September 14, 2006
I hope you enjoyed the 2006 ACBL Instant Matchpoint Game, an annual event inaugurated in 1987 to celebrate the ACBLs 50th anniversary. Regardless of how well you did, I think you will enjoy reading these analyses and comparing your results. You may find some helpful tips; and who knows? You may even find a board or two where you topped all 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. Or perhaps youd just like to share an interesting happening on one of the deals. 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 you will find a vast assortment of bridge material bidding polls, play contests, quizzes, puzzles, humor, articles, bidding practice, and much more all complimentary. Theres something for everyone, from beginner to expert and beyond, so stop by and check it out.
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.
For the 20th year in a row, Pavlicek has focused his highly skilled critical examination on each of the 36 deals in the ACBL Instant Matchpoint Game.
The 2006 event begins with a major-suit partscore battle that may extend to game at some tables. Heres one scenario:
Souths 2 is a weak jump shift (played by many over a takeout double); West competes in hearts (almost enough to bid 4 ); North judges well to push to 3 ; and East routinely passes with his minimum takeout double. West might let this go, but I would bid 4 it might make on a good day, and down one is OK (even doubled) if 3 were making. Perhaps North or South should double on the sound of the auction.
Alas, the J is in the wrong hand to have a chance; so 4 is routinely down one after almost any play, losing three diamonds and the A.
A phantom sacrifice. In spades, the awkward trump lie makes nine tricks impossible if the defense takes its two clubs. But wait! West may lead the A and shift to a diamond. Then declarer can win the J; K; heart ruff; A (club pitch); diamond ruff; heart ruff, resulting in nine tricks (East gets two trumps and a club). A trump lead might hold it to seven tricks, as declarer may not risk the diamond finesse on the bidding.
Now for some real action! An eight-bagger alone is probably enough to open 4 at favorable. If not, just say the Q was atop your hearts.
North does well to balance with a double (takeout), and South bids the obvious (thoughts of 6 are dimmed by the nine-high suit). West competes to 5 (dubious), and South sticks to his assessment and doubles.
In hearts, only nine tricks can be won. After a club lead and spade switch, knocking out the king, declarer cant do anything helpful with the diamond suit. If South leads the A, however, East will come to 10 tricks if he takes the right view (ruff out the K); unless South next underleads his A, then its probably back to nine though declarer could win 12!
In clubs, the A lead holds South to 10 tricks; else 11 can be won. After a heart lead, declarer must play spades right (finesse the 10, or ace then lead to queen). West takes the K (best) and exits in spades; then declarer must not cash the fourth spade (East can pitch the Q) but duck a diamond for the endplay. A hand count (East 3=8=1=1) suggests this is safe.
Two controversial issues here: Whether to open 1 NT with five spades, and whether to use Stayman with soft values.
My general criteria for 1 NT with a five-card major is to have 5-3-3-2 shape with a stopper (or Q-x) in each suit, but the acey structure of the South hand makes it close. I would hardly criticize 1 , but Id go with 1 NT because ace-doubleton may have positional value (e.g., opposite J-10-x).
If South opens 1 NT, should North use Stayman? I say no, because a slew of hands will make the same number of tricks in notrump or hearts, and 4 could be doomed by a bad trump break or a diamond ruff. Further, when you dont find a heart fit, the query only helps the defense. Even if youre unlucky and catch partner without a spade stopper, you might still make 3 NT and discover that 4 goes down, e.g., opposite x-x-x A-x-x-x A-K A-10-x-x.
The play in notrump is routine for 10 tricks. Declarer can establish spades for four tricks, combined with a heart, two diamonds (finesse) and three clubs. Any attempt to develop more means losing a third trick unless the defense contributes by leading a heart.
Most players consider the West hand an opening bid (I agree), so this should be a popular auction:
Norths overcall is about as doubtful as Wests opening, but winning players tend to bid. This reminds me of what Oswald Jacoby once joked to me, Every bid I make is an overbid. If I thought I could make something, I would have bid more. At least I think it was a joke but maybe it just fulfilled his urge to make impossible contracts.
Easts limit raise should end the bidding. Those who play weak jump raises will cue-bid 3 to show a limit raise, which may entice South into the fray with an indiscreet 3 , perhaps with the dire consequence of North leading the K against 3 .
In spades, nine tricks are routine with the K lead: Win the A and lead a diamond right back to build a heart pitch; then the friendly club lie and 2-2 trumps simplify the play. Only a trump lead or a four-eyed low club allows South to lead a diamond through West, then later a heart, to hold declarer to eight tricks.
