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Today's hand starts as a lead problem. The bidding is as shown, but might have been slightly different at other tables. What is best, playing matchpoints?
For most lead problems there isn't an answer which always works - we just have to measure long term success rather that judge on one instance, but despite that a considerable body of wisdom has built up over the years.
Each lead is a compromise between setting up tricks for the defence, and not giving extra tricks to the declarer, with the latter concept getting more attention at matchpoints. Here clubs looks avoidable, since they have bid that suit. Either diamonds or hearts might set up tricks, but perhaps not many tricks if South has the expected 9 cards in the black suits. A spade isn't going to set up any tricks directly but it can preserve our winners which might otherwise be ruffed, but again one lead won't make much difference.
It is hard to choose here, and the deciding factor might be the safety element. A spade lead is less likely that either red suit to give declarer a trick they could not get for themselves. Thinking like this led John Skjonnemand to lead the ♠2 on this hand last night. It turns out this is the only start which gives the defence a chance to earn some points, albeit just the matchpoints for holding declarer to fewer than twelve tricks. But what happened in practice? Declared won the ♠A, crossed to hand with the ♦A and led a heart towards dummy's singleton jack. This created a dilemma for East; if North held the other top hearts this was a ploy Ty slip past the ace, and he needs to rise. But when the ♥A win that trick there was no second trump to play! The winning choice was to duck the heart so that partner could win and play a second trump. Wasn't this sneaky of North?
Close, but no cigar!
Here's a lead problem from Monday.
You opened a weak two bid on this rather poor hand, because it pays to get in there first, and the seventh heart compensates for the lack of hcp.
Now you have to choose the opening lead ...
There was one hand on Monday with a 50-50 slam (board 24) but nobody bid that and the only real swing came in a match where one pair missed game. On this hand however, we had 9/12 tables in a slam and two pairs reached 7♠, and we had double figure swings in every match - the successful small slams were matches by one grand slam making, three games, and two contracts which failed.
The bidding at table 8 started as shown; at this point North knew of a minimal strong NT with South, and that South had two aces and no diamond control. Since kings in clubs and hearts would make the grand slam easy, North had to continue investigating. At the table there was a mix-up over the responses to the 5N ask about kings, and this resulted in bidding the grand slam. Without this accident there would be little to report since there are 12 tricks easily obtained in spades on almost all distributions of the cards.
Playing in 7♠ there are a lot of options, but the logic to combine them all effectively is tractable. Here's how it goes
Now put this together with the lead of the ♠7. A diamond ruff cannot happen until the ace is unblocked; to preserve the entries to South it must therefore be right to win the ♠K, cash the ♦A and then come to hand in trumps. If the trumps were breaking 2-2 then at this point the grand slam would depend on either the clubs 3-3 (allowing a discard for the heart jack) or a heart finesse, and declarer can test these options in turn. When the trumps are 3-1, the plan is to take diamond ruffs. So the play continues with ♦4 ruffed and a club to the king and then the ♦6 ruffed.
If the diamond king had appeared at this point then the position is equivlant to the trumps breaking 2-2 and we simply draw the last trumps and test clubs and then hearts.
When the king does not appear, we need to fall back on the heart finesse, as otherwise we lack the entries for the third ruff and then to draw trumps. The making the extra trick from clubs is less likely but also fails to give us the required entry. Declarer plays a heart to the jack, ruffs the ♦Q, comes back to the ♥A and draws the last trump. This trump and declarer's remaining trumps take care of the ♥Q and ♣6 from dummy, and it remains to cash two top clubs.
It is quite pretty when the sequence of plays follows quite so logically, and when it delivers a successful contract as well.
The swings in last night's league matches started on board one; almost everyone played in spades but the number of tricks varied between 8 and 11. We'll tell how Keith Stanley ended up with eleven tricks, but first to the bidding.
The East hand doesn't fit well with a preemptive bid, having 7 hcp outside the trump suit. It doesn't fit well with a weak two bid, having a seventh spade. It is not a bad idea on hands like this to pass to start with, since you expect that even after a pass you will be able to find the right contract. And indeed that did happen to some; Paul Denning passed and heard partner open a strong 1N and could then transfer into the spade game.
