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It was curious to see how small differences in judgement can change the result dramatically.
One table started with the auction shown. The strong NT got an overcall showing one major, and South settled for 2♥ as a place to play. This was passed round to East who, naturally enough, made a takeout double. Paul Denning at this point recognised that the opposition were about to stop in 2♠ and he didn't want that so he bid 3♥ . This did push West into bidding 3♠ but it also allowed North to revalue his hand; the likelihood of short spades with South so enthused him that he bid game, and there the matter rested. The defence started with a top spade, ducked, and when the club switch was not found, declarer had no trouble ruffing a spade and then playing the NT opener for the heart queen, to clock up 10 tricks.
Another table also started with a strong NT and now North overcalled 2♣ showing either single suited hearts or four hearts and another suit. South bid 2♦ to ask and North now bid 2♥ . East doubled and at this point the auctions diverged when South passed, thinking that pass and then 3♥ would describe the strength of this hand well. But the auction proceeded 2♠ - P -3♠ - P -4♠ - end. The lead was a top heart then a trump, and declared continued trumps to make the spade game.
So South's choice over the double meant game in one direction of the other! The swings in the two matches concerned were 12 imps and 14 imps.
This is the board from Monday which saw the greatest number of imps change hands, averaging almost 10 imps per match. Here are some of the stories ...
T8 : South produced an opening bid! The choice was 2♦ which showed a bottom-end weak two bid in some major. This presented a serious headache for West, who got by the first round with a value showing double. North was expecting partner to have spades but would rather play in diamonds, so he chose 2♥ (pass or correct) since on the next round he could bid a non-forcing 3♦. Over the 2♥ bid, East now had a real problem. The East hand is enormous, and East's first thought was about 3N. A club bid might be passed, and a jump club bid goes past 3N. What could he do? Because double would show hearts, he had the option, which he took, to cue bid 3♥. There was no chance of this describing the hand, but at least he promised values. The problem goes back to West, who still doesn't know which suit South holds, but he could bid a natural 3♠. What can East now do? With a fixation still on 3N he had no choice but to bid it. West raised to 4N to show some extras, and that got passed out. The spotlight now shifted to South, but the clubs looked more appealing than the diamonds so out came ♣J and declarer said thank you and cashed his winners. All that happened because of that opening bid!
T5 : South passed and it was West who opened 1♠ and now North overcalled 2♦ which pushed East into bidding 3♣. It could all be natural now, 3♥ - 3♠ - 4♥ - 4♠ - end. This is quite a sensible contract, but the trumps are lying badly. North started off with a club which cuts declarer off from dummy, and forced him into cashing three rounds of clubs immediately (ditching diamonds). The third of these got ruffed with North's ♠K. Now came ♦A ruffed by declarer who could have generated 10 tricks by pushing out the top hearts, but he lost his way and went one off.
T5 : here South opened 2♠ showing a weak two bid (!) and West, treating the hand as too good for a simple overcall, doubled. East bid a (non-forcing!) 3♣ and now West showed his hearts. East felt unable to bid 3N but he had extra strength, so he jumped to 5♣. West didn't fancy clubs, so he leapt to 6N and this got passed out. The spotlight now fell on North, who just led his partner's suit, but the spade king was just what West wanted to see. So slam was bid and made, but only at this table.
Any more stories?
The leading teams in Division One last night continued their winning ways, but this hand - the ppenultimate one at table 8 - could have turned that result around. The bidding was as shown, to an over-ambitious 4♥ game. South should really have settled for a raise to 3♥.
East led a low spade (playing third and fifth in partner's suit) and this ran to the king. West tried the ♦K and then played a second spade to the queen. From North's perspective, the failure of West to continue diamonds suggested that East held a diamond honour, and East's ♦9 (on their advertised carding) suggested an odd number of diamonds. Since a 4-1 heart break means a sure loser there, the assumption has to be that the heart suit is breaking and the queen can be captured.
So making 4♥ all comes down to how to play the club suit. If West has 3 diamonds and East has 5, then West will be a 5233 or 5332 shape and presumably too strong for a weak 1N opener. With 17 hcp missing and a diamond honour with East, that would mean the club king is offside. In that case the contract cannot make.