In hearts South is likely to make nine tricks, though a diamond lead (or a spade and diamond shift) holds it to eight.
The vulnerability makes the East hand atypical for any action, but a weak two-bid seems the best choice:
West can count nine tricks opposite ace-sixth in diamonds, so 3 NT stands out. Even if East is playing games with a five-bagger, a ninth trick may develop; and the actual case yields a pleasant surprise.
The problem with opening 3 is that West will expect a much worse hand (e.g., Q-J-10-x-x-x-x and out) and many good 3 NT contracts will be missed. (This is somewhat a style issue, but my partners will attest that I have none of that.) Two-bids are more flexible, since West can explore with 2 NT on borderline game hands.
In notrump declarer starts with 10 tricks, and after the likely spade lead, should end with the same. North must be careful to avoid being endplayed; e.g., if declarer wins the second spade, runs diamonds and crosses to the A ( 9 A-2 remain), North is a dead duck if he holds the high spade. Proper defense (assuming the 3 lead) is to unblock the Q on the second round (Souths 5 return shows four); then the J can be pitched when it becomes apparent declarer has the A.
North has an interesting problem after South opens and West overcalls a strong notrump. Is it a pinochle deck?
I would start with a double, which should incite a runout by East (or maybe West) to a safe haven in clubs (nine likely tricks). Then it seems that 2 (nonforcing) would be an injustice to the North hand, so Id bid 3 , leading to the obvious game.
The success of 4 depends entirely on the lead. Should East be inspired to lead a diamond? Maybe, but Id lead a club; so chalk up 10 tricks, as there is no second chance. Declarer simply forces out the A to pitch his losing diamonds. Evidently, transfer responses (to make South declarer) would put 4 on ice; but the thought of bidding hearts to show spades after partner opens 1 is too frightening for me.
If East-West stick it out in 1 NT doubled, it may look like six tricks (five clubs and the A) but West is squeezed if spades are run immediately. West must keep K-J, then a heart return holds him to five tricks.
After a routine strong notrump, some Easts will pass, but the majority will attempt to sign off in diamonds. Heres my way:
Three clubs is a transfer, and opener duly obliges. Oops! A frisky South player would back into the proceedings with a takeout double, hoping for a major-suit fit. As North, it seems wiser to pass and try for plus 200 than to bid clubs at the four level. Well judged probably.
In diamonds, assume a club lead (best) to the 10 (discovery play) and ace. Lacking mirrors, declarer runs the Q to the king, and South shifts to the Q. Even if declarer ducks, he can be held to just seven tricks if South continues with a low spade; back to the K; J, king, ruff; and North exits with his last trump to wait for the K. Nonetheless, this defense is hardly routine, so most will allow eight tricks, and some nine. Declarer, of course, could always win nine by dropping the K and guessing spades.
In clubs, North can win 10 tricks unless East leads a heart (or the A then a heart) to develop a second heart trick (or a heart ruff).
Style differences may dictate how to handle the South hand after East opens in third seat. I prefer to bid both suits:
Many Souths will double 1 , but to follow this with a spade bid seems too aggressive. Others may overcall 1 then reopen with a takeout double of 2 , regrettably converted by North. Simply bidding spades then hearts, however, is more attuned to the offensive nature of the hand.
Conservatism pays off, as the foul lie of the red suits limits South to eight tricks, and only in hearts. Many will win less after a diamond lead; trump shift (ducked); diamond (or club); trump. If declarer finesses again, the defense can tap South in clubs to kill the long spades (even if declarer keeps a trump entry to dummy to finesse the J).
In spades South can win only six tricks. Accurate defense (e.g., diamond lead, heart shift) ensures two trump tricks, as declarer is unable to reach dummy to finesse spades.
In clubs West cannot be stopped from winning eight tricks, thanks to the friendly red-suit lie. Better yet, East can make eight tricks in notrump.
A routine notrump opening and Stayman sequence will land most Easts in the worlds most popular contract:
A case can be made for West to rebid 3 (forcing) in lieu of 3 NT due to the spade danger; e.g., give East J-8 A-Q-3 A-10-4-3 A-9-4-2 and 3 NT is hopeless, while 4 and 5 are sound. Even so, this case is strong only at IMPs; 3 NT is probably wise at matchpoints.
