is East having almost all his points outside of spades. For players to better visualize this, the Laws should allow opening bids like one no spades.
In hearts, 12 tricks are easily made by taking two diamond finesses. After a club lead, it is tempting to try for all 13: Ruff the third club, draw trumps, finesse diamonds once and hope they split. Oops; the price of greed is then only 11 tricks. Been there, done that.
In diamonds the same 12 tricks are available with careful play (ruff two black cards, win three hearts, finesse trumps twice) but it is doubtful many will play there. Even if West stretches to slam, it would be quite a position to choose diamonds over hearts at matchpoints.
The action continues, as East has a routine 4 bid at the vulnerability based on the Rule of 2-3-4. A reasonable auction:
South has a close decision whether to pass the double or bid 4 NT (pick a minor), and the latter seems better than trying for 800. Alas, 4 NT natural would be best of all (11 tricks are easy), but few players would interpret it that way; and of course there are some who would answer aces.
Five clubs appears to be the wrong minor, but 11 tricks should come home with straightforward play. Declarer does not have to guess the blank A, as the spade finesse provides a discard, and the defense poses no threat.
In diamonds the same 11 tricks are likely, though it is possible to win 12 without a heart lead. Suppose East leads his club, won by the ace; spade finesse; A-K; diamond to South; spade finesse; A (pitch club) then duck a heart to the blank ace for an endplay. A bit far-fetched perhaps.
In hearts East is bound to win seven trump tricks against any defense, so 4 is a profitable loss compared to any North-South game.
Some Wests will open 2 , but the flat pattern and broken suit are ominous at the vulnerability. This seems normal:
Norths 2 NT is better than 1 because it shows the point count in one bid and assures he will declare notrump (1 would usually elicit a 1 NT response). Further, concealing the five-card suit often has an advantage in the play, albeit at the slight risk of missing a superior spade contract.
The friendly lie of the cards allows 13 tricks to be won in notrump; and after the likely diamond lead, declarer should play for it (holding up the A is useless). Curiously, if East leads either major suit, declarer should win only 12 tricks by leading clubs from hand. Is there a moral here? I hope not, but it punches some holes in the Never lead from a jack theory.
Either black suit also provides 13 tricks, which brings out the question: Is 6 a good contract? No, I would say only fair; as with a diamond lead, the K must be onside, and even then you will often fail. A heart lead offers better chances, but none that make you thrilled to be there unless of course North is declarer.
Assuming North resists the temptation to open 2 (I refuse to testify on the grounds it may incriminate me), heres a sound auction:
Especially note Norths descriptive 3 (the suit quality covers the lack of a sixth card) rather than a mark-time heart preference or a pointless (pun intended) 3 . If you dont appreciate this, note that a spade contract makes as many tricks as hearts (or one more with a heart lead). The spade misfit is also the key to quell any ambitions beyond game; and rightly so, as the indicated diamond lead gives the defense their two and only tricks.
With a black-suit lead, declarer can win all 13 tricks in hearts (ruff two clubs and pitch both diamonds) or in spades or notrump, for that matter which means that some East-West pairs will play this round without taking a trick. The cards always run North-South! will be their complaint, followed by, Ill never play in another instant-matchpoint game again! and probably, Where does this Richard guy live? Umm
heading for Brazil, where theres no extradition.
Some Norths will open 1 , but lacking two defensive tricks I prefer 2 (a broken suit is OK with 6-4 shape). East-West may then overbid:
Wests 3 NT is ambitious but could bring a bonanza if North leads a spade nine top tricks. Most players, however, are aware that it is generally poor strategy to lead your announced suit from a broken holding after making a weak bid. I would lead a club, which is a bark up the wrong tree; but South should shift to the K, which North overtakes to set the contract two.
In diamonds, East can win only eight tricks with a spade lead (or a spade shift after cashing three hearts) because there is no way to score the Q. The A must be won to prevent a ruff, and trumps must be drawn, leaving the West hand entryless.
Many Norths will play in spades. The defense is somewhat stifled with East having no club to lead, but the best declarer can do legitimately is win nine tricks. Assuming two diamond leads, ruffed, I would just lead a spade from hand, then the defense can get two trumps and a club ruff. If declarer instead tries A; K; spade to king; spade, he can be held to eight tricks if West returns the K and East pitches his last heart.
