September 14, 2005
I hope you enjoyed the 2005 ACBL Instant Matchpoint Game, an annual event inaugurated in 1987 to celebrate the ACBLs 50th anniversary. I also hope you find time to read these analyses and compare your results. Who knows? You may even find a board where you topped all my predictions. You may also pick up some helpful tips along the way. 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).
If you have access to the Internet, be sure to visit my web site (rpbridge.net), where youll find a vast assortment of bridge material quizzes, puzzles, humor, articles, bidding practice, and much more all complimentary. Since September 2000, I have conducted a bidding poll every odd month and a play contest every even month. My September 2005 poll is now running, so stop by and vote! All 60 past events are also archived in quiz format.
Richard Pavlicek of Fort Lauderdale FL is one of the leading ACBL bridge players. He has won 11 North American championships including the coveted Vanderbilt Cup (1983, 86, 95), the Reisinger Cup (1982, 83, 84, 90), the Grand National Teams (1973, 97), Open Swiss Teams (1992), and most recently, the 2004 Life Master Pairs (with his son Rich).
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 19th year in a row, Pavlicek has focused his highly skilled critical examination on each of the 36 deals in the ACBL Instant Matchpoint Game.
Off and running with a seven-bagger! Most standard bidders should duplicate this sequence:
East has an attractive hand, worth 8 1/2 tricks in spades, and just short of a 2 opening based on playing strength. Some misguided souls will open 4 , but 1 is the norm. West ekes out a 1 NT response, hoping to hear anything besides more spades. Hah! East has other ideas and jumps all the way to game, which seems justified.
Alas, make that justified for defeat. South can lead any card in his hand (well, except a king) and routine defense will get three diamonds and a trump, whether the defense cashes or waits.
Any kamikaze notrumpers out there? If North opens a 10-12 notrump, East should double (penalty) as this offers a better chance for a good score than bidding spades. South will pass, so if West is willing, its sayonara to North, as down two (minus 300) gives East-West 91 percent. Even if West pulls the double to 2 , East should bid only 3 (invitational) for a good score as the sun sets on the Japanese empire.
After bidding a game that fails, most East-Wests will now miss the one that makes. Thats bridge! Heres a reasonable sequence:
Easts 1 response (skipping 1 ) is debatable, but that would be my choice; it not only simplifies the bidding but also increases play prospects by concealing the diamond strength. West raises (some will pass since East is a passed hand), East makes a help-suit game try (surely forcing even though West bid 1 ), and West signs off with his bare minimum.
Looking at the East-West hands, I would not want to be in game, but its unbeatable. The defense can take the first three tricks in clubs; but after the above auction, South may lead a diamond, surrendering the entire suit and giving declarer 11 easy tricks.
If South leads a heart, declarer may be lured into a second-round heart finesse (10 tricks). If declarer instead attacks diamonds, he cannot win four diamonds without finessing the six if North covers both the 10-8, but North can be endplayed for an 11th trick anyway after stripping his majors.
Some will consider the South hand inappropriate for a weak two-bid (poor suit, two aces), but this writer is a simple soul:
Im a firm believer in bidding early, so a six-card major not quite worth a one-bid is almost always a two-bid; little falls in between. This is likely to end the bidding, although some Norths may boost to 3 as a further preempt to inhibit East-West in hearts.
East-West do indeed have a heart fit but not enough tickets to compete vulnerable or nonvulnerable for that matter. And to those who prove me wrong: I know who you are! You can run, but you cant hide.
In spades, eight tricks can be won by taking an anti-percentage play in diamonds (ducking to the doubleton king), and some will surely guess this from the dubious deduction that East would hop with the K if he had it. This illustrates how psychology can be more important than percentages in making the winning play, as well as the importance of playing second hand low on defense. In my experience, more tricks are given away by sloppy defense than earned by skillful declarer play.
East-West may start the proceedings, but North-South should take over, probably like this:
Wests opening bid is not a thing of beauty but qualifies by most tests, and the excellent suit is a bonus. South doubles the 1 response for takeout, North jumps to invite game, and South has enough (barely) to accept well-judged despite only 22 HCP.
In spades, a number of crossruff lines will produce 10 tricks. After a diamond lead, it is dangerous to duck (declarer fears two rounds of trumps being led), so this seems best: Win A; A; A; club ruff; K; heart ruff; club ruff; heart ruff high (West does best to pitch); club. When West follows, odds strongly favor the 10 in East based on known distributions, so ruff high. This nets six total trump tricks and the contract.