In notrump East has 10 top tricks after a spade lead and the usual nine never technique in clubs. Running clubs and A-K force South to let go good spades, so most will judge to finesse the J for 11 tricks. No, make that 12, as South should duck the second spade to keep communication in case North has an entry; then he is squeezed in the majors. Call it a smooth duck converted to a dead duck.
Only an original diamond lead holds East to 10 tricks, but any South who finds that may have some explaining to do. Why did you lead a diamond? Because its safe, and partner didnt double 2 for a club lead oh, and she also kept pointing to her wedding ring.
Many Norths will buy the contract in a peaceful heart partscore, often after this standard sequence:
Easts who play inverted minors in competition (like this writer) will accelerate the auction with 3 , dangerously high if North-South shrewdly double, but an effective thrust in practice. Chances are this will propel North to compete one level higher.
In hearts, nine tricks can always be won, but it takes a heart finesse that is anti-percentage a priori though reasonable on the bidding. Further, the defense might give away the layout by leading a third spade (after cashing two clubs); North probably ruffs with the 8 which holds, as West blushes. No high hearts, partner?
In clubs West has only four top losers, but the limit is eight tricks. North can effect this early with a third round of hearts, promoting a trump trick for South; but this isnt necessary. A simple trump lead leaves declarer with no way to produce a ninth trick legitimately.
Is your style to underbid or overbid? For most successful players, thats like asking: Is the Earth square or round?
After Wests aggressive jump overcall, South is caught in the middle; he hardly has enough to insist on game, but it pays to stretch when pressured. Double is clearly wise on the off chance North may sit (an easy 500 on the actual layout) then a welcome preference makes 4 hard to resist. Some would say North should do more, but hes hardly worth a negative double; and bidding more than 3 after the double would often hang partner.
In spades, 10 tricks are laydown, and 11 are available with proper play. Assume the K lead (a diamond makes it easy). After drawing trumps, lead the 8 planning to run it for an intrafinesse (playing for 10-x) which evolves to a simple finesse when the 10 suddenly appears.
Matchpoint hogs who play in notrump may be rewarded by a fourth-best heart lead; jack; then the same eventual diamond play produces 12 tricks. If West leads the K, notrumpers can win only their 10 top tricks.
Most experts agree that aces are undervalued in the standard 4-3-2-1 point scale, but aces and spaces often disappoint:
Everybody opens with three aces; well, except my Uncle Jesse. He would always sandbag and wait for someone else to open, then hed raise the limit. Of course, the cat was out of bag when he drew only two cards. Poor Jesse; hed still be around today if he didnt collapse after drawing the case ace and losing to a dude filling a straight flush
but I digress.
Almost all roads lead to 3 NT by West. Standard bidders will follow the above route, except some will open 1 . Weak notrumpers will open 1 NT, and East will get there via Stayman. Alas, three aces are only three tricks, so West needs to catch well to bring home the game.
In notrump, a likely heart lead resolves that suit with a free finesse, but normal play (ace and another diamond) results in only eight tricks. Declarer needs mirrors to play diamonds for one loser (lead the 10 or Q), which is necessary to make 3 NT legitimately. Even if declarer establishes his fourth diamond and fourth club ostensibly nine tricks the defense will come to five tricks first.
Five-card suits are nice, but four of them may spell trouble for East-West. I would be propelled into slam:
Even if 3 could be a minimum opening, it is reasonable for West to use Blackwood (key-card, 5 = two aces plus the Q). Surely, 3 NT is an immense underbid; and bidding clubs in the teeth of a misfit is futile.
Six notrump is decent (no worse than a heart finesse) with some extra chances depending on the lead. As North, looking at a likely set, Id choose a passive lead; assume the 9 although no clear preference over a spade. Due to communication issues, it seems best to win the K and lead the K, taken by North. Now a diamond continuation allows declarer to test diamonds, then fall back on the heart finesse. North does better to switch to a spade, which forces declarer to commit. Alas, its all for practice, as the contract is doomed. North could even lead the A and beat 6 NT.
Curiously, the only slam that cannot be defeated is 6 by West (a heart lead beats it by East) but even Houdini couldnt manage that feat.
Regardless of whether Souths 1 NT response is standard, semiforcing or forcing, North should pattern out to seek the best contract:
North shows his second suit (not quite strong enough for a jump shift), then after the courtesy preference, his exact pattern with 3 . The logic dictating 5=3=1=4 shape is that North would always show a four-card heart suit before clubs. An ace and a king is enough to be encouraged, so with no trump fit and diamonds well guarded, South chooses 3 NT.