The excitement continues, as South can put a thorn in the side of his opponents with a bold preempt. Take no prisoners!
Many will fall short of the immediate 5 bid, but it stands out a mile at the vulnerability. Creating pressure situations for your opponents is winning bridge, and any nonbeliever should ask himself what he would do as West. Pass or double might work this time; but how could you possibly know? I must admit Id be lured into the 5 bid; then, bang, North heeds the opportunity to wield the ax for a cool 800.
Actually, 5 is not so much a sacrifice (East-West make all of 2 ) but a make if declarer guesses the play. After a spade lead, ruffed, the winning line is to finesse the 10 (with or without drawing trumps first) hardly clear-cut, though it seems like the proper play as there are still good chances if the finesse loses. Indeed, 12 tricks can be won by establishing the long heart after finessing twice, but this is double-dummy as it requires clubs 2-2 as well. Also reasonable is to finesse the Q then play on diamonds, hoping diamonds are 3-3 or the fourth diamond can be ruffed if the defense slips; but I see no way home after this start.
The phantom strikes again! Who knows what evil lurks on these cards, but I can picture this scenario at a few tables:
Everyone but East had alternative actions. North might (should?) have passed at both turns; South might have made a negative double; and West had various ways to raise spades and might not have doubled the final contract. Nonetheless, the aggressive bids are appealing, as anyone who plays a lot of matchpoints knows, there is no reward for being average. Live by the sword; die by the sword is a good philosophy.
In hearts, 10 tricks are virtually assured with any sensible play; and the defense cant lose any of its three tricks barring a blunder.
In spades East can win only eight tricks, provided the defense attacks hearts before a pitch can be obtained in the club suit. This does not require a heart opening lead, as declarer cannot benefit from the Q lead, even at double-dummy. If the spade finesse is rejected to establish a club immediately, a heart switch is still timely since declarer cant reach dummy.
What should East do in third seat? A preempt with a side five-card major looks weird, but I would not miss an opportunity to be a nuisance:
Souths takeout double is surely better than an immediate 3 NT, as it keeps open the possibility of a spade contract (ha, East only wishes); then South suggests 3 NT, which North overrides with his undisclosed six-bagger. An excellent auction, which I think would be duplicated by all experts well, except the 3 bid, as my cage wont fit everyone.
In hearts, 11 tricks should be won by driving out the A for two diamond pitches; then the third club can be ruffed. Even the K lead cant stop this since West has no quick entry, though it is conceivable declarer might play for a different layout and duck, netting only 10 tricks.
Notrump plays poorly after a club lead, as hearts must be established while North has an entry; then a second club leaves declarer with only eight tricks and East, a deadly entry.
Not surprisingly, the best result for North-South is to defend 3 doubled (down three). Shh! If word gets out, Ill be put back in that cage again.
Finally, a little peace and quiet, as most East-West pairs will bid to a routine spade game. A standard sequence:
At matchpoints there is a good case for West to eschew playing in spades and raise 1 NT to 3 NT; or perhaps use a checkback sequence to leave 3 NT an option. On the actual layout, this would earn a fine score, as 11 tricks can be made in either contract. So often, it seems, the cards favor the bold.
In spades, suppose North leads a diamond to the ace, and a diamond is returned; trumps are drawn, and a club is led to the king and ace. Declarer now has to guess hearts (finesse North or ruff out the queen) for the overtrick. If South ducks the club to create a losing option, declarer could win 12 tricks by playing all out; but more likely, he will win 11 by ruffing out the Q, reserving a second club play as a last resort.
In notrump, 11 tricks are easy if South leads a heart; but even after a diamond lead, declarer can do the same by finessing hearts through North, most likely after running spades first. The finesse may seem risky with nine top tricks, but its necessary after eschewing spades to play notrump.
How should North bid his eight-bagger after partner opens 1 NT? This may depend on system, but heres a reasonable standard sequence:
Stayman followed by 3 is game-forcing and usually a slam try, but Norths ambitions are quelled when opener bids his void and later denies interest in diamonds. Thus, it seems right to take the money in notrump and worry about slam another day. Good stop, as even 5 is in jeopardy.
In notrump declarer has 10 top tricks, which is also the limit against best defense. Nonetheless, it is easy to picture some Souths winning only nine after a spade lead by taking a late, losing club finesse (perhaps to a blanked king), or even going down after a diabolical heart lead and club switch.