So let's suppose West has 5 diamonds. In that case the West shape is 5251 or 5350; can the contract be made? Clearly the clubs can be played for no loser in either case. If we assume that West would have tried harder to put East on lead with a diamond if holding a void club, we are down to choices of playing West for either
♠ K9742 ♥ Q8 ♦ KQ874 ♣ K
♠ K9742 ♥ Q8 ♦ AK874 ♣ 4
or some variants of these. You might have to consider entry problems too if finessing East for any high cards. Both options listed give East a pass over the 1♠ opener. Can we improve on a guess?
The only key which might help is the location of the diamond ace. Look what happens if you cross to the heart ace and lead a second diamond. If/when West plays small, North's jack will force the ace. You now know where the club king and the heart queen are (from East's earlier pass of 1♠), so you can drop both of them to make your game. Easy?
The downside of doing this is that if West rises and lead a third diamond, you have to ruff that in dummy and you no longer have the entries you need to pick up ♣Kxxx onside. The winning play is for West to play the queen, and create for you some doubt about who holds the ace.
At the table declarer took the losing club finesse, and lost 6 imps instead of gaining 7.
This hand was possibly the wildest hand of Monday night. The auction shown was all natural and replicated at a number of tables. At this point it is clear to West that partner will be short in spades (although a void isn't certain), and that you have two playable suits. The danger of bidding 5♣ is that partner will stick it even if very short in clubs (eg a 1651 shape), and the danger with 5♥ is the trumpsuit is not sufficiently robust. The records suggest that two Wests chose one way, and two chose the other.
When West bid 5♥, the North-South pairs both bid on and one played 5♠-1 while the other heard a continuation of 6♥ and got to double that for down two (should be down one).
When West bid 5♣, it was clear for North to double and there the auction ended, for a score of +200 to North-South. This was cheaper than the spade game many people made (it takes a heart lead overtaken and two diamond ruffs to beat 4♠), but does not compare well with the option of making a vulnerable 5♥.
One other option over 4♠ would be 4N, provided this is interpreted as (my preference) two places to play and here it would be clubs and diamond, or clubs and hearts. East on this hand easily selects diamonds, but West corrects to 5♥ to show this hand shape.
It was surprising to see that this hand was played in spades at all tables last night, but that some made 8 tricks, some 9, some 10 and even one made 11 tricks. The computer analysis says that there is 9 tricks there for the taking - so what should we have expected?
Bidding first. Missing three aces and needing at least a club finesse means that game is odds against, and at matchpointpairs you really want every game to be 50% or better. Looking at the bidding shown, it cannot be criticised until we come to the leap to 4♠. Choosing 3♥ at this point would have been more descriptive, and could prove very useful if partner was a 5341 shape. Today partner would have stopped in 3♠ since the news of heart values was bad news.
The opening lead against North's spades varied : every suit except trumps was led (after bidding which suggests a ruffing value in dummy that would be best removed!). The four tables with the ♦T lead presumably did not have the bidding shown, for with a long suit trial bid from North a diamond would be deemed too helpful to declarer. Witha diamodnlead, declarer would naturally try hearts, but there is then no way to avoid a diamond ruff which beats the game.
At other tables, after leading ♥A which held, East could see no attractive continuation and played a second heart. Declarer liked that, and quickly tried ♥K and ♥Q, throwing clubs. Since there were only two discards the losers which might go were a club or a diamond; the instinct is to ditch clubs but in fact the ♣ A is onside 50% of the time, while the fourth diamond is a winner only 36% of the time - so it should have been a diamond which was discarded. After East ruffed the third heart, it was a club to the ace, and declarer was left with a diamond and a spade still to lose. Down two was not a good result.
After a less attacking club lead, West needs to switch to a spade at trick two to stop declarer making ten tricks. Any other continuation allows declarer to both take a club ruff and reach the ♥A to discard the losing diamond. Both clucb leads resulted in 9 tricks, so well done that defence.
This was a curious hand from Monday; it wasn't the only time that both sides played the hand in hearts (B19 had North in 3♥ and West in 2♥, both doubled and going down) but it seems a bid more strange when we have two North-South pairs playing in hearts, while in the other direction we get one pair playing in a heart partscore, one in a heart game, and a third in a heart slam.