In notrump, suppose West leads the 3; queen, king, ace (better not to hold up due to entry problems). Souths 9-8 will likely limit the defense to two diamond tricks, so the best chance for a ninth trick is to find the J onside. So run the 9; then use the K entry for a second club lead, and all is clover. Declarer can also succeed by double-hooking hearts (with an overtrick if West ducks a sneaky 8) but this is clearly anti-percentage. Some Wests will lead the Q, handing over 10 tricks.
A competitive auction in the black suits will produce contracts from 2 to 5 , with some higher ones doubled. Heres one scenario:
As a child I had a yearning for scuba gear (wisely rejected by my parents) and those unfulfilled dreams help me bid the North-South hands. Three diamonds is a kelp-suit game try (looks like seaweed) and South dives into 4 because it was his turn. The good news: East-West dont double. The bad news: It doesnt matter, as sound defense collects 200.
In spades, after a routine club lead, the defense can always collect five tricks, provided care is taken not to be endplayed or flimflammed. If East leads his singleton trump, declarer is able to establish the Q for a club pitch to escape with nine tricks.
East-West bid accurately in clubs, as playing opener for the A brings 10 tricks. Even if North is inspired to lead the 10, it must be right to play the king, as it doesnt matter if the lead is normal (10-x or singleton); and the actual skulduggery seems more likely than 10 from Q-10.
The West hand is wrong-valued for 3 (bad suit, outside ace) and a bit light for 1 , so I would take the middle road:
Alas, being able to open with a weak two-bid in diamonds is no blessing, as the tempo floats North-South into the perfect contract after a transfer sequence. Opening 3 would probably buy the contract; and its anyones guess what might happen after 1 . Sigh; more fodder for the multi crowd, who scorn my Jurassic methods. Like Puff (the magic dragon) its time to slip back into my cave.
In notrump, after a low diamond lead, West has great expectations until he discovers declarer has a second stopper. Nine tricks are easy after forcing out the A, as the defense can win only four. Some will steal an overtrick if West doesnt cash both diamonds, or if East ducks a spade.
In diamonds, the limit is seven tricks. West is destined to lose two trump tricks (whether South covers the Q or not) combined with four obvious side losers. The only faint hope is a trump endplay against South, but it would take egregious defense to permit that.
After East opens his forty jacks and South overcalls a strong notrump, North has an interesting hand to bid. Id take this route:
Two diamonds is a transfer, 3 invites game (implying a six-card suit) and South rejects. The problem with using Stayman to seek a 4-4 spade fit is that South is likely to bid 2 , then many (including me) play that 2 is weak (no game interest) with both majors; hence, it becomes impossible to invite game in hearts. Further, a 6-2 or 6-3 heart fit may play better than a 4-4 spade fit anyway. The practical solution is to forget spades.
Imagine that! Despite only 22 HCP and a topless trump suit, 4 is cold. After any lead, declarer can pitch all his spade losers on the minor tops, then lead trumps to lose only three trump tricks. The East-West distribution is such that no effective ruff can be made. If West grabs the first heart to lead a fourth club, East gets a ruff; but West only gets one more trick.
In notrump, the magical club lie offers nine top tricks; but unless you bid 3 NT, you still lose to the heart partscores. And if you do bid 3 NT, you lose your self respect. Thats egregious!
Outfox the fox! East shrewdly suppresses his long suit as a competitive strategy, and South judges well to defend:
I have no strong feelings about opening 1 versus 1 , but starting with the major seems to have a good track record, especially at matchpoints where major suits are high priority. Some would introduce diamonds over 4 to enlighten partner; but 5 is a slam try as I play, so Id be content with 5 . Grant Baze once proffered, Six-five, come alive, to which I might add, Hide the six, get more kicks.
South has a tough decision over 5 . It hurts not to raise partner with four good trumps, but the wasted K and aceless hand suggest that 5 will be down off the top and so it is with just 10 tricks. This decision also can be attributed to Ed Manfields sage advice, The five level belongs to the opponents, meaning that its rarely right to compete to five over five.
In hearts, 10 tricks are etched in stone, unless the defense fails to take their spade trick, or leads a second spade (donating a ruff and sluff) before getting their club trick.
Most North-Souths will drive their shapely hands to game, but there are many roads. Heres a scenic tour:
Wests pattern usually dictates a 1 opening, but that seems anti-bridge; I much prefer a picturesque 1 , since a 1 NT rebid is palatable if partner responds 1 . After Norths routine overcall, Easts club raise resembles a clip from a horror movie; but what else? South offers a limit raise (I prefer a pressure bid of 4 ) and North paints the final canvas.