Ironically, declarer usually hopes for a 3-2 trump break; but here the 4-1 break (and blocked suit) is a boon, else a trump lead and continuation would scuttle the game. Imagine the postmortem: Lucky, partner! We got a bad trump break. As is so often the case, aggressive bidding pays off.
As on Board 2, the controversial issue of bypassing a 1 response to bid a major comes to light, assuming North judges to open:
Walsh-style advocates would respond 1 , but I draw the line. I wouldnt mind bypassing five mediocre diamonds, but K-Q-J-x-x is too much; the lead-directing advantage alone may outweigh the risk of losing a heart fit in competition. Further, even a slam is possible opposite, say, A K-x-x A-10-x A-K-x-x-x-x, and a 1 response will lose 6 forever.
Against 1 NT, I would ignore partners overcall and lead the Q. (Some Easts may double 1 NT, tipping off South to run to 2 .) Declarer does best to win the third club (pitching hearts), cross to the K and lead a spade. To beat the contract, West must grab the ace and shift to a heart (alternatively winning the 6 first if East correctly kept the five). An original spade lead shifts the tempo in declarers favor, allowing 1 NT to make.
In diamonds, nine tricks can be won (East can get only one spade ruff). After a club lead, careful play is required to retain trump control.
In hearts South can be brutalized (diamond lead, spade shift) to lose the first seven tricks. What was that Sonny Moyse wrote? Never mind.
A competitive auction could take many turns depending mostly on West and North. Heres one reasonable route:
Some Wests will elect to respond 1 (or 1 NT) over the double, though a cautious pass seems wise with a weak suit at adverse vulnerability. Some Norths will downgrade the K and respond only 1 , which is arguably correct, but the 10 and other useful spot cards persuade me to bid away. Further, some Souths may pass 2 .
In spades, nine tricks should be won with routine play. Assume a club lead (my choice) to the 10, spade to the king (ducked), spade to the queen, then a diamond to the king. No matter what the defense does, declarer can win the remaining clubs and score a diamond ruff in hand.
A few Norths may bid 1 NT. If East leads the J (or 10), the crash gives declarer time to win nine tricks for a great score; but if East leads low, the Q must be ducked to win seven tricks for an average score.
Some Easts will compete in hearts, where eight tricks can be won; or in diamonds, which allows nine tricks (10 if South leads a trump).
Two-over-one agreements vary like phases of the moon. One of my ardent principles is illustrated by this auction:
Some would raise 2 to 3 , but experience has shown that immediate raises with three low trumps are dangerous (even when the response is 2 promising five). Too many times, slam is in the offing, and partner will be unduly encouraged by a misconception of your hand. Therefore, my choice is between 2 (showing 6+ spades or five strong spades) and 3 (natural, not requiring extra strength). Considering the relative black-suit qualities, 2 seems better.
Despite 26 HCP, any game by East-West is doomed. In spades, the 4-1 break is unmanageable unless North leads a club, as declarer must surrender the K and a trump trick, allowing West to be tapped twice. Some may steal the contract by cashing one top spade and finessing the seven, but South should split his honors to prevent this.
In 3 NT, East will fare even worse. The defense can run five hearts, after which they must get another trick down two.
Matchpoints (instant or otherwise) is a crazy game, occasionally resembling bridge, but more often resulting in distortions like:
Traditionalists will shrug at Norths choice of openings, but it simplifies the auction and often leads to a top score. If you open 1 and rebid 3 , it may be difficult to reach 3 NT when partner lacks a stopper in the unbid major, plus it could wrong-side 3 NT if a spade is led. With no perfect solution, the short route seems better, even at IMPs.
In notrump North can be held to his seven running tricks after a spade lead, which puts a dent in my theory. Oh well. Maybe the ghost of Edgar Kaplan is watching, as he had contempt for such bids. When we compared scores as teammates, I would hide my scorecard as I announced Plus 90 a safety play to leave open the possibility that we played two of a minor. I hated to make an overtrick, as plus 120 had me nailed dead to rights.
In diamonds, nine tricks are available with a correct club and heart guess. Toughest scenario is probably a club lead, with the jack winning (West ducks). Declarer must then lead a heart to the nine immediately a dubious play, as it could lose three fast heart tricks with a ruff.
At the vulnerability, I suspect most will open the North hand despite its ugly appearance, perhaps leading to:
Wests 2 NT bid is takeout for the minors. In this position, 5-4 shape is acceptable (unlike an immediate jump to 2 NT which shows at least 5-5). Even 4-4 is OK in a pinch (lacking support for the unbid major) because the enemy fit increases the chance of a fit your way. East jumps with his shapely values to invite game, and West passes just in time.
