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This hand, from Wednesday's squad practice, provded too difficult for East-West at all four tables. Much to our surprise, all four tables played in a part-score and only one of them made it, despite having 26 hcp between them and an easy nine tricks in no-trumps. Perhaps ideas on how do to better will be forthcoming? Here are the stories ...
Table 1 : South looked at the position and vulnerability and decided that this was so much stronger than ♠432♥KT7643♦642♣9 on which he would always open 2♥, that it had to be a one-level opener - so he started 1♥ and his partner responded 1N. East overcalled 2♠ and that finished the auction. [We decided later that East should have doubled and then bid 2♠ and this would encourage West enough to continue, and they'd get to 3N]
Table 2 : this South had a similar view of his hand but was able to open 2♦ with a bad weak two and 2♥ with a good weak two, so he had a comfortable 2♥ opening which was passed round to East who tried 3♠. The meaning of this wasn't clear to his partner who passed and, despite West getting endplayed after obtaining his diamond ruff, the cotnract had to go one off. [We decided later that 3♠ did show a strong jump overcall but it wasn't a winning choice on this hand]
Table 3 : here South didn't worry about the range of the opening and tried 2♥ which was passed around to West who bid 2♠ and there things stopped. This declarer was the only one to make their contract (8 tricks).
Table 4 : South here didn't worry either and opened 2♦ (multi, including weak two in a major) and partner replied with 2♥ (pass or correct) and East here too bid 2♠. This finished the auction but here, as at table two, declarer lost a trick in the play and went off.
What should have happened?
I was slightly disappointed when our opponents made 4♥ on this deal, after a successful spade guess, but it was interesting to see that all declarers playing in spades made the same number of tricks. Not all the auctions can have been the one shown as five tables played the hands in NT and five Souths played in hearts but only two Norths. The leads varied but either a club or heart is a neutral start and can still be found after the ♦A is cashed.
How is declarer to takle 4♥? It looks very much like a loser in each of hearts, diamonds and clubs - so it comes down to not losing a spade. At my table on ♣Q lead declarer drew two trumps and exited with a diamond towards the queen. West rose and cashed the top heart before playing a second club. [If only declarer had played a second club first, West would have been end-played - was that an option one can find?] Declarer tried winning and exiting in clubs but East played a second diamond and declarer had to ruff in dummy and choose a line in spades.
She chose a winner by playing a spade to the ten. I asked why she got it right and the answer was around an expectation that West migt be less inclined to double 2♦ with fewer hcp, and so was more likely to have the spade queen. It was a positive reason (good) but not very strong. Success depended not just on the spade guess but on being able to make four spade tricks. The line chosen works for Q-alone or Qx or Qxx onside, and the alternative of small to the king and then lead back the ten works for West having Q-alone, 9x or xxx. So it was an even money choice (at 36.7% success rate).
However, the best choice in the spade suit, in isolation, is to lead the king and then the four, collecting on Q6xx and Q6xxx (both back and run the ten next) and Qxx and Qx with East, as well as any singleton Q. Declarer had lost some options by delaying playing the suit until there were limitations on the entries position. The value in doing this might depend on your opinion of the opponents - are they likely to help if you give them the chance? Here they did not.
But actually declarer can do better than any of this. Look at the trump suit - is it possible to make more than four tricks? How about this approach - win ♣K and lead a diamond. Suppose they win and play another club; you win that and ruff a diamond, then ♥K and ♥A and ruff another diamond. If you can find the spade queen with West now (because you have gained a heart trick) you have no need of a 3-3 or otherwise useful spade break. Playing a spade to the ten and ruffing the fourth diamond means you always make 5 trump tricks, and with two clubs and three spades you are home when the ♠Q is onside (a whole 50% success rate).
Another variation is to take a spade finesse at trick two. Whether you win or lose, you can follow up with two trumps and then try cashign spades to ditch a clcub. If successful in that you can ruff South's third club with the ♥9 and that means one less loser. This might actually be the best line as (assuming a 3-2 trump break as most lines need) you will succeed unless the ♠Q is offside and the hand with three trumps can ruff the third spade. Now we are talking a 70% success rate.
It is amazing how many ways there are to play a hand, often with hidden extra chances, but so many times the extra chance doesn't matrer, and that makes it easy to fail to notice it. But some day it will matter, so do be on the lookout for these !