East has a lot of tickets for the bidding (some will double 4 ) so a trump lead is indicated to minimize ruffs. Suppose West switches to a diamond, ducked to East, and the trump return is won in dummy. It is tempting to take a second diamond finesse, but this is contraindicated (West would seldom lead from an honor around to J-x) and leads to inevitable defeat. To succeed, declarer must run the 9 (or if West covers, win and run the J as a loser-on-loser play); then declarer can ruff twice in dummy and establish the 10 as his 10th trick. Tough! Many Easts will simplify this task by leading a club or the K originally.
A dull auction will leave many West players cringing when they see dummy. Thank you, partner; now show me your real hand.
I guess it could be worse, as the J offers some consolation. I would lead the 2 as North, but it hardly matters. Declarer can always come to five tricks by pounding away at clubs, while the defense can win no more than eight tricks by establishing both majors. Alas, minus 200 is nothing for East-West to be happy about.
Some DONT advocates will feel it is their duty to disturb 1 NT with the South hand, perhaps doubling to show one minor or both majors. North would be wise to pass this, but DONT desperadoes seldom do, because they know partner will balance on trash. A likely outcome is to play 2 making three. It may seem that 10 tricks are available in hearts (or spades), but West can foil this after any lead by reverting to clubs to develop a tap. Im too old-fashioned to collect this 140, so Id have to settle for 200 against 1 NT. The dinosaur rocks!
Wests who play weak notrumps will open 1 , passed to South, who will double. A shrewd North might pass this for a cool 500 but more likely will bid 2 NT eight tricks assuming the defense gets clubs going.
Many will balk at the bid I suggest for East, but you have to be flexible to describe the important feature of certain hands:
Two notrump shows at least 5-5 (sic) in the minors, but it seems a lesser evil than to overcall 2 on a pitiful suit and put diamonds out to pasture. As East Id be happy to show the minors and let partner choose the contract. The unexpected shape is more likely to confuse the opponents than affect partner, and Im protected by the vulnerability. OK, OK, so Im rehearsing my clemency plea, as the men in white coats circle my house.
South doubles (smelling blood), West bids his better minor, and North takes East-West off the hook with 3 no great loss, as 3 can only be set one trick. This gives South a problem; Id raise to 4 because North implies great distribution, and 3 should be forcing.
Evidently, the offbeat 2 NT bid caused North-South to overbid to an impossible contract. Neat! I wonder if Al Roth (inventor of the unusual notrump) would agree. Somehow I doubt it, and I wouldnt dare ask lest he have me committed on the spot.
As on Board 21, I am willing to bend the rules for tactical advantage. Most five-card majorites would agree with this:
The desire to get a heart lead surely offsets the lack of a fifth heart, though the thought of partner responding 2 is revolting. Alas, this leads to two of the wrong major; but any plus score is OK with only 19 combined HCP. Norths takeout double is dubious (some will bid 2 ) as is Easts raise to 2 (some will redouble).
In hearts, eight tricks can be won. Assume a trump lead (best) then a club toward dummy; North hops (best) and returns another trump; now K; diamond ruff (do not cash A); club ruff; and exit with a spade. Sooner or later, declarer must come to two diamond tricks.
Spades plays a trick better, as declarer can establish clubs and retain trump control, losing just four black tricks. Kudos to anyone who gets there.
Some North-Souths will compete to 3 , which East will surely double. This is likely to go down two after a heart lead and club shift; but declarer can win eight tricks by hopping with the A and leading a heart (scissors coup) to avert a club ruff much easier on paper than in practice.
Souths choice of opening bids may set the tone of the auction. Heres the peaceful version:
If South opens 1 , West may bid 2 NT (unusual for two lowest unbid suits); North doubles (strength-showing); East jumps to 4 ; South passes, and North doubles probably down one with the K lead, but a trump lead (or the A or a diamond) can beat it two.
As East, what would you lead against 4 ? The Q makes it easy, as declarer picks up the entire suit by leading the 10 next. Suppose East leads a diamond. Normal play is to cross to the A (East splits) and lead a heart; jack, king, ace. Now a heart back leaves an impossible task, as declarer lacks entries to pick up clubs, even if he guesses to lead the 10 first and play East for four clubs. Declarer can succeed with different timing, and some Easts may provide a reason with a sporting double.
Three notrump can also be made by picking up clubs (double-dummy unless West tips it off in bidding), followed by an endplay against East to win the K (if hearts arent led). Academic, as few will be there.