Those who play minor-suit transfers, followed by 3 to show shortness, may reach the ill-fated 6 . Only a club lead by West (declarer must put up Norths 10) or a heart lead by East allows the slam to be made. With a spade lead, declarer cannot succeed by pitching a club and taking a ruffing club finesse, as it produces only 11 tricks. Most will take the straight club finesse and go down two.
Despite only 27 HCP, good bidders should reach this excellent slam in diamonds. Using structured reverses the auction is likely to be:
Souths 2 is forcing, and the preference to 3 creates a game force. (With a weak hand North must bid 2 with five spades, else 2 NT.) Three hearts shows 5-6 shape; 3 , 4 and 4 are control-bids; then Roman key-card Blackwood confirms the Q is missing to rule out seven.
In diamonds there is little to the play. Draw two trumps, pitch a heart on the A and ruff a heart. The expected red-suit breaks ensure that justice is served, as no other slam makes, and anyone in 7 goes down.
If you miss the diamond slam, the next best contract is 4 , as 11 tricks come home to beat those in 5 . And dont expect any sympathy if you played 3 NT because you had a stopper in every suit. In fact Im ordering a bigger cage just to make room for you folks.
Is North worth a 2 opening? I think so, but Im sure many would disagree. I would bid this way:
Souths 3 is the popular cheaper minor second negative to show 0-4 HCP. North rightfully mentions his meaty heart suit, as it could uncover a spectacular fit. For example, opposite as little as x 10-x-x-x x-x-x-x x-x-x-x, even 6 might make while 4 goes down. Souths 3 NT is natural but dubious (some experts would prefer 3 ), then North completes the description of his giraffe (or ostrich, or swan
pick one) hmm, all animals, which some might say fits the players as well.
Despite the 2-2 trump break, 4 is destined to fail unless the defense slips or declarer takes a remarkable view in hearts. With routine play ( A then Q) declarer is bound to lose two heart tricks, whether trumps are drawn or not. So much for my 2 bid. Geez, partner, couldnt you at least produce the ten of hearts? Oh well; the 1 openers will be dancing in the streets when they discover that game goes down.
Most paths lead to 4 by West, which is eminently sound after Souths opening marks the A onside. Heres a reasonable auction:
Wests 3 is a help-suit game try, and East has a clear acceptance with the Q taking on value. Perhaps East should bid 3 in case West has slam aspirations (e.g. A-K-J-x-x x x-x A-K-x-x-x would be sweet), but 4 is the practical bid. As Oswald Jacoby (noted for his aggressive tactical bidding) once told me, If you need a specific hand for slam, I dont have it! Even so, Jake might find a way to make it anyway.
In spades, after the 10 lead to the ace and a trump shift, most declarers will settle for 10 tricks on a complete crossruff. It is possible to win 11 by winning the A and playing for 3-3 hearts, 3-2 trumps and the J in North for a needed entry, but thats a long shot. A realistic line for the overtrick, based on the bidding, is to crossruff two hearts and a diamond without cashing the K; then when hearts split 3-3, draw trumps to leave K-6 A-10-2 opposite 7-6 Q-8-4. South must keep three clubs to prevent a club duck, then win the K and exit with a diamond for the endplay.
Wow. The North-South hands are guaranteed to make 7 NT against any distribution, but the problem is getting there. How about:
Norths 3 is forcing per two-over-one game-forcing (arguably so in standard as well). South then shows spade control, which is all North needs to use Blackwood (Roman key-card); 5 shows two key cards plus the trump queen. (When two suits are raised, my rule is that the higher suit is the key suit.) Five notrump seeks specific kings, and 6 shows it. Norths only problem now is the Q; but lacking methods to inquire, I would assume that card. Opener should not raise diamonds immediately on three low cards; so the worst Id expect is x-x-x-x, which makes the grand 53 percent slightly inferior; but hey, lets get lucky and win this event!
There is nothing to the play, with 13 tricks cold in diamonds, hearts or notrump. Even the precaution of winning the K first isnt necessary.