Back to the auction shown. With 3♥ showing an upper range hand but without a good suit, South had little to go on, and opposite a passed partner needed to go and seek out tricks. This reasoning led to the ♥A lead. Although the signal from partner was discouraging, there was still a prospect of a heart ruff, as declarer has no obvious path for drawing trumps, so he played a second round of that suit. Unfortunately the second heart was misread and North played the ♥Q on this, and Keith gobbled this up with the king. There was now a heart winner in dummy to take care of his losing diamond, and the only danger was any opposition ruffs. So Keith went to draw trumps as quickly as he could, and when the ace dropped the king he was blessed with an overtrick.
The other instance of 4♠+1 had a similar play in the heart suit. The hand was played by West (1N opener and a transfer) and the lead was a heart to the ace and another back to the queen and king. With the same intent to avoid a ruff, Garry Watson also played a spade to the ace.
Another table had the ♦6 lead. This hit the jackpot as it set up the diamond king, and it was natural for declarer to take a trump finesse now. Two spade losers and the ♥A sealed the fate of the game in that room, for the second 11 imps swing on that board.
Only at three tables did East-West get to play this hand, and they were all successful. The remainder all defended North's spade contract, twice at the 5-level (both doubled) and six times at the 4-level (all but one doubled). The bidding shown was common, but some Norths started with a 4♠ opener, which makes it even more difficult for East-West to find their fit.
The interesting question is the lead against a spade contract. The tricks North must lose are clear, but three Norths had an easy ride when three Easts led out the ♠A at trick one. The question is why?
There were two reasons for East to lead a spade at trick one; the first is to draw trumps, as that might well deprive declarer of some tricks, and the second is to have a look at dummy. This can be very important in auctions which might involve cashing out by the defence, where any other lead might be the wrong lead. Where those defenders went wrong today was in failing to recognise that partner's takeout double on the auction shown, that the danger of south having tricks to cash was much less. Which means that a heart lead us much safer than after an auction of 4♠-P-P-P.
It's not often that a three-suit squeeze falls into your lap, and it was surprising that there were not 11 pairs reporting this from board 23 on Monday.
It is hard to imagine different bidding, but there are rumours of Easts who didn't know that with a strong NT in protective seat, the answer is to double and then bid NT (as a 1N bid shows a weak NT, and a jump to 2N shows about 18-20). Here it is awkward for West as there might only be a 23-count between the two hands, but with the strong hand on lead and the location of the points signposted, these hands usually play well. So a raise to game is indicated.
Against 3N the defence start with a spade. Declarer is none too happy as there is a diamond to lose and the club ace, before nine tricks are available. But as so often, the answer is just to set about your longest suit. So knock out the diamond and win the spade return to cash the diamonds. South can easily discard one club and one heart - but on the fifth diamond what can be spared? The answer is nothing, so away goes a spade and now declarer can knock out the club ace. South has been squeezed in three suits.
Surprisingly only two tables played in 3N and made it.
Both the Dawes and Porter teams were winning by a small margin, and the Markham team was losing by a similar margin, when this hand came along, and the Markham team picked up the 52 imps which enabled them to win their match, by just 13 imps.
The first questions are around bidding, which is nearly automatic until the point shown. Automatic that is if your 1N rebid shows 15-17 and your 2♦ checkback is game forcing (very much the favoured style these days). The one alternative to consider is a 4♣ splinter after 2♥. It's not common to splinter in partner's suit, but it is a very descriptive choice, as partner can then judge whether or not the hands are fitting. On the bidding as shown, the West hand counts as a 6-loser hand opposite a strong NT which is usually a 6-loser hand too. That means you cannot give up at 4♥, there has to be another try and here a 4♠ cue shows a feature and passes the decision to East.
It remains a close call as to who, if either, bids the slam. The two GCBA pairs in the Markham both opened a strong NT on this hand and West now transferred into hearts and continued with 4N. This bid is best used as a natural, quantitative raise but everyone took it as asking for key cards and after hearing of two, West settled for 6♥.
When played by West the opening lead was the ♦8. Declared knocked out the ♥A and South carefully returned a passive diamond. Declared now took the spade finesse and was one off. Notice how if South had returned a spade after winning the♥A, West might easily deduce that the spade king is with North, and be forced into the winning line of the club finesse. West might have tried harder, testing the clubs with ace and a couple of ruffs, before resorting to the spade finesse.