A little competition will usually leave North declaring the master suit, perhaps after this auction:
Easts four-card overcall is dubious but a good lead-director, South shows four spades with a negative double, West offers a limit heart raise (arguably weak) and North came to play too. Some Wests will raise to 4 (indiscreet with no singleton and good defense against spades) perhaps causing North to bid an impulsive 4 .
In spades North can win only eight tricks if East cashes his top hearts, as a spade and two clubs must inevitably be lost. If East cashes one heart and shifts to a trump, nine tricks become possible: Win K; A; finesse J (overtake 10); lead K and pitch a heart, even if West ruffs; then clubs can be set up losing two tricks to West (to avoid a fourth diamond lead).
In hearts East can win nine tricks, barring an unlikely diamond lead (then North can get two overruffs); but the winning play is a four-eyed special. On a club lead, declarer must hop with the ace (else the defense can take the first six tricks) and cash A-K. Yep, thats just how Id play it from this vantage point.
After two passes, many (most?) will open the South hand 1 , but I prefer this route at matchpoints:
With a balanced hand, notrump often makes the same number of tricks as a 5-3 major fit, so Id conceal the spade suit to show the point count; and North raises to game. Those who play puppet Stayman may respond 3 in case South has five hearts, ending in the same spot.
In notrump, a lot depends on the lead. A heart makes it easy: Win the Q and finesse the Q (leading the jack creates entry problems on a spade return) for 10 tricks; and if the defense isnt careful, they may lose an ace for 11. A diamond is the killer. Normal play is to take Easts J with the king, lead a heart to dummy (West ducks, best) and take the club finesse. Oops! West wins and leads the 10 to trap the queen. If you divine to duck, West leads the 6 (the 9 would show a spade entry) and an alert East returns a heart down one. Declarer can ensure nine tricks by continuing hearts (obvious at IMPs) but Id fail in this game. Overtrick brain!
Those who play notrump from North (after a 1 opening) have an easy road to 10 tricks, barring an incredible heart lead and diamond shift.
Despite an eight-card heart fit, North-South are likely to reach 3 NT after a weak jump overcall by West:
With no ruffing potential and two diamond stoppers, North judges well versus raising hearts. Actually a pass would be best, converting a reopening double to penalty, but the danger is that South might also pass.
In notrump, 10 tricks should be won. The defense can make it challenging if West plays the 10 at trick one; J wins; heart to queen, king; club shift (10, jack, ace); A-K; spade to queen; then declarer must get a club, as the A is stranded. If West takes his A and clears diamonds, declarer has nine tricks and can win a 10th in several ways, albeit without certainty; probably best is to endplay East, who is likely to have the K.
In hearts South can win 10 tricks, but theres a trap: After a club lead, if declarer crosses to the K to lead the J, West can win, cash the A (key play) and exit with a spade, leaving declarer in a hopeless state.
In diamonds West can win only five tricks with best defense. On the K lead and a heart shift, South plays the queen (key play); then a later trump shift stops a heart ruff, and Norths 7 can be promoted.
Another five-card-major notrump for South (compare Board 25), so I might as well be consistent:
North transfers to hearts, East shows his excellent suit, and South competes to three with his excellent supporting hand. Norths final pass is clear at matchpoints, but at IMPs it seems right to chance the game. I think it was Bob Hamman who once said, My partners have the perfect cards just often enough to frustrate me.
In hearts, after a club to the ace, its just a matter of leading trumps twice to fell the timber; then the black suits provide ample discards to avoid a diamond guess. Even a 4-2 spade break would be no problem, as the long card could be established. If North declares hearts, 10 tricks are likely, as most Easts will not cash the A so much for transfers. After a spade lead, declarer wins three top spades to pitch his club, then leads a trump; no diamond guess is necessary because East is endplayed.
Living on the edge? Then play 3 NT, which is cold on a diamond guess (maybe even 11 tricks). Just be prepared to cry sometimes.
Expect some competition on this one. A few desperadoes will open 2 or 3 as West, but barring that I wouldnt be surprised to see:
Souths 3 bid is just competitive; but when East pushes to 3 , it feels like a steal, so Id protect my interests with a matchpoint double. Souths who use Lebensohl must bid differently: 2 NT (relay) then diamonds.
In hearts, the Q lead and routine defense holds declarer to seven tricks with dummy entryless (a pretty 300 on my auction).