Fire up the afterburners for some more action, as both sides should be into this dogfight. Heres an aggressive maneuver by East:
Some bold Souths may raise hearts directly, but Confucius once say, Two jack and vulnerable read fortune cookie for blind. Norths double is takeout oriented (implying diamond support), East shows extra strength, and South confirms the heart fit. West tries once more to play in clubs, and East cant resist the temptation to try 3 NT, hoping for a heart lead.
In notrump, only eight tricks can be won, though the defense is difficult. Assume South leads the 8 (probably the best card after raising, but moot) to the ace as dummy lets go a club. North shifts to K-Q, and if declarer ducks both, then the Q. This is logical (based on the lead) if declarer plays routinely; but a falsecard ( 9 or 10) at trick one might fool North.
East-West have no makable game, so their best scores, besides stealing 3 NT, may come from doubling North-South pairs who ignore my ancient Chinese secret. Only eight tricks can be made in hearts.
How did this deal get in here? Not even a singleton! This standard auction should be duplicated at most tables:
This deal brings up the age-old debate about whether to use Stayman with 4-3-3-3 shape. My philosophy is never to do so because over 75 percent of the time you wont find a 4-4 fit, and the extra information may be helpful to the defense; and even when you find the fit, its still not clear the suit will play better. Nonetheless, theres a large following that believes otherwise. With such a weak heart suit, however, I suspect many of the devout Stayman bidders would cross into my court on this occasion. But, well never know since only the final contracts are recorded; not the auctions.
In notrump declarer is likely to win nine tricks, though there are pitfalls that wind up with eight, and the defense might give away 10. Suppose a diamond is led to the king, and declarer guesses to lead the Q from hand (or A then queen) to Souths king, then the diamond return is taken in East. Declarer might win the A and run the jack, after which North should surely wise up to the heart shift down one. Probably, the only scenario for an overtrick would be if South shifts to a club.
Another 2 NT opening, at least by my methods (20-22), and West should probably take his chances in a spade game. Using Texas transfers:
Most tournament players use both Jacoby and Texas, so with slam interest (and 6+ spades) responder would use Jacoby and raise to game; hence, on this sequence opener has no option but to bid 4 . Another advantage of using both conventions is that Jacoby followed by 4 NT is quantitative, and Texas followed by 4 NT is Blackwood. Those who play that 2 NT shows only 20-21 HCP will open the East hand 2 and rebid 2 NT over the 2 response; then West can use the same transfer assuming system on style, with a little more comfort in making 4 .
In spades (by East) South is likely to lead a red suit, making 10 tricks easy. After a heart lead to the 10 and jack, it seems routine to cash A-K for one club pitch, then lead trumps. The bad news is the 4-1 spade break, but the good news is the A onside; so 10 tricks roll. If South is inspired to lead a black suit (or if West declares spades), declarer must guess to take the ruffing diamond finesse for his 10th trick.
East does not have a standard opening, but with 2 1/2 quick tricks I think many (like me) will fudge a point at the vulnerability. Then perhaps:
Buying the contract at 4 looks pretty sweet to West, as it would often be a steal. Alas, just another phantom, as North-South cant make anything beyond 3 . Hmm. Maybe West should just make a limit raise, then if North-South open their mouths, double em. Now thats what I call tight bridge, or credentials for the cuckoo nest (pick one), though it does seem to justify Easts opening.
In hearts, nine tricks are virtually cast in stone with any lead, play or defense. (Dont quote me on this.)
If North-South play in clubs, the defense must attack spades to stop a 10th trick. This is not so easy with East on lead I must admit Id lead a trump but some will lay down the A, then Wests king (suit preference) should get the desired shift. Also note that if declarer ducks the spade shift, West must continue spades; but if North held x-x x A-x-x A-K-x-x-x-x-x, a diamond shift is necessary to prevent an endplay.
To many players, favorable vulnerability is like invulnerability, and the tendency is to let the feathers fly. (The meek may proceed to Board 20.)
The only thing more disgusting than Souths hand is his bid, but note the result. West is set up like a pigeon for an easy 500 and a North-South top. As West, wouldnt you bid 4 ? Of course. Its like the movie The Sting, except theres no collusion. It just shows that bold preempts are a winning tactic, and anyone who tells you differently is just hiding his scars.