North-Souths who play weak jump raises (often integrated with Bergen raises) may steal the contract in 3 , as West would have no reasonable action (3 NT would be natural). Alas, its no steal as North gets slaughtered in spades, losing the first seven tricks. Is this a big surprise after Norths opening? East-West dont even have to double, as down three is better than any score they could legitimately achieve declaring.
In clubs, 10 tricks are routine unless North-South fail to cash their spades (then 11 or 12). East-West can score better in 3 (140), but reaching it seems illogical on the bidding shown, and South would probably compete to 3 anyway, upping the offer to 150.
A good slam is available for North-South, and those who appreciate the power of distribution may reach it. I like this auction:
North is too strong for an invitational raise so jumps to 4 (forcing); South shows the A, and North takes a shot at slam. Club slams are usually awkward to bid due to the lack of space, so good judgment must take the place of gadgetry. Blackwood (4 NT) by North is useless. Some might bid 5 over 4 , but this would be a grand-slam try, and seven seems out of reach after a simple 2 rebid.
In clubs, 12 tricks are easy with trumps 2-2, though I suppose a few will engineer a way to go down, e.g., cash the A and finesse (anti-percentage). The combined chance of a favorable trump break or the heart finesse makes 6 about 75 percent well worth bidding.
Some Souths will open an off-shape 1 NT (poor judgment with two low hearts) creating a difficult path to 6 and just deserts when missed.
Most will play in 4 , winning 11 obvious tricks.
One notrump forcing in response to a major is a popular treatment (often in conjunction with 2-over-1 game forcing) and this shows why:
North has no desire to play in notrump with 6-5 shape, though standard bidders would be left right there. With 1 NT forcing, South is obliged to bid his three-card minor, allowing North a chance to show his long hearts and limited values. South might consider a raise, but the wrong spade holding suggests caution; with A-x-x-x-x instead, South should bid 3 , and North would bid game.
Friendly city. A successful heart finesse and even breaks in both rounded suits make 10 tricks routine in hearts (one ruff establishes clubs). Some will even win 11, e.g., after a trump lead, by leading the J, which East will surely cover, then the spade goes away without risk. An interesting dilemma occurs with a diamond lead: Ducking to the jack leaves no quick entry to dummy; so would you play the queen? If it loses, your intentions to get a spade pitch will be obvious (not to mention the wasted diamond trick) so East-West will surely cash out.
North has a nervous 1 NT opening with no stopper in either major, but balanced hands are balanced hands. A standard auction:
After a Stayman inquiry, South reasonably forces to game (9 HCP and a five-bagger is usually enough) by jumping in his longer major (Smolen advocates would reverse this and bid 3 ). North is comforted to hear that South has both majors, and denies a fit with 3 NT.
OK, so much for overbids. Perhaps the lack of spot cards in Souths long suit should have been a warning, as 3 NT is a poor contract, essentially needing hearts 3-3 with the king onside (and even then its in jeopardy with a spade lead and club shift). If Souths hearts were A-Q-9-7-x, 3 NT would be sound, which suggests that a hand with a five-card suit should not be upgraded for a top card in that suit but for the presence of intermediate cards. At least its some food for thought.
If the play goes: J to eight, queen; 10 to jack; 2 to 10; 9 to ace; 8, East should play the 9 as suit preference for spades (also suggested by 10-9 order) so West wont be lured into a passive diamond exit.
North has quite a playing hand, and many will launch into Blackwood after finding the heart fit, but this auction is more prudent:
South prefers an immediate raise (avoiding a predicament after 1 if opener rebids 2 ), and North goes slowly with 3 . South suggests 3 NT with his maximum raise, North tries again with a control-bid, and South discourages with his wrong-valued hand. Facing known black-suit wastage and no assurance of the Q or ruffing ability, North wisely quits.
In hearts, 11 tricks are routine thanks to Souths club holding, so those who use Blackwood will land on their feet. Note that South would bid the same with K-10-x-x J-x-x x-x-x K-Q-x, so 5 could have had an inescapable diamond loser.
Some Wests will jump to 3 , then East may bid 4 (over 4 by North), which South will surely double. This goes down three (800) with sound defense (South must pitch if the third diamond is ruffed with the J). Alas, North might not sit for it.