Here's how some of that happened. The cases of North playing hearts both arose on the same sequence - the one illustrated. Was this reasonable? It's hard to deny's North's viewpoint that the opponents are comfortable in 2♦, and the North hand isn't suitable for a takeout double. Bidding 2♥ must therefore be a reaonable option. South, on hearing 2♥ will be sure that isn't the ideal spot, but might be scared of digging a bigger hole, and the fact is that the opponents haven't doubled yet. The problem is that North could have a few more HCP at this point, and either 2N or 3♣ could be a vialble contract. But it's hard to criticise passing, and in fact losing -100 or -150 as they did is only a tiny bit below the Butler datum for the hand (-90) so there can be no complaint.
At another table, South decided to bid 2♣ over the opening 1♦; it's a little stretch but it does take away 1-level major suit bids from West and this is often useful. It backfired here as it forced West into a takeout double (suggesting both majors) and that meant it was easy for East to bid 3♥ showing extras and hearts. This was the final contract and initially there was a regret at not bidding game, but when it turned out that only a helpful club lead lets game make, it felt that justice had been served.
Another table it started 1♦ - P - 1♠ - P - 2♦ - P - 2♥. This last bid is treated as a one round force by most players these days, and that makes it rather an overbid here. It would not have been so bad had partner made a measured raise, but the East hand - thinking that it was so much better than a 2♦ rebid might be - immediately jumped to 6♥ and the opposition passed that out. Definitely a partnership in harmony, when they both overbid by quite as much!
What should have happened? Limited hands with 5♠ 4♥ are known to be a bidding problem when partner opens and rebids a minor. The worse case is a 5=4=4=0 shape opposite a 0=4=4=5 shape where the bidding goes 1♣ - 1♠ - 2♣ - P and you play in a 5-0 trump fit with two eight card fits on the side. In recognition of this it is now common (particularly in the US) to play that a 2♥ responjse to either 1♣ or 1♦ openings is a limited hand with five spades and four or five hearts. It goes by the name of "reverse Flannery" in some circles, and is part of the Bridge World Standard (you can find this on the internet) which has recently been revised following an extensive poll of experts and readers.
All pairs sitting East-West were left frustrated on Monday when they finished this hand - even the pair who did actually gain 13 imps. Thie bidding shown was a common start to the auction. The question is what should the next two bids be?
The dilemma faced by East is not an uncommon one - the problem being that East doesn't know whether West is seeking out the right game (in which spade support is what matters) or fishing for a slam (in which case club support is what matters). The most sophisticated bidders have a tool to deal with this problem - in these circumstances they bid 4-of-the-other-minor who show support for both suits. Then it is up to opener to signoff if game was all that was wanted, and to cue bid if slam was the intention.
Without that tool (and here the 4♦ bid still leaves an awkwardness) all Easts we know of chose to bid 3♠. At this point - given there are 12 tricks on top - it must be right for West to tell partner that some slam consideration is due, and that is done by bidding either 4♣ or 4♦ over the preference for spades. East has an ENORMOUS hand now - brilliant controls and lots of points in partner's suits - and having heard partner make the smallest of slam moves opposite a hand which could have been so much less suitable (even though the worst opener could have bid 4♠ on the previous round), East cannot now stop short of slam. If you are always bidding slam you should allow for partner trying for a grand slam, but with a 5-3 spade fit in sight (West knows that East didn't break the transfer request) West can see that the limit is a small slam. Yet only one pair managed to get this far!
[The 4♣ and 4♦ bids here have been discussed in a previous column, and using them to bid out shape is often of greater value that use as a cue bid; here 4♣ could show the 5-5 shape, or 4♦ could show shortage but common to both is that a slam is on the horizon, and either option will enthuse East]
The winning contract however is 7♣ and it seems we are nowhere near that on the above sequence. As an alternative East might have bid 4♣ over partner's 3♣ and this would be followed by West cue bidding 4♦, hearing 4♥, and now possibly checking on aces. All key cards and the trump queen are shown by 5♠ and West might well envisage the possibility of