In hearts, only eight tricks can be won if North leads the K another plus for the preempt, as a club lead allows nine. If declarer wins the A, A and leads a diamond, North takes the ace to continue spades; but the defense must be careful not to set up North for a squeeze. The obvious remedy is for South to return a diamond, but this isnt necessary. When North wins his first heart, he can return a club; then if declarer ruffs a club to isolate the threat, North can kill the threat (even if dummy kept the K). If declarer instead wins the K and continues trumps, North must not lead a third club (a self-sting?) but exit in trumps to let South guard clubs.
In spades, eight tricks can be won if West gets a club ruff; else nine.
After Easts light third-seat opening, South is surely too strong for a mere 1 overcall, so I would expect this auction:
This sequence brings out a point in bidding theory that few partnerships have discussed. Is 2 forcing? Obviously, it shows a good hand, and it would not be forcing if Norths bid were forced; but when North bids freely (suggesting 6-9 points), it probably should be forcing at least I play it so. Hence, North has a clear raise to game, although in this case South would accept after a wimpy 3 . Indeed, theres a case for South to bid again over 4 ; but recalling the previous Oswald Jacoby advice, I would pass.
Wow. Thirteen tricks in hearts, diamonds or notrump, albeit due to queens and 10s falling like flies. Would you want to be in 6 on the North-South cards? No, it seems only fair at best. Even with hearts 2-2, you might fail; and if the Q stands up, you need a miracle (typically Q-x-x onside and no spade lead). Therefore, point-count bidding gets a reprieve. Evidently, Jake was right again: I needed the Q (instead of two jacks) for a good slam, and he didnt have it.
Back to the mundane, as most East-Wests will stop comfortably in 3 NT. Of the many paths to get there, I recommend:
The auction provides two good pointers in matchpoint strategy: (1) Easts off-shape 1 NT rebid offers better scoring potential than 2 , especially with K-x in the unbid major. (2) Wests decision not to check back (with new minor forcing, or whatever) is based on the likelihood that notrump will produce the same number of tricks as spades though in this case thats not true, as a 12th trick is makable in spades even with a 5-2 fit.
In notrump declarer can easily win 11 tricks by establishing diamonds, and many will steal 12. After a heart lead, if declarer wins the A and gives up a diamond, South must cash his A or risk losing it, as declarer has 12 tricks with spades running though he might lead clubs himself to play safe for 11. Another possibility (more likely in 6 NT) would be if declarer leads a club to the king early. South can duck safely; but if he wins the ace, he must return a club otherwise declarer can reach an ending of A 9-7 opposite J-10 Q for a crisscross squeeze.
A laydown heart slam will be reached by most East-West pairs, though their approaches will vary by system. Heres one way:
Three notrump is a game-forcing heart raise with no singleton or void. While opener lacks diamond control, I wouldnt worry about it with three unbid suits and a hand so otherwise suitable for Blackwood. Actually, my final bid would be 6 NT, but lets keep that our little secret.
In hearts South can end the play quickly by cashing the A; but a club lead makes it interesting: Declarer ducks in dummy, and North puts up the queen. Oops. Declarer now can squeeze South for all the tricks, beating even those desperadoes (present company included) in 6 NT. To foil the squeeze, North must withhold the Q a tough play, and potentially embarrassing if partner has the K. Some declarers, of course, will play safe for 12 tricks after any defense; but matchpoints is a disease with no known cure.
In notrump declarer needs the spade finesse for his 12th trick; but chances are much better than 50-50 because a spade is likely to be led, and if not you can force a lot of discards before deciding which way to go.
On Board 1, I mentioned the need for a one no spades bid, and it seems to be growing. I suppose this will be a common auction:
Got to get those spades in! The good news is that it may inhibit a spade lead; but the bad news is that partner wont have a clue what your hand looks like. Sure enough, a good club slam goes by the wayside. Notice how much better a 1 opening would fare; but Im only dreaming.
In notrump, the 1 bid not only stops that lead, but South may donate an 11th trick by leading a diamond unless he belongs to one of two schools: (1) Always lead a major, or (2) never lead from a jack. Even after a heart lead, South must discard well to avoid surrendering 11 tricks.
The top spot for East-West is 6 , but few will reach it. Declarer should succeed with either of two reasonable lines: (1) Establish the fifth spade with a dummy reversal, which requires 3-2 trumps, or (2) concede a spade and draw two trumps; then, when trumps are known to split, ruff two spades in the process of obtaining a heart ruff. In the second case, South will be squeezed, so no double-dummy diamond play is needed.