There were three instances of 6♥ by East. Two of them were the uninformative strong NT auctions described above; in both those cases South led a club, and declared wrapped up 12 tricks very easily. The final table had a long cue bidding sequence on the way to 6♥ and from this Mark Rogers was able to deduce that a spade was best and the spade lead killed 6♥.
We had two pairs from each team bid the slam, but our two pairs succeeded, and both of theirs failed.
This slam hand looks a straightforward bidding exercise, but it presents a number of different issues. In practice, only 6 of the 12 tables ended in 6♠ with 5 others in game and one pair tried 7♠.
The first question comes over the opening bid; strong balanced hands without any jacks deserve strong consideration of an upgrade, and this hand is one of those. If the hand were to start off with 2♣ it is hand to see North stopping short of a slam.vthe 2N opening shown is a slight underbid.
The next important step comes after North transfers to spades; South has an enormous hand in support and shows that by breaking the transfer into a 4♣ cue bid. From North's perspective, a slam is now looming but isn't certain. In practice, at the table illustrated, North just made an executive decision - he re-transferred with a 4♥ bid, and then asked for key cards before bidding the slam. Even if North just makes a try, and that is the minimum choice, the slam will be bid.
The spade small slam is easily made, but the play in the grand slam is worth looking at. You cannot make 7♠ on this layout of the East-West hands, but 7N can be made and that gives the pointer to the correct line of play in 7♠. Can you see what that line is?
Looking favourably on each suit, you expect the possibility of 5 spades, 2 hearts, 1 diamond, and 4 clubs. That now comes to 12, so you need a squeeze to get to 13, and that has to be a heart-diamond squeeze. It needs the same hand to have the diamond king and the only heart guard. For the squeeze to work you need to end with the option to cash the diamond queen or two hearts. So you need to have ended the black suits in the North hand. Which means you have to cash the clubs and then the spades. And you need to unblock the diamond ace before you do that.
Amazingly, the one layout which lets 7N make, is actually present!
The need to cash clubs before spades means that if spades are 4-0, you need the hand with the trumps to follow to four rounds of clubs. And that doesn't work in 7♠ which is why that contract goes down.
There were judgment calls from many players on this deal from Monday and it is not clear if they were all correct. East-West looks like they have a slam making, and indeed the slam depends on very little apart from a 2-2 heart break, making the odds on the slam succeeding about 41%. But only one EW pair played the hand, with 3 selling out to a part-score in spades, and 7 selling out to 4♠ (with only two doubling that).
The first decision was South's first bid. Sometimes it was over a 2♦ overcall, but sometimes over a takeout double. It looks right to bounce in support, but in a 4-card majors system, and anyway with a 5332 shape, there are serious dangers of losing too many tricks in a doubled high level contract. There is a case therefore for any of 2♠ or 3♠ or 4♠. Perhaps this implies that the middle ground is the answer.
Whatever level South bids to, the next decision is West's. West will expect that there is a making part-score for EW, but that could be diamonds or hearts. The only way to bring both into consideration after 2♦ is to double - and that is true whether it is at the 2-level, or 3-level, or 4-level. The last of these will generally have enough values to be confident of beating a 4♠ game (easy enough here with two aces). But, importantly, it suggest the possibuility of playing the hand - it is a progressive double and not a regressive double. The values shown must be outside spades. If East had started with a double, it is easy for West to bid hearts - the only awkward case being over 4♠, but even in this case East can double to show values and again East will bid.
As long as West gets involved, it is hard to see East letting matters rest below either 5♦ or 5♥. But what happened in practice? A number of Wests passed, and when some Wests doubled 4♠, Easts presumed it was a desire to defend and passed that out. Sad.
The one auction to 5♥ was 1♠ - X - 3♠ - 4♥ - 4♠ - 5♥ - end.
The other auction to the 5-level is reported to be. 1♠-2♦-3♠-P-4♠-5♦-P-P-5♠-X-end.
This was the strongest of the four hands in the first match on which questions of slam arose. After the bidding shown (or where South bid 3♠ on the second round rather than 3♥), some Norths raised to game and there matters rested. The others cue bid 4♣ showing a control there as well as suspport and some slam interest. A new suit at the 4-level is rarely natural (for me only after 1M-1N-3M where you might have a long suit not strong enough to bid at the 2-level). It just about always agrees the last bid suit as trumps, and where there are options it promises a control there (other times it might just be a good raise, so that 4♥ say is a limited raise). After this cue bid, South could happily bid a control in the other major and now North will check for aces before bidding the slam. Bridge sometimes seems an easy game but only 4 of the 12 pairs playing at County level reached the slam - in which there are 12 top tricks after the ♠A goes. In the CBC Pairs movement, 0/7 bid the slam.