Another ill-fated 3 NT will be reached by many, usually after a Jacoby transfer on this auction:
Norths 2 NT rebid shows a five-card spade suit and invitational values. Souths acceptance is borderline (assuming 15-17), but the honor in partners suit and working jacks suggest the push. OK, OK, I try to justify this, but we all know its just a case of mad cow disease.
After a diamond lead and routinely dislodging the A, the best declarer can do is to cash out his seven tricks, and this should be indicated when West pitches a spade, effectively ruling out Q-10-x-x. If declarer is desperate and takes the spade finesse, he will go down three.
Some Wests may instead lead the K (perhaps wise at IMPs but wrong at matchpoints), hoping to hit partner, which could hand over the contract if East encourages. Curiously, East must play the 4 (10-9-6 are crucial spot cards) and West must switch to a diamond to prevail against best play by declarer. One slip, and 3 NT rolls.
Despite playing five-card majors, and the adverse vulnerability, Id opt for a third-seat lead-director as North:
Easts hand is not a thing of beauty (except maybe compared to Norths), but its hard to resist overcalling at the vulnerability. South raises hearts routinely, West cue-bids to show better than a 2 raise (assuming a jump to 3 would be weak), and East has no problem rejecting a game invitation opposite a passed hand. Indeed, East wants to go back to two spades.
In spades, nine tricks are routine when the K pops, and theres really no chance for more or less. Even so, the old Barry Crane try would be to win the second heart; J, king, ace; heart ruff; 10; exit with a club; win K shift with ace (dropping 10); heart ruff; then finish dummys trumps, pitching a club. Maybe, just maybe, each opponent will keep two clubs, then a diamond exit brings a 10th trick. Fantasy? Dont laugh; it happens.
If North plays in hearts, only seven tricks can be won with routine defense (spade lead, trump shift), so any attempt to compete beyond 2 could be costly. In diamonds, eight tricks can be won.
A borderline game for East-West should be avoided with sound bidding. Heres one way using the popular help-suit game try:
After three routine bids, East bids the suit in which he needs help (such as a high honor or ruffing ability), which gives West a close decision: Does the attractive heart holding make up for a lousy opening? Considering the topless club suit and the stray J, I dont think so; discouraging with 3 seems right (4 is reasonable at IMPs). A good stop.
Winning defensive tip: Dont shy away from leading the suit of a help-suit game try (see Board 2 also). Many defenders do, and declarer often benefits by having time to dispose of his losers. Thus, South should lead the K, which immediately establishes a fourth trick before the A is dislodged. Either black-suit lead allows declarer to romp with 10 tricks.
The trouble with most game tries (any descriptive kind) is that they reveal information about the closed hand. A better method is to use the cheapest bid (2 NT here) as an artificial relay to ask about dummy. This is less helpful to the defense because dummy will be seen anyway.
Holding 35 HCP, all the aces and kings, and a double fit with both queens, East-West will have visions of grandeur. Heres one scenario:
Souths weak jump overcall (dubious) is a shock to West, but there seems no better solution than to use Blackwood (Roman key-card for diamonds). When East shows the K (5 NT requests specific kings), West cannot be sure of seven, but odds are good that East has minor-suit length.
In notrump, the bad diamond break looks ominous but causes no problem, as South is routinely squeezed. After a heart lead and cashing K-Q to reveal the break, simply cash six black winners (no spade finesse) ending in West. If South keeps his diamond stopper, the 7 will be good.
Some Norths will change the tempo by opening 3 (about as dubious as Souths 2 ). East is then strapped, but Id chance 3 NT (second choice is to pass). West will then wonder how partner could bid missing his own 20 points, and jump to the grand forthwith. The same squeeze is marked against South, although the 8 lead offers an even simpler spade finesse.
With a fit both ways and HCP about equally split, a competitive auction is inevitable. As usual, the higher suit rates to win:
East will surely consider bidding more, but the 2-2 side distribution is disappointing and suggests caution. Yes indeed, as 4 would probably be doubled and set two (300).
Some players (including me) cannot raise to 2 as West, because the bid is used as an artificial major-suit takeout. The logic is that a minor-suit raise is rare over a 1 NT overcall, while a weak hand with both majors is common. An alternative is to use the other minor for takeout, but I feel this is more desirable as a natural bid. Further, you can still raise to three (weak, else double), which is often wiser anyway to have any impact.
Against hearts, East will lead four rounds of spades, forcing declarer to ruff high and finesse West for the J to win nine tricks. Assuming West sluffs two clubs, declarer should take a first-round finesse (do not cash Q) then lead a club. If East held J-x-(x) this retains an entry to hand to escape for down one; else a diamond return locks dummy for down two.