Quiet on the set! Lights! Camera! And the action begins, with South in the starring role:
A perfect set up, though not without risk, as 5 can be set 500. Is there a bridge player in the world who would not bid 5 as West? Well, I suppose a few might bid 6 ; but anyone who doubles (or passes and sits for a double) either misheard the bidding or attended the hand-record party.
In spades, the defense can win the first three tricks, but its not so obvious with standard signals. Norths club card is ambiguous (could be x-x-x), so South has a problem at trick two. A high-club continuation must be the favorite, as it always gains if partner has the singleton; whereas it may not matter if declarer has the singleton (partner is unlikely to have the K). On this occasion, South might get a reprieve if he shifts to a diamond though an expert declarer might guess the spade layout from the 5 bid. The only follow-up sure to cost is a trump or a low club at trick two.
Those doubled in 5 may be spared a pound of flesh when East leads his partners suit. Id do the same, as the only reasonable alternative is the A, and seeing that drop partners king would be more painful.
South might as well continue his heroic tactics on this board, perhaps earning another Oscar nomination. Matchpoints at its finest:
After East-West stop comfortably in 2 , most South players would go quietly. It takes a true matchpoint buff to back in with a double, especially after his side was willing to pass out the deal. North has no unbid suit to bid, so he grabs the only home at the two-level. East pushes on to 3 based on the nine-trump theory or maybe he just likes doubleton queens.
Well, the evil deed worked, as 3 is down one with good defense. After a spade lead, ducked to the king, North probably should switch to a low diamond; South wins and returns a diamond to the ace; then North leads the A, collecting the nine from South to complete the cash-out.
So how would that sickly 2 bid fare? Probably just fine, as East is likely to lead the K; then declarer can score two heart ruffs in addition to his natural tricks down only one. The killer is the Q, which holds declarer to five tricks. Youve heard it before: Double and lead trumps!
Some Easts (auction bridge players, no doubt) will open 4 , but most of us want more bids for our entry fees. This seems pretty normal:
The only real decision is whether East is worth 4 at his second turn. Considering the ill fate after catching 10 HCP in dummy, perhaps 3 is correct; but a good partner would have the decency to put down the A and maybe a blank J as a cushion. Some Souths may enter the fray with a risky overcall, but nothing is likely to change the final contract of 4 .
In spades, only nine tricks can be won. After a red-suit lead, declarer should win both aces and exit with the K; then a club shift gives the defense two clubs and two trump tricks. Even the double-dummy play of leading the 10 doesnt do any better, as North can win the club cheaply and exit in trumps to wait for two more club tricks. An original club lead will hold declarer to eight tricks, barring a peek at the spade position.
Speaking of peeks, why play in piques when you have a game in notrump? Heart lead; 10; claim. In fact, this line of play is almost guaranteed to produce nine tricks for one side or the other.
Sound bidding should land most East-Wests in game despite only 22 HCP and tame distribution. Its hard to improve on this auction:
Some Easts will pass 2 , which certainly could be right, but it strikes me as an insult to partner. Over 3 , West has a clear acceptance.
In hearts, any reasonable play produces 10 tricks, simply by finessing hearts twice. The only deviation that might occur is if North doesnt cash two clubs, allowing an overtrick (if declarer pursues it by cashing three spades), but this is quite a blunder in view of dummy. Norths best hope to defeat the contract is to win two trump tricks (e.g., if South has A-x-x, K-J-x or K-10-7) so it would be foolish to let a club get away.
Want to see 4 go down? North leads a low club to South, who switches to the 3, an obvious singleton from declarers point of view. If declarer now finesses hearts, he will go down two when North has K-x or Q-x, losing a ruff and an overruff. So an expert saves a trick by leading ace and a heart. His expression when he learns spades were 3-3? Priceless!
Another preempt! This time West sets the stage with 3 (classic at the vulnerability), but the tactics could backfire:
After Norths takeout double, South cannot be sure of finding four spades; so with an abundance of high cards and a slow heart stopper, 3 NT stands out. Oh, no! When dummy hits with four spades and a singleton A, South will regret his decision; but he may be smiling when its over.