This was a fascinating 3N, played there at all tables and made on 5/12 occasions. This bidding was often as shown, 1♥ - 1♠ - 2♦ - 3N - P. This reeks of good club stops and for that reason some hesitated to lead a club from the king at trick one, but 9/12 persisted with a club. After the club jack wins trick one, declarer's instinct is to take the spade finesse as this will at worst lose to the safe hand. When this duly happened, North could tell (from declarer's failure to play the suit) that partner had at least ace and jack of hearts, so a heart switch was indicated. South could win this and play a club (ducked, and then North knew to revert to hearts) or duck it and get two heart tricks the next time the suit was led.
Two tables - in the same match - found a heart lead at trick one. One table saw South win the ♥A and played a club to the king and a club return. When declarer played a diamond to the king South was stuck; to win and clear the hearts would allow declarer to give up a trick safely to the heart jack and have a diamond entry to dummy, while ducking would allow declarer to play a second diamond and if that is also ducked to kill the heart entry, declarer can take the spade finesse. Richard Butland found a more testing defence by ducking the first heart. Declarer tried spades but South won and played another heart, and a club through now set up five tricks for the defence. After the ♥K is ducked, the winning line from declarer is to continue hearts, setting up three tricks there while there is still a sure diamond entry. The defence can set up a trick in clubs or spade but not both, and declarer always has nine trick.
There were quite a number of slam hands during last night's League match. This was the first of those and it was bid to slam at 5 out of 12 tables. It is not clear how to bid confidently to the six level even when unopposed. A normal start for North-South would be 1♠ - 2N showing a good spade raise. If the style is then to show a second suit with 3♦ (increasingly common amongst top players, with showing a singleton coming next) then North will appreciate the value of the diamond jack. If the style is first to show lack of a singleton or just a minimum, then North might be less enthused.
When North over 1♠ chose to splinter with 4♣, South signed off in game feeling that having only one club to ruff was bad news. That ended the auction at one table but the problem was really that North was a good trick too good for a splinter. At at least two other tables after the same start, over the sign-off North just asked for aces and bid the slam; successful but really just a gamble. If the South hand was ♠KJ654♥J5♦Q9♣KQT2 then the bidding would be the same and you would hate to be even at the 5-level. If North was always going to bid a slam, then the only justification for 4♣ and then 4N is to create the possibility that partner can count 13 tricks and at some point bids the grand slam. A better effort over 4♣ was Richard Harris's 4♥ cue which was enough to let partner bid the slam.
Not all North-South pairs had it so easy. At that vulnerability and in first seat, East should be on the lookout for any chance to preempt obstructively, and here 3♣ beckons. After that start at table 1 it proceeded P - 5♣ at which point North produced a double and South bid 5♠. That contract was straightforward and declarer was careful to eliminate all the other suits before playing a diamond to the jack. This would guarantee the contract against any bad diamond break.
It was surprising that the cautious route on this hand proved not to be cautious enough. The bidding shown, from table 5, must have started in the same way elsewhere. The 3♥ bid was intended as a strong spade raise, and South declined quickly. If South had held the ♣K in place of the ♣Q a good game would have been missed, so North's caution might not be the right answer. No other table stopped in a partscore, and the only contract which made was 3♣x making by West. You could look at the East-West hands and think that diamonds is playable, but only superfically as even the 4-level might struggle; here the bad break proved calamitous. What possessed two North-South pairs to progress as far as 5♠ is a total mystery (clarification welcome).
After South's 2♠ call, many would play that 2N is an enquiry just as over a weak two opening, which here would learn perhaps of a minimum hand and minimum suit. This gives some justification for stopping in 3♠ but it remains a pessimistic view (while ♠KQ7543 ♥JT ♦754 ♣A8 looks more like a medium/maximum for South and yields a no-play game). These hands are difficult to judge.
From an East-Wesat perspective it doesn't seem right to allow the opponents to subside in 3♠ but clearly East, having opened, has nothing more to say. Can West get them involved? Just about - perhaps an unusual 3N over South's 3♠ would be a useful description of the West hand. Partner will know from the cue bid and West's earlier pass that this isn't an attempt to play in 3N, and it has to be offering the minors. Unfortunate for West that this time it might result in a -500 penalty, but then North would rarely stop out of game with such strength, so the 3N bid will usually show a profit.