Simple bidding will be on the menu at most tables, as its hard to imagine any standard auction but:
Weak notrumpers will open 1 , and East is likely to eschew any club raise to bid notrump with his positional values (Id respond 3 NT if it showed 13-14). North, of course, might create an obstacle with 2 (weak jump overcall). Should East still bid 3 NT? Considering the way some people bid white-vs-red, a case could be made to ignore their bids.
In notrump, results will vary tremendously depending on the declarer, the lead and play options. After the above auction and a heart lead (covered), declarer may hold up until to the third round then backward-finesse clubs as a safety play (dubious); then a spade finesse and 3-3 break net 10 tricks. It is also plausible to go down if South shifts to a diamond after winning his Q; declarer may hop with the A and run clubs, then misguess spades by running the jack (enticed by a clever spade pitch by North).
In stark contrast, if East declares 3 NT with a diamond lead, all 13 tricks can be won with routine finesses in the black suits (running spades first) followed by a red-suit squeeze against South.
An off-shape 1 NT is attractive with two doubleton honors (compare Board 10 South hand), and it will often end the bidding:
Should South use Stayman? Looking at the North hand, wed all say yes. At IMPs its probably right, as a heart game is within reach, but pass seems better at matchpoints. Besides the unlikelihood of finding a heart fit, theres a chance West may balance and go for a number (probably doubled).
In notrump, assume East leads a spade (safe and surely best at matchpoints) to the queen and ace. Declarer can win seven tricks by ducking two clubs, but thats bizarre. Normal play is to cross to dummy in hearts and lead a diamond to the king. Then the defense is in control by leading clubs twice (at least once from West) even if declarer divines to finesse the 8, which is wrong in theory because Wests 10 could be from 10-9-x, hence normal restricted-choice principles do not apply.
In hearts, 10 tricks can be made by establishing clubs with two ruffs, and this is likely to happen after a spade lead when an early club ruff drops the queen. Is the king coming next? Sure enough! Puzzle time: Looking at all four hands, can you win 11 tricks in hearts with the K lead?
A routine spade game should be reached by almost all North-Souths on this shapely layout. I would bid this way:
North is arguably worth more than 2 (a reverse?) but the skinny HCP and enemy silence (where are the hearts?) suggest therell be more bidding. Jumping to 3 next shows more than a preference, which eases Souths concern about game. Indeed, the hands are close to producing a slam.
In spades, 11 tricks can be won; but the greed to win 12 may net only 10. For example, assume the K lead, ruffed; club to the nine, ace; diamond shift (crucial defense); J (East ducks and falsecards with the 8); low club, queen. If South ruffs low, West overruffs and returns a diamond, ensuring another trick. I dont see any legitimate path to 12 tricks.
Some will eschew the nice spade fit to play 3 NT the most common strain of the mad cow virus. This looks like nine tricks thanks to a lucky heart lie, but a funny thing happens if West leads the K and the defense leads four rounds. West is squeezed out of his A for 10 tricks.
Standard bidders, including those who play 1 NT forcing, are likely to reach the wrong game (in theory) after this auction:
Looking at both hands, one would prefer to be in 4 , but North is unable to show his five-bagger at a convenient level. Perhaps North should correct to 4 , since even a doubleton honor opposite rates to be adequate, and the lack of hand entries could be fatal in notrump. Some modern theorists use a 2 NT raise by opener as an artificial force to solve problems like this, and Im almost convinced it may be superior.
In notrump, declarer must eventually hope for the A onside to win a ninth trick, and so it is.
Ironically, those who reach the superior heart game are likely to go down. Suppose East leads a trump (my choice) and declarer starts spades. The fall of the queen causes concern, but it could be a scare card from a sequence; so declarer may continue with a top spade, ruffed; then a trump return leaves only nine tricks. Hmm. Maybe that forcing 2 NT rebid isnt such a great idea after all.
Its about time for some action, and this deal should produce it. I would probably follow this route, hopefully as North or South:
Some will open the South hand with 1 NT, but a five-card major and a worthless doubleton warn against it. Further, a 1 opening causes no rebid problem (Id raise 1 NT to 2 NT, nonforcing, thank you). The fast bidding leaves East in a quandary, but Id double and prepare my opening statement for the postmortem: But I had a stiff diamond!
So much for speculative doubles. Four spades is cold with any lead, and a diamond (likely) offers up an overtrick. Its hard to say that either West or East acted wrongly, but the combined efforts certainly didnt mesh.
