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This is a classic. You're sitting South, declarer in 4♥ after a competitive auction in which EW bid clubs. West leads the ♣Q and East beats dummy's singleton ♣K with her Ace and leads back a trump. You win in hand with the ♥A and both defenders follow to your ♥K. That's trumps out of the way ...
... so what's next? What are the opportunities? What are the dangers? Plan the play.
Clearly you need to attack the spades. Once you've cleared the defenders' spades, you have oodles of tricks and can discard all those little diamonds from your hand. If the spades are split 2-2, in fact, you're going to make 12 tricks: five hearts, six spades and a club ruff in dummy. Lovely. Tempting ...
... but supposing the spades aren't 2-2. Can you see the danger? Well, if West comes in with the 3rd spade trick and leads a diamond ... and if East has the ♦A (which is quite likely, as it was East that made the vulnerable club overcall with, it turns out, not many points in clubs) ... then you could go one off: the ♣A, the ♠Q and two diamond tricks – one too many.
Is there a way of avoiding this risk – of guaranteeing your contract? Yes, there is – a classic safety play. Can you spot it?
They can only defeat your contract if they can take two diamond tricks. And they can only take two diamond tricks by leading diamonds through your ♦K8 – in other words, if West gets the lead. West is the 'danger hand'. So all you have to do is prevent West from getting the lead. How to do that? Easy:
Lead your ♠9 and beat whatever West plays. If East wins the trick, that's fine. She can cash her ♦A, but that's it. You can now clear spades and claim the rest of the tricks.
As it happens, as you'll see if you look at the whole deal, the result's magic:
Note: safety plays normally have a price tag
When you embark on this safety play, you're expecting to lose a spade trick to East, plus another trick to the ♦A. So you're sacrificing the chance of making 12 tricks in exchange for a guaranteed 10 tricks. On this particular deal, of course, there's no price tag, as the safety play itself is the only way you can make 12 tricks. But normally it costs possible overtricks ...
... which is why many players will ignore the safety play and go for the greedy option. So how did we do?
In Box & Bath
In Box, three pairs reached 4♥ but only one made 10 tricks. Two others were in spades – again, just one pair made 10 tricks.
In Bath, they didn't do much better. Four of the seven pairs in hearts made just 9 tricks, as did one of the pairs in spades. No one made 12 tricks – unsurprisingly, with two Aces missing! To my eternal shame, I was one of the declarers that went off in 4♥. I got greedy ... and paid the price!
A 4-card suit is fine!
Players often seem to get stuck for a bid in situations like the one shown here. If partner had opened 1♣ and you had 4 spades, I doubt there'd be a problem: you'd just respond 1♠ and take it from there. But there seems to be a widespread idea that you need a five-card suit when responding at the 2 level. No, you don't! With one simple exception *, responding at the two level is exactly the same as responding at the 1 level, except that you need 10+ points to do it: just pick your lowest 4-card suit and bid it.
This hand's a simple example: you haven't got 4 spades, but you've got 11 points, so are strong enough to respond at the two level and therefore show your (only) 4-card suit: 2♣. 'Oh, I can't bid that - look how weak it is!' Of course you can. You're not telling your partner that you want to play in clubs: you're simply telling her that (1) you haven't got 4 spades (2) you have 10+ points and (3) you have at least 4 clubs. Pretty efficient, eh? And there's no danger of you being left in 2♣ because your change of suit is forcing: your partner has to bid again – and in fact what you're really hoping for is that she'll turn out to have 5 spades so you have your major fit.
And so it turns out. Partner's rebid is 2♥, showing at least 5 spades and 4 hearts. And you can now complete the description of your hand by jumping to 3♠, showing 3 spades and either 8 losers (which you don't have) or 10+ points (which you do). With a mere 13-count (of which 2 are a singleton Queen) and 7 losers, West has nothing extra to offer, so turns down the invitation to game and the complete auction is as shown:
If you take a look at the whole deal, you'll be glad you didn't push on to 4♠. You're missing the ♠AK10 as well as the other 3 Kings. And in spite of the fact that the spade, heart and club finesses are all working (and the diamond one too, via a ruffing finesse!), you're still only worth 9 tricks on the best defence.
'But East can make 3NT, can't she?' She can indeed. But that's only because, as noted above, all those finesses are working for you. Normally you won't make 3NT on a combined 24-count. 3♠ is the place to be.
In Box, one pair reached 3NT (going 1 off) and everyone else was in 3♠, two going off and one making 10 tricks (Well done, Jenny – you proved me wrong, though I'm not sure how!)
In Bath, half the EW pairs were in NT (making 6, 9 or 10 tricks) and the others were in spades, making 8 or 9 tricks. Two were in the unmakeable 4♠.
* The exception: If partner opens 1♠, a 2♥ response shows at least 5 hearts. This is the only change-of-suit sequence that requires responder to have a 5-card suit.
Find the right game
This is one of those hands where you know you're in game as soon as partner opens. Your 15 points plus whatever partner holds are easily enough - it's just a question of finding the right place to be. And since you're the one that knows game is on, it's up to you to keep the bidding going till game is reached. How does it go?
The trick is to discover as much as you can about your partner's hand without letting the auction die before you reach game. Your 1♥ response is forcing, and partner's rebid tells you she has at least 5-4 in the minors and probably not more than 15 points. What now?
Well, you could give up on the majors and simply bid 3NT, couldn't you? But why give up on the majors? Partner won't have 4 spades (she would have rebid 1♠ instead of 2♣) but it's quite possible that she has three hearts to go with your five. How to find out? Bid the fourth suit: 2♠ has nothing to do with spades and simply asks partner for more information about her hand. If she's got 3 hearts, this gives her a chance to say so. Failing that, she'll bid 2NT if she has a spade stop. And failing that, she'll rebid one of her minors.
Have a look at the whole deal. Partner doesn't have 3 hearts, but bids 2NT, showing a spade stop, and all you have to do is raise her to 3NT - which, in the absence of a major fit, is the best place to be.
On another day, partner will show up with three hearts and you'll end up in 4♥. And of course if she bids 3♦, denying a spade stop, you can bid 3NT anyway, as you have the spades covered yourself. This is exactly the kind of situation that the 4th suit forcing convention is designed for.
The one really disastrous thing to do ...
... after partner's 2♣ rebid is to bid 2NT. Why? Two reasons. First, it allows partner to PASS, which she most probably will, and now you've missed game: you've failed in your hallowed responsibility to keep the auction going till game. And second, it's a plain lie, as it shows 10-11 points - a whole ace less than you actually hold.
Bidding the 4th suit is by far the best bid, but if you're going to subside into NT, you must go straight to game.
In Box, two pairs reached 3NT, both making 11 tricks. Another two ended up in spades, though only one bid game. And one North made the fatal 2NT underbid, and so missed game.
In Bath, 8 out of 10 tables reached 3NT, one preferred 5♦ (not as good but at least it's a game!) and just one stopped below game.
... at Bath Bridge Club
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