But what about the play in 3♠? West started with his partner's suit and after the two top hearts, East played ♣A and a club to the king. There is little now West can try except another club; the play of the ♣2 from partner on the second round should be fourth or top, and so here tells clearly of a doubleton. On the third club, South's only worry is a possible ruff; the choices are ruff small (better if clubs break evenly or West has ♠Q) or ruff with the ace and then run the ♠J (better if East has short clubs and the ♠Q). With silent opponents, there is not enough reason to choose the latter, so we expect the declarer in 3♠ to take the losing line.
The defenders who let 5♠ make 10 tricks were clearly way too relaxed, but for the two cases of 4♠-1, we await stories of how declarer made nine tricks.
This hand produced a two-way split in contracts : four tables played 4♠ as East-West (once doubled) while three tables played 5♥ as North-South (once doubled). The play in both games was straightforward but there was one variation - against 4♠ one South found the lead of a small diamond. While leading from aces is often frowned upon, against high level cotnracts, and particularly against pre-emptive high level contracts, you often have to cash your tricks quickly and leading an ace is to be strongly recommended. Your choice here will be whichever ace you feel is least likely to give away a trick (declarer has king or declarer ruffs while dummy has king); here ♣A looks the best bet but whichever you start with you will cash the side suit aces and put partner on lead and hold 4♠ to eight tricks.
How should the bidding go? It is a clear 4♠ opener from East and the spotlight is on South. Clearly you don't want the hand to be stolen from you (you are stronger than opener) but to insist on playing at the 5-level is very committal. The answer is the flexible take-out double. At this level partner will take it out only if a good spot is in sight, preferring to take what chances you have on defence otherwise. If partner was to bid 5♣ over a double you would happily pass, as partner should have six of them. Here partner has two useful suits and can show two places to play with 4N, over which you first try 5♦ and then pass when partner converts to 5♥ (showing clubs and hearts). This game is not a certainty to make but on this layout there is nothing the defence can do, and you will wrap up 11 tricks (with a bonus if you have been doubled).
This hand was interesting both from a bidding and a play perspective. To note first the bidding, only 2 of the 7 tables found the slam where there are 12 top tricks and chances of making all thirteen. Most tables saw a 2N opener by North after which the South hand is just enormous. South needs to show long hearts, slam interest, and ideally shortage in spades. We can all do the first with a transfer but the second step is more difficult. Since your bidding is already high, a new suit would be natural, but you are strong enough to jump, so 3♦ - 3♥ - 4♠ really ought to show short spades in a hand with long hearts and slam interest. Even though it seems like there are wasted values in spades, North should appreciate that the ♠AK will still take care of minor suit losers, and having so little wastage (one jack and the only queen is working full time) this is a prime hand and worth bidding the slam. It does no harm to bid Blackwood on the way, not for your own sake, but so that if all key cards are present you can bid 5N to tell partner than in case (s)he can count 13 tricks. Here you will probably end up in 6♥.
[An alternative or is this too fanciful? Here it could proceed 4N - 5♠ - 7♥. You might well ask why? South will be assuming some heart support here and if partner has three then the ♥Q is not a worry, so with the extra heart South pretends to have the queen. North can see that South doesn't have the ♥Q can can now count 12 top tricks and there are chances in diamonds (queen or a long card) or spades (singleton queen with partner or the finesse) or even clubs (parter has the king or QJ) for the extra - so it looks worth taking a chance on the grand slam]
You might have expected interference to make bidding the slam more difficult, but when Tony Letts opened 2♦ (weak weak two) with West, Rod Bird & Pete Jackson sailed into the slam after starting X - P - 4♥. Opening 3♠ might have provided rather more of a test. Did anyone find that?
And now to the play ... with 12 top tricks, whatever contract you are in, the mission is finding the thirteenth. The long diamond is the best bet, and Paul Denning showed how to do this easily after the ♦Q was led. It is not safe to bash out the diamonds, for fear of an over-ruff, so he won ♦A and cashed ♠ A throwing a diamond from dummy. Now a diamond ruff, ♥A and back to ♥Q and he could ruff another diamond high - and then draw the last trump and come to ♣A to cash his winners.
But what if the ♣ K is led? You do have to win the ace and now the entry to hand is gone. All you need to make thirteen now is a little planning. One option is to play for one diamond ruff and drawing trumps ending in North, but that needs the diamonds 3-3 and the hearts 2-2 and the dropping of the ♣J suggests that might not happen. The answer is a double squeeze - you just need the ♠Q onside. But you must think this through before trick two. You need to cash the ♠AK (throwing clubs) before drawing and running the trumps. In the end position, when West is forced to keep the ♠Q and only two other cards (diamonds) you can throw the ♠J and keep three diamonds, and East must keep the ♣Q and so also had at most two diamonds. Now you cash your diamonds. Magic!