The other boards with slam interest were more tricky. On Board 4, there is a 10-count (♠T976 ♥Q92 ♦KT72 ♣AJ) hand facing an opener showing 21-22 balanced. It is natural to test first for a spade fit, but over 3♣ partner bids 3N to deny any four or five card major. Do you give up? Everyone did, but a simulation (admitted only only 28 hands) showed that slam was excellent opposite this hand on 43% of the deals, was about even money on 21% of the deals, and was a bad proposition on 36%. Even with no judgement as to which to bid and which not to bid, that looks like bidding a slam is worthwhile. With judegment it should be a Good Thing. Although you want to play in diamonds when you have a diamond fit, it was curious that the times you don't have a diamond fit - where partner often has 5+ clubs, were the most likely to give you a slam (50% of those were excellent slams). What this means is that it is probably worth a raise to 4N on these hands. On this occasion partner has a 4333-shape and 21-count, so it is clear for partner to refuse. In practice, everyone (19 tables) stopped in 3N.
The next hand to mention is Board 5, where some did bid a slam (6 of 19) but only two made it. A similar bidding principle applies to it, when the auction starts 1♠-2♣-3♠ and you are looking at ♠K64 ♥74 ♦KQ6 ♣AQ763. To show spade support and extras, you bid a new suit (diamonds here) at the 4-level. Partner will cooperate with a 4♥ cue and then it is up to you whether to allow partner off the hook with 4♠, or to continue with a club cue bid. Slam is actually quite respectable as there are lots of chances, but it is someway short of the 12 top tricks of board 8. Thes best line involves trying to ruff out ♣Kxx after playing two trumps. Today nothing succeeds unless you guess to finesse West for the ♠Q and even then the club and heart finesses won't work. Exercise for the reader to find 12 tricks!
Finally the question of slam arose on Board 13, when partner responds to your 1♠ opener with 2♦ and you are looking at ♠QJ762 ♥5 ♦Q6543 ♣AK. You want to show diamond support as there could well be a diamond slam on here, but you might want to play in a spade game or 3N. The answer is a jump to 3♥ here as a splinter (since 2♥ is forcing). Partner could bid 3N over this, or show spade support, or confirm that diamonds are trumps. In fact, partner bids 3♠ and you now get the chance (very important) to limit your hand by just bidding 4♠. Partner was never slamming on this hand, but the pair who bid 4♦ over 2♦ lost the chance to limit the hand and their slam investigation resulted in 5♠-1).
This looks a very boring hand, doesn't it? You are on lead against game by a 2N opener who, in response to partner's Baron 3♣, showed a hand with no suit other than clubs. Your choice?
You didn't know that the fate of the board depends on your opening lead. The default might feel like a QJ9 lead but you need to ask what that is going to achieve. To have a chance at any tricks in the suit, you will need partner to have three diamonds, and you'll need the opposing diamonds to be split 2-2. This is asking a lot.
From a different perspective, most of the defensive strength is in partner's hand, so what about leading partner's suit? If the opponents have not missed an 8-card major fit then partner will have at least four cards in each major. Can we find partner's best suit? There aren't really any clues. The West concerned reasoned that the ♥8 was less likely than the♠6 to be mis-information and chose that.
Looking at all the hands now, you can see that this is the winning choice, and it was a logical choice too. Is that virtue being rewarded? Getting this right earns you 108/108 matchpoints, while leading anything else gets you 1/108 matchpoints.
What about the opponents' bidding? They chose to ignore any 5-3 spade fit, and to only play in spades with a 5-4 fit. At matchpoints, that seems quite reasonable as there will be few times that the 5-3 fit generates an extra trick when you have about 30 hcp between the two hands. The opponents were just unlucky to have you on lead!
This bidding problem arose at a number of tables on Monday night. The question, which many had not examined sufficiently, was to identify the style in which the bidding should now continue. Do we consider that hearts are here set for ever as trumps, or could opener ever bid 3♥ withg a doubleton, and if the 5-3 fit was K7654-T32 are you allowed to escape to 3N? And what do the various bids mean?