In diamonds, careful play nets 10 tricks. On a heart lead, declarer must duck (curiously even if North declares and East leads the K); then if East takes the A and leads a high heart, declarer plays ace and a diamond. If East shifts to the K, South is reached by a club ruff to pick up trumps.
Another cold 3 NT; in fact 10 tricks are unstoppable, and 11 might be made. Suppose East leads the K to the ace, and a spade is led; if East cashes the Q, declarer can win the rest. It would be an error to begin with ace and a diamond, as a heart back leaves only eight tricks; although even then, East gets squeezed for a ninth trick.
A light third-seat opening by South is likely to steal the contract despite only 16 combined HCP:
Perhaps West should balance with 2 on the theory that partner is likely to make a poor heart lead; but a vulnerable bid on jack-fifth is frightening. Some Easts will change the flow completely by opening the bidding (foolish in my view), probably leading to 3 NT for a well-deserved minus.
If North plays notrump, an unlikely minor-suit lead is brutal, probably holding North to three tricks (maybe two if he starts hearts low to the 10). Realistically, East will lead a heart, allowing North to escape with six tricks (East-West have seven tops at their leisure). Minus 100 would seem to be a good score, but the ship of fools opening the East hand proves otherwise. Am I being too harsh? Nah. Even some fools have the sense to pass.
If East or West plays notrump, either major lead holds it to eight tricks; but North must be brilliant if declarer guesses diamonds. Assume a spade lead won by the ace, then a diamond; North must play the king and return a spade, else declarer could finesse the nine and succeed. Declarers proper technique, however, is to play the Q, resulting in just seven tricks.
After a standard 1 opening, many Wests will risk a double with both majors despite the lack of diamond support:
East invites with 2 (not pretty but the proper value bid) and West keeps the ball rolling. Some Wests will pass 2 , but the positional values behind opener suggest the push; and 3 neatly puts the blame on East, whatever happens. East bids one more for the road, perhaps reasoning that two aces must be a plus. Well judged? Or just blessed by a friendly layout?
In spades, 10 tricks are relatively easy with any lead. Assume South leads the K and continues with ace and another, ruffed in dummy. Cross to the A, finesse the Q and cash the A. No other finesse is necessary, as the play continues K; heart ruff, bingo! Even if the Q didnt drop, a diamond ruff and heart ruff would either elope with 10 tricks, or force South to overruff and lead a club (giving two chances in clubs).
North-Souths who play weak notrumps may steal the show, as 1 NT by South is likely to be passed out. This is down three with best defense; but many will escape for down two, e.g., a heart lead and continuation.
The North hand illustrates a controversial issue in responding to 1 . The traditional response is 2 , but Im in this camp:
After 1 , a jump to 2 NT seems best (fudging a point if forcing). South offers a heart preference just in case, and North is endplayed into 3 NT. The problem with responding 2 is that South may bid 2 NT with four hearts (e.g., with 3=4=4=2 shape), then a 4-4 heart fit will be lost unless North bids 3 , which is ugly with two bad suits and two doubleton honors.
Against notrump, the Q (or unlikely 10) lead is best, but on the given auction many Easts will lead a club. Even so, the best declarer can do is to win eight tricks, and this requires fancy footwork. West wins the A and returns a club, ducked to East, pitching a diamond; East shifts to the Q, won by the ace; lead a spade to the 10 and ace; win the diamond return; cash the Q and K; cross to the A; cash the K, and exit with a spade to endplay West. Sigh. Requiring this legerdemain for down one suggests a need to reexamine the bidding. Who me? Ill take the Fifth.
North has an awkward hand to bid after Wests 1 opening. Some will double, some will overcall 1 NT, but I like this:
Four-card overcalls are most attractive with a good hand and length in openers suit, as partner is often short there, allowing a 4-3 fit to play well. Souths raise is weak (duh) but its the in thing these days with four trumps, especially at favorable. North can hardly pass, as a trash dummy should offer a play for game. Oops. Not this time, as East climbs on the table.
In spades North can win only eight tricks, regardless of the lead. After the J, it seems clear to start clubs before East can pitch on the third heart, so lead the K to the ace; win the heart return and lead a low club, which East must ruff (else nine tricks); then almost any defense nets two more trump tricks for East, together with a diamond.
East-West do best to play in hearts, but the limit is eight tricks. After the K lead, it begins as fun with a club ruff; K; club ruff; but the fun ends as North ruffs the next diamond and leads the Q. South could simply ruff this and lead another diamond, but it isnt necessary; North can lead the A, ruffed, and still score his low heart by a ruff or tap-out.