On Saturday last the first team with local representation to play their R4 Gold Cup match played against a Devon team and won. Paul Denning played with Richard Plackett and John Atthey played with Patrick Shields. The match was already decided when this hand arose but it is worth looking at ...
The bidding as shown was by Paul & Richard. It all went swimmingly until the final bid of 7♣ which refelcted some lack of trust of partner (but it must be noted that they have hardly played together). In these situations if you have missed a grand slam, it is the fault of the hand who jumped unexpectedly to the slam, and it is best just to let it go. When he leapt to 6N he was confident that partner could not have three aces and the trump queen for such minimal bidding, and he wanted to protect his ♥K from a lead through.
But it is not the East-West bidding we are here to look at - it is the North-South bidding and the defence. This position where the opposition have bid a grand slam missing a cash-able ace is not by any means unknown, and it is often vital for you to cash the ace before it disappears (as it did here). Easy enough if you are on lead, but when partner is on lead what can you do? The answer should be that double is lead-directing; but you have to decide what that means. Some authorities whom I enormously respect suggest that a double should show the ace of the highest danger suit (and that's good enough for me). Suits on which declarer will rely are not such an issue as those suits are less likely to vanish (although they could). So here it is a question of leading a diamond or a heart. If double asks for a heart lead, then North should not double and now West has a better chance of finding the right suit.
[This does give up the "usual" Lightner meanings of a double of a slam, but it seems to pay to do that]
At the table the pair had no agreements about this, and guessed to lead a heart and now it was all over.
The other table bid 5♣ - P - P - P so quite a lot (30 imps) hung on that lead.
This board resulted in multiple double game swings in the most recent Pairs League game.
The above auction is a reflection of what seems sensible, but it is by no means the only option. The most successful auction from an East-West perspective was (from East, Garry Watson) 2♠ - P - 4♠ - end. This collected +620 and a gain for the pair concerned of 15 imps in each of their three matches. Three of the twelve tables played in 4♠, and one played in 3♠ making an overtrick.
The other tables all saw North-South play in diamonds. The three tables in Division One were all doubled and all managed to make 12 tricks for a score of +650. At some tables that game was bid freely but, as you can tell from the double, at some tables it sounded like a sacrifice over 4♠ (which indeed it was).
Back to the opening bid as East : should one or shouldn't one open with a side 4-card major? This is a much more open question now that it was years ago (when it was verboten). With the values dominanatly in the major, and with being first in hand and so maximal pre-emptive effect, the case is quite strong and those who chose to do so deserve their gain.
Now can North-South get into the bidding after 2♠ - P - 4♠ ? That's very difficult. Answers please on a postcard.
[LATER ADDITION] There is a rule attributed to Jeff Meckstroth that when yo have a 10-card fit in a major you just bid game. If you've got enough values you will make, and if you haven't it will be a good sacrifice. It's worth remembering and it comes up regularly with 4-card support to a weak two opener. You really want to just bid game, and in a case like this enquiring with 2N will give the opponents a chance to get into the bidding, and here find their 5♦ game. Being able to bid 4♠ here knowing it is right depends on partner having six for the opening bid, and is one of the reasons to discourage weak twos with five card suits.
This hand was the biggest gain for the runners up in the teams final. The auction at one table was as shown. Neat how everyone got to bid diamonds at their first opportunity. The 2♦ bid is a little pushy but it pays to get both suits in and you don't expect a passed partner to go too high.
But this hand is all about play. West led the singleton club and got a ruff at trick two, after which the contact was unbeatable. Clearly East could do better by switching at trick two, but should it be a heart switch or a spade switch? Here the 2♦ bid paid dividends, as declared is marked with at most one spade. So a heart switch is indicated and now the defence have three tricks.
It was solved a different way at another table, at which West had been silent. The same singleton was led and East could see he had two tricks there. Rather than guess what to do, Mark Rogers ducked at trick one, and when he won the ♣A he had had a signal from his partner and he knew to play a heart. Neat! But pure logic works too - once declarer is known to be 5-5 in the minors there is only one discard from dummy on the long club, and a spade discard isn't likely to help the way a heart discard will help, so there is less urgency to attack spades.