The two key choices are whether to play in hearts or not, and at which level to play. The key to both choices is how well the 1N opener fits with any shortages held by responder, so the best way forward is for responder to show shape. This can be done by bidding a fragment or by bidding a shortage (rebidding a second 5-card suit here doesn't seem to help opener much). Bids at the 3-level allow the possibility of playing 3N, but higher bids commit to playing in the major. Both fragments and shortages have adherents in the tournament community.
If 4♣ in the sequence shown indicated shortage, then over that North would clearly sign-off. When South hears 4♥ the expectation should be that some values are wasted and that partner has proably a maximum of 9-10 hcp of useful looking cards. Unfortunately when you add that to the 15 held by South, there is still scope for a slam to be making easily.
In these situations opener would usually think of the ace opposite the shortage as good news, so actually we are looking at partner having 9-10 out of the (missing) 19 potentially high card points which seem useful from North's perspective. Allowing for somtimes holding the club ace, that means we have to downgrade the expectations of the North hand's value opposite a club void to be more like 7-8 hcp, which means we are missing 7-8 high card points in the suits held by South.
That will be oen loser and quite probably two, so this makes slam seem less of a good bet, and when you factor in that the reality could be less (a working 5-hcp here) then the danger of bidding beyond 4♥ is clear.
But the South hand looks so good !
In the event, 5 pairs went to 5♥ or higher (where there were three losers) and 5 pairs stopped in exactly 4♥.
Yesterday's assertion that there was only one good slam on Monday was false. This hand was an excellent slam, and was bid by three pairs. It seems very hard to bid it with any certainty. Here are some stories -
Table 1: North here opened a strong (15-17) 1N and partner responded with a five card major ask. This struck gold with a 2♥ response. Since there is no value in investigating spades after partner has shown five hearts, 2♠ is available here (at the 2-level!) as a slam try in hearts. This got 3♣ from opener, 3♦ from responder and now 4♦ . It is reported that the bidding continued 5♥ - 6♥ . Whatever it meant, it was successful.
Table 2: North here opened a more standard 1♥ and heard partner bid 2♣. This left North with a difficult rebid, and this North chose 4♣. This gets the extra strength across but it goes above 3N which could be a disaster. South now saved the day with a leap to 6♥. This is hard to justify with only an ace more than promised already, but it was successful and hearts did score better than clubs.
Table 7: North opened 1♥ but this time South responded 2♦ (a better suit but still an unusual choice). North had extras to show and bid 3♣ over which South tried 3♠ (fourth suit forcing). This got doubled by West, and passed back to South who now owned up to the club support with a 4♣. North now bid 4♥ and South asked for keycards and bid 6♥. Who can argue with success? There will be times when 6♣ is much safer, but today hearts works just as well and scores better!
Table 9: here the bidding started with a very reasonable 1♥ - 2♣ - 3♣ after which South bid the inevitable 3N. This wrapped up 13 tricks, which at least beat the heart games.
This was the one excellent slam from Monday, and it was bid at only two tables.
At table 4 Laura Pollo started with 1♣ to which Ashok replied 1♦ . Over the 2♣ continuation it went 2♠(worried about hearts) - 3N(heart stop and maximum) - 4♣ (support) and then into the slam. Doesn't it look easy?
The other table at which it was bid was where the Angseesings (the other trophy winners, collecting the Flitch) were sitting. Their bidding started 1♣ - 2N where the 2N showed 16+ in a balanced hand. It proceed 3♣ - 3♦ - 4♣ with the last bid indicating slam ambitions since it had gone past 3N. And thence to slam. Doesn't it look easy?
My mistake on the hand was opening 1N over which partner decided that game was enough. The hand screams no-trumps, but 14-hcp and a good six card suit is just too strong. The right answer was to open 1♣ and to rebid 1N, after which the other hand will drive to slam. [LATER: simulation shows that opposite a weak NT the 18-count will find partner to be a minimum 76% of the time (fewer than average points are there to go around), and of the rest you want to stop out of slam more often than not. This confirms that this South hand is too good for 1N]
Notice how 6♣, the only slam bid in practice, is much safer than 6N. At matchpoints you might be tempted by the latter but as we see from this example, the repeated failure of players to bid slams means that the safest slam is the right answer, as it is nearly always a good score.
How did others get to stop in game with two such good hands?