Most Wests will declare 3 NT, often via this auction playing 1 NT forcing over a major:
Easts jump shift is game forcing, and West makes the obvious choice with his wrong-valued collection. Even those who do not play 1 NT forcing may bid the same, as responding 2 is dubious with a misfitting 10 HCP, especially at matchpoints to seize the opportunity to play 1 NT.
In notrump declarer has 10 top tricks with the normal heart lead to the king, but thats all there is. After running clubs and cashing two spades, it will be apparent the diamond finesse cant work (North is marked with 1=5=4=3 shape) so theres little to do but cash out.
Some aggressive bidders may reach 6 , which is a fair contract (usually making with 3-2 clubs and 4-3 spades) but horribly doomed as the cards lie. Indeed, a trump lead (ducked by North) probably leads to down three, as North overruffs the first spade ruff and clears trumps. Declarer can salvage a trick by guessing the end position, but endplays for down two are about as appealing as Hamman and Soloway on ice skates.
For many tournament buffs, third-seat favorable is like James Bonds license to kill, so this auction wouldnt surprise me:
Wests bid reeks, to be sure, but it often brings good results by making opponents guess at an uncomfortable level. The side four-card major is less of a concern with partner a passed hand. This time, North copes nicely with 2 NT, and South routinely raises to game. Alas, the tactics backfire, as declarer has 10 top tricks with the directed spade lead, and East must hold tight to his clubs to stop 11.
If West passes, the same contract is likely to be reached via 1 1 ; 3 3 NT (gambling on hearts); but West will be on lead, and the obvious Q holds it to nine tricks.
If Edgar Kaplan isnt watching from above, Ill point out that some Norths (and I must confess, this writer) will open 1 NT, reaching the same 3 NT after a Stayman inquiry. Tactical bids like this often produce good results
[Lightning bolt strikes]. Yes, that must be Edgar sending East a fifth heart to teach me a lesson.
As the sun begins to set on this 2006 edition, a serene atmosphere settles on the horizon:
A peaceful auction if there ever was one, although South would have done better to pass 1 . A good case could also be made for North to raise spades, as even with Souths dreadful suit, 2 is more viable than 1 NT.
Against notrump East should start with a top diamond then shift to a club. Declarer can establish a fifth trick in spades, but thats about it. If declarer wins the K to lead a low heart, East wins to block the suit; then if declarer overtakes the J hoping for a 3-3 break, he wins only four tricks.
In hearts North can win eight tricks after a top diamond lead. Suppose East shifts to a club, won by the king; diamond to East; club to the ace; diamond ruff (West cant gain by ruffing); club ruff; diamond. If West ruffs high, declarer pitches a spade and must still score his long trump and K; if West pitches, declarer ruffs and exits in trumps to score the K.
In spades, only seven tricks can be won. After a club lead, if declarer plays to ruff hearts, East must not uppercut (else declarer can win eight).
The final board could produce a myriad of auctions, as all four players have alternatives. Heres a peaceful encounter:
Some Wests will bid clubs first, which is surely reasonable, as it makes it more convenient to show both suits. Some Norths may raise hearts more boldly, e.g., a poker-style 5 might lure East into bidding 5 (dubious facing a passed hand). It is also obvious that some Souths will bid only 1 ; and some Easts will open 1 NT, albeit deranged.
In spades, a heart lead and club shift yields an obvious ruff to hold declarer to nine tricks, but this defense is hardly clear to North on the given bidding. After winning the A, North should cash the K on which South plays his lowest heart to direct the club ruff. If South were void in diamonds (surely possible from Norths perspective) he would drop the queen.
In hearts, after any lead but a trump, declarer has the tempo to ruff two spades for nine tricks. With a trump lead, however, the defense can lead a second trump then force dummy to ruff (developing a fifth trick in spades) before declarer can establish diamonds. Ugh. So much for my idea to bid 5 , which is not only a phantom save but can be set 800.
The following tables show the average high-card points and freakness* of each players hands in these deals (2006) as well as for all deals in the 20 years this event has been held.
In the high-card department, North-South had the edge this year (North was the card rack), but East-West still lead overall. The average freakness of these 36 deals (11.94) was almost exactly the theoretical expectation (11.93), and East-West got the better of it. West hands were wildest (3.17) but not much above the 2.98 norm. Freakness averages for 20 years are slightly above expected values but well within standard deviations to pose no cause for alarm. Those who complain about wild computer deals could not support it 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.
© 2006 Richard Pavlicek