What should West lead against 3 NT? A heart seems wrong with no side entry, so its a spade or a diamond. Id choose a spade because its safer, and its more likely to hit partners suit. Well, so much for that theory, as it gives declarer an easy path to 11 tricks. The contract is always secure, of course, but a diamond allows the defense to win three tricks (East shifts to a heart next) though declarer can make it difficult by playing the Q at trick one. In any case, the 11th trick is huge with most pairs in 4 .
In spades (by South) 11 tricks can be made. West will usually lead his club to get a ruff; then the K is shut out by accurate play. If West instead leads a diamond, declarer should grab the ace, conceding the K but no ruff. If North is declarer, 12 tricks roll unless East is inspired to lead a club.
Ah! Finally, an auction where I can vent my dislike for support doubles. The topic is Norths rebid, and I would bid this way:
Alas, many tournament players now double 2 to show three-card heart support, reserving the raise to promise four. On the surface this seems good, but I believe it is a losing strategy. While the information sometimes helps partner, it also helps both opponents, e.g., in judging whether to compete, or sacrifice, or in choosing the opening lead. These odds alone suggest it will work against you, plus its also nice to have a penalty available when youre sitting behind the bidder. Enough ranting. Actually, I hope people continue to use this convention, as I need every edge I can get.
In hearts, 11 tricks should be made. After two rounds of clubs, ruffed, declarer should draw trumps ending in South and take the spade finesse first to build transportation for multiple diamond finesses. (If diamonds are led first, declarer will be awkwardly placed if the finesse wins.) If West leads his singleton (or shifts after a top club lead), declarer might be held to 10 tricks; though it feels right to grab the A under the circumstances.
A partscore battle is likely at many tables, and the key is to compete at the two level but sell out to three:
Easts 2 is a transfer, and South lays low until he learns that East is going nowhere. Some will pass 2 , but this suggests a lack of table feel. It is also sound for South to reopen with a double, but I like 2 as it might find a home in a 4-3 fit. West competes to 3 , and North wisely passes.
In hearts, eight tricks should be won. Assuming West is declarer with a spade lead, best technique is to put up the queen and duck the king; win the spade return (best); A-K; ruff a club (North pitches a diamond), and lead a diamond to the king, etc. South can make it tough by hopping with the A to lead a high club, letting North pitch his last diamond; but declarer can still survive by ruffing the spade and leading the good 9, ruffed and overruffed; then exit with a diamond, and he must get another trick.
Eight tricks are also par in spades. The defense easily takes two clubs and two trumps (with an overruff) and must get a diamond or a third trump.
A heart game should be reached by most East-West pairs, probably after this standard overbid:
Assuming a five-card-major system, East bids up-the-line to show his heart suit (as Terence Reese rolls over in his grave). West is probably worth only 3 with his assortment of quacks, but weve all done worse things. Or in the words of Super Dave Osborne, A little optimism never hurt.
In hearts declarer has only three definite losers, but there is no way to manage 10 tricks with the 4-1 trump break. Assume a spade lead to the ace, and the 7 return (no reason to waste the 10) won by the king; then a heart; king, ace. If declarer stops leading trumps, North must get a diamond ruff. If trumps are continued, North wins and clears trumps to leave declarer a trick short (even with the club finesse). There is no path to success barring a defensive error; speaking of which, note that if North fails to clear trumps and leads the 10 to tap dummy, declarer gets home.
Some Wests will play in notrump, but only eight tricks are available after the obvious club lead.
An unfriendly diamond break will find many North-South pairs getting overboard, so Ill go with the armchair light version:
Souths 1 NT is conservative with his likely source of tricks, but 5-3-3-2 hands often prove to be disappointing. Responding 2 would necessitate a rebid (in most methods) which could be awkward, so it seems like a good time to go low (it also helps to see all four hands). Some Norths will rebid 2 , but at matchpoints Id try for the higher score.
In notrump South can win seven tricks, but there are opportunities to go astray. Suppose West leads a spade (my choice), covered by the queen and king. The simple route is to win the A and establish diamonds. Dummy has adequate entries, and the defense wins only two spades, two diamonds and two aces if they continue spades; or three hearts, two diamonds and the A if they shift to hearts. This line also has the upside that the defense may shift to clubs (thank you) in view of dummys singleton.
In diamonds North can be held to seven tricks with a heart lead to the ace and a spade switch (killing Souths entry), but the defense will often be more merciful. If East leads a low spade, declarer can win nine tricks.