Some Wests will sacrifice in 5 probably down two, but 10 tricks are possible (except after a club lead) by reaching dummy in hearts to lead a diamond to the queen (if South hops, the Q is led next).
A club contract appears to have only two losers, but coming to 11 tricks is another story. After a spade lead, ruffed, and a diamond won by the jack, any defense except ace and another club (ouch) holds declarer to 10 tricks; and if declarer isnt careful, he may lose trump control and do worse.
This awkward deal will leave most East-West pairs reeling. The only game with a prayer might be reached this way:
Perhaps East should pass 1 or 2 . The latter is ostensibly forcing to game, but having improved the contract considerably from 1 makes a good case for passing. Nonetheless, system violations are bad for partnership morale, so East plods along. Some Souths may overcall 1 , which may help East decide to pass openers forcing reverse.
In hearts, 10 tricks can be made, but not with realistic play. Assume North leads a spade, and declarer begins with the A and a ruff. The logical next move is to finesse the Q, after which declarer can win only nine tricks and may do worse. The double-dummy line is to ruff a spade, ruff a club, cash the A, ruff a spade and cash the K. North is now left with J-9 K-J-10, so a low diamond endplays him. If anyone finds this play against you, may I suggest holding your cards back.
In notrump, prospects are worse. The best East or West can do is win seven tricks, which probably requires an anti-percentage heart finesse.
Another action deal, illustrating a danger in the overuse of forcing passes. Jumping to game does not mean you are sacrificing:
Many experts today treat this as a forcing-pass situation for East-West. The logic is that Souths bid is weak most of the time, so West is obliged to double 5 with his horrible hand to warn partner not to bid. Ouch; a cold game. Im a firm believer in minimal forcing auctions. My basic rule is that our actions must suggest we have 23+ HCP, and certainly a takeout double of a weak two-bid makes no such statement.
In diamonds, 11 tricks are easy, losing only two clubs. The only case for a different result might be if East attended the pre-game hand-record party and starts a low club. Would you hop with the king? Perhaps you should after the takeout double, but it seems pretty normal to duck. Ouch.
Some East-Wests may steal the contract in spades (particularly against opponents who dont play weak 2 bids), but theyre treading on thin ice. After the A lead, South may infer partners singleton and lead ace and a low heart (suit preference). A club shift then allows a second heart ruff, which brings a cool 800 against 4 doubled.
Third-seat preempts are extremely flexible, so Id take the opportunity to bid what the singleton spade suggests:
Should North overcall 4 ? Dubious at best, especially opposite a passed hand, so Id go quietly. Its possible to construct hands where 4 makes ( K-x-x-x x A-Q-x-x-x x-x-x), but its also possible to construct misfits that go for huge numbers. Its only matchpoints, of course, but I really think you need a Spider-Man outfit to bid that way.
In hearts, 10 tricks are laydown, and the defense must cash out to stop 11 (or 12 if only the A is taken). On the given auction, Id lead the A; then the appearance of dummy makes a diamond shift obvious. South should help by discouraging a spade continuation (low assuming standard signals) which implies the A or Q; else South would encourage spades to inhibit a diamond switch.
Norths who bid 4 will find a good sacrifice, as eight tricks come home with indicated play. Best defense is to cash two clubs and two hearts, then shift to a trump. Declarer should refuse the finesse, which rates to lose anyway, to ensure an endplay to avoid a diamond guess.
Tit for tat! The overweight preempt worked so well for West on the last board that North gives it a whirl here:
Oops, sorry; these bids only work for East-West. This time its a needless overbid, with no competition in sight, and South might not even have bid over 1 . Perhaps the lesson here is that spade preempts are less crucial, holding the ranking suit. In any case, North will have company. A stunning blow would be if West had the table feel to double 4 .
Those who open 1 will do better if South smartly passes. West will surely reopen with a double, then North should be content to bid 3 , which should buy the contract. If East foolishly bids 4 , South should double for an easy 300 (or 500 if East ducks when North shifts to his singleton).
In spades, eight tricks are routine, and its hard to see how the defense could allow more. As East, Id lead a heart; then a diamond shift simplifies the defense, though it hardly matters with dummy out of reach.
Curiously, the best contract for North-South is 2 NT (same eight tricks) but only a crazed orangutan might get there.