With 34 HCP, almost all East-Wests will reach slam. Heres a sound auction using inverted minor raises:
West has some hopes for a grand slam, so he proceeds slowly with 3 ; but when opener confirms stoppers in both majors, he gives up on the magic hand. Note that if opener held, say, J-x-x K-x-x K-x-x-x A-Q-x, he would bid 3 to show a heart stopper (implying no spade stopper); then responder would appreciate the fit and continue to explore for seven.
There is nothing to the play, as driving out the A provides the 12th trick. North can even afford to duck without loss, but I suppose some will duck twice and save their ace for bedtime.
Any pair in 6 is lucky to receive any matchpoints. Its hard to believe that 54 East-West pairs (out of 1266) went minus when this deal was played in Europe in 1997. Ah, Europe; that explains it. Seriously, the reason might be due to ace-asking mix-ups. With the advent of kickback, 1430, redwood and whatever, even grown men cant count to four any more.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you may be clenched by the jaws of a weak two-bid:
Wests 2 is clearly right in third seat (I would say any seat, but at least toss me a bone for passing the South hand). North doubles for takeout, and East takes the advance sacrifice. Norths second double is questionable, but Easts jump to game as a passed hand is just too blatant to ignore. South judges well to pass throughout with his shapeless hand.
Alas, so much for advance sacrifices, or any other kind for that matter. Four spades is cold with the K in the slot and friendly breaks. In fact, some will even make an overtrick when North leads a high diamond and the defense fails to cash two hearts immediately.
Despite the catastrophe, note that South still did better to pass: Minus 590 beats minus 800. East should double 5 (the A-Q behind dummy is too beautiful to resist) and routine defense sets it three possibly four if West leads a club at trick two. I suppose some will get out for down two if West cashes two spades and shifts to a diamond.
North has an awkward hand to bid, especially after Easts overcall and hearing bad news from partner. Id take this route:
All but the final bid seem routine. It could be right to pass 2 ; but the hefty diamond spots and outside chance for game persuade me to try 2 , which indicates a good hand (not just a dislike for clubs). South is close to another bid, but the lack of a diamond fit or a spade stopper dims prospects. If South does bid again, I like 2 hehe, because 4 can be made.
In diamonds it is possible to win 10 tricks, but this requires four eyes (similar to the 3 NT line below). With normal play, even if declarer finesses the 9-8, he will win only nine tricks after repeated spade leads and if he leads twice to the Q-J (dubious on the auction), only eight.
What about 3 NT? With the incredibly friendly lie, even a spade lead cannot stop declarer from winning nine tricks if he plays for it: Lead a low heart to the 10 (assuming East ducks); finesse the J; K; then another low heart. Easy game, and your A never takes a trick.
On Board 17, I had East open 2 NT with 22 HCP (per my methods) so this time Ill allow equal rights to the 20-21 group. To wit:
Two clubs is strong and artificial; 2 is negative; and 2 NT shows better than a 2 NT opening. West then checks for a spade fit with Stayman.
South has a disgusting choice of leads. The 10 seems the least of evils, which declarer wins in hand to lead the K, ducked; then the 10 is covered by the jack, queen and ace. North exits safely in hearts; the 9 is unblocked; and dummy is entered with a heart to win the last spade, pitching a club. Declarer next wins two diamonds with the finesse and exits with a diamond to endplay South; 10 tricks. North cannot stop this; in fact, a club shift from J-9-x would be worse, allowing declarer to win 11 tricks.
The South hand brings to mind a frequently asked question, What is the worst lead in bridge? I dont know, but Ill offer this nomination: You hold 6-5-4 A-8-2 J-7-4-2 A-K-8, and your RHO opens a gambling 3 NT. How would you rate a diamond lead?
These tables show the average high-card points and freakness* of each player in these deals (2004) as well as for all deals in the 18 years this event has been held.
In the high-card department, East-West had the edge, not only this year but overall. Perhaps this might discredit the rumors that the cards always run North-South. The distribution was a bit wild this year, as each players hands exceeded the expected average freakness of 2.98 (rounded, not exact) particularly West. Over 18 years, however, the average deal freakness of 12.03 is close to the theoretical expectation of 11.93.
*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.
© 2004 Richard Pavlicek