West has a dubious opening bid, but the vulnerability suggests seizing the opportunity for the first lie, and it works rather nicely:
Souths overcall gives East a problem, which is solved with an all-purpose cue-bid. West then shows a good heart suit, and East bids the obvious game. Well done or at least thats easy to say in view of the friendly heart break. Otherwise, Id be writing about that mad cow still on the loose.
In hearts, it looks like 11 easy tricks with hearts 3-3; but South can hold it to 10 by leading a third diamond, allowing North to uppercut dummy with the 6 to promote the jack. This defense is indicated, as South can place declarer with both top hearts and the K; hence, a spade shift is useless barring an unlikely blank K.
An alternate game for East-West is 5 , but this also requires hearts 3-3 (or J-10 doubleton) because West lacks an outside entry after trumps are drawn. Hence, all that propaganda about avoiding minor-suit games at matchpoints is probably true.
Can you stop below game with 26 HCP? Its difficult, but heres a sensible auction using inverted minors in competition:
Easts overcall hoists a warning flag, else chances would be excellent in 3 NT (diamonds 4-3 or no diamond lead). After the forcing 2 raise (10+) opener treats his hand as a minimum good judgment with the wasted J and anemic spade suit (with A-J-8-x x-x x-x-x A-K-Q-x, Id bid 2 to show extras). South also exercises caution with his weak trumps, lopsided values and lack of diamond control.
Some North-Souths will reach 4 , perhaps after a similar auction with opener showing his four-card suit. In practice, this is likely to make (unless declarer gets greedy after a heart lead) for a good score not a top, as some will steal 3 NT (typically when East passes and South is declarer).
Do you see how to defeat 4 ? East must lead a low diamond (or the queen, overtaken by West) so the defense can lead four rounds of diamonds. No matter which hand declarer ruffs in, he must lose a trump trick.
In clubs, 10 tricks are routine, though a heart lead offers bait that could quickly change it to nine.
Systems will dictate how to bid 13-balanced opposite 17-balanced, but 3 NT or 4 NT should always be reached. I would bid this way:
Two notrump shows 15+ HCP (3 NT would show 13-14); opener assumes 15-17 and bids accordingly. If responder held 18+, he would bid again (usually 4 NT to show 18-19). The North hand is arguably worth an upgrade to 18 (two aces and two 10s increase its value), but the flat shape suggests otherwise. Even if North bids 4 NT, South has little to spare for his opening and should pass anyway.
In notrump, 11 tricks are easy with the friendly lie in each major, losing only the A and a minor-suit finesse. If East leads a diamond, 12 tricks are available on a squeeze, which declarer should play for (as opposed to the club finesse) because an eventual hand count reveals East to have longer clubs. If East leads a club (perhaps because of Souths opening), no squeeze will work provided West returns a club upon winning the A; so its back to 11, just as after a passive lead.
Many will disapprove of a queen-high weak two-bid vulnerable, but the singleton spade and 10-9 persuade me to bid:
Norths 2 NT is a general force, and 3 shows a minimum (Im sure all would agree there). North then uses good discipline to pass, although 3 NT would work magnificently as the cards lie. On the surface, 4 looks like a reasonable game (off three aces), but its odds-against; a doubleton in either minor suit led would set it, plus trumps might not break.
In hearts, the stiff diamond lead is brutal, allowing two diamond ruffs; then a second club allows East to get a later club ruff, holding declarer to just seven tricks. Ouch. So much for my weak two-bid style! Ill remember this deal, like I remember my second-grade teacher who tried to improve my behavior at recess. But then, she couldnt bid either.
Those who reach 3 NT will be rewarded (justly?) as the favorable spade lie prevents any successful attack. Indeed, 10 tricks cant be stopped. After a diamond lead to the king (unblocking) and A-K, the Q is led to leave the defense helpless.
Ugh! Just what I didnt want to see, thinks South as he finds himself on lead after this abrupt conclusion:
The good news is that North has achieved the best possible result, as 1 can be set three for 800. Assume a trump lead (standard procedure) to the eight and queen, a diamond to the king, and K-A. If North pitches hearts (to avoid giving declarer two hearts), dummy eventually wins a trick with the 8, so theres no way to prevent declarer from winning a fourth trick. Even if South leads A-K originally (hoping for a diamond ruff), declarer can ruff the fourth diamond with the 7.
Left to their own devices, North-South have no makable game. Four spades suffers four inescapable losers, and 4 is beaten by continued club leads to promote a trump trick (even if North declares, the A lead is fatal). The best hope for game is 3 NT by North, which makes on a club lead; but at matchpoints with the K marked in North, East should lead a safe J. Then when West wins the Q, a club shift ensures that East will enjoy both of his tenaces behind declarer.
Norths hand is a classic weak two-bid; alas, in the wrong suit, so one has to improvise:
Many will disdain 3 , but first-seat preempts are powerful weapons. The quality of Norths clubs makes up for the lack of a seventh card, and the K brings the trick-taking potential up to par for a three-bid at equal. Almost perfect, or at least sanctioned by the mental ward at San Quentin.
West has a close decision between 3 NT and double; the latter seems better with a textureless, pure stopper. On a good day, East would bid spades, but West corrects to 3 NT over the expected 3 . East wisely continues to 4 with his undisclosed six-bagger.
In hearts, 10 tricks can be made. It may look like 11 with the successful diamond finesse, but declarer cannot avoid a trump promotion after a club lead; Souths J will always win a trick.
In notrump, prospects are dim with a club lead. Routine play nets only seven tricks when North has the K. At double-dummy, eight tricks can be won by stripping Norths pointed suits and exiting with a club.
Another off-shape notrump seems right with two doubleton honors (compare Board 20), only this time its at the two level:
Some will argue that East is too strong for 2 NT (preferring 2 followed by 2 NT), e.g., 3 NT could make with a spade lead opposite the K and nothing else. True, but there are many more cases where 3 points will not be enough. Perfect card placements never seem to occur, at least until you underbid. Then, bingo; everything makes.
In notrump, 10 tricks can be won after the obvious spade lead, but this requires a finesse that risks the contract. Proper play is to cash both top hearts (maybe Q-J will fall) then win two diamonds ending in West, so a 5-1 diamond split would be revealed (then you need the club finesse). When diamonds break favorably, should you risk the club finesse? It all depends on who you think has the K, but I will say this: From my vantage point, I go for it. Seriously, its little more than a guess; but in events like this, its probably right to risk it because most players will not, i.e., its better to play to win or lose than to go with the field.
A routine heart game should be reached by most North-South pairs, perhaps on this auction:
Easts takeout double is much superior to overcalling in a topless club suit, as it brings both minors into the picture. South is probably worth only a 2 rebid, but the solid suit and expected competition suggest aggression; and it certainly resolves any decision for North about bidding game.
Am I seeing things, or do 150 honors seem to be popping up all over the place? Yes, also on Boards 8, 26 and 27. Is this a conspiracy? Or should I just feel honored to be a part of it.
In hearts, 10 tricks look easy with a club ruff in dummy, but fate can be fickle. If West leads a diamond (again note the benefit of Easts double versus 2 ) he is able to pitch a club or two as East leads four rounds. Then declarer is unable to cash A-K, and the contract is scuttled.
Perhaps the moral of the story is to play 3 NT with nine cold tricks; but this would usually be a matchpoint disaster, scoring 400 versus 420. Even here it fares poorly, as a diamond lead against 4 is hardly obvious.
With 25 HCP and no eight-card trump fit, most East-Wests will breeze into 3 NT. A likely auction:
West has an awkward choice of rebids. Some would bid 2 (waiting) but this is out of the question as I play (see Board 7). My choice is between 2 NT and 3 , neither of which requires extra strength; and the weak club suit suggests 2 NT. This simplifies the bidding for East, with the obvious raise to game.
In notrump, the play is a tangled web. Assume the J lead, won by the queen. Proper play seems to be to cross to the A and lead a spade to the king and ace, then duck the club return. North shifts to the J (best), won by the ace, and declarer takes the K (sweet, marking North with 2=5=1=5 or 1=5=2=5) to pitch a club. Now declarer can always succeed with the Q in South, so cash the J to pitch a spade and lead a spade to the jack. (Even if the 10 didnt fall, South would be endplayed to give you the 10.) Thats nine tricks if my abacus is still working. With four eyes, it is possible to win 11 by taking the A on the second round and leading the J from hand, ending with a diamond finesse for dessert. Yummy.
The following tables show the average high-card points and freakness* of each players hands in these deals (2005) as well as for all deals in the 19 years this event has been held.
In the high-card department, North-South had a narrow edge this year, but East-West still lead overall. The average freakness of these 36 deals (12.17) was slightly above the theoretical expectation of 11.93, and North-South got the better of it. North hands were wildest (3.31) and considerably above the 2.98 norm. Note, however, that freakness averages for 19 years have closed in on expected values, so theres no cause for alarm. Stories about wild computer deals are not supported by these statistics.
*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.
© 2005 Richard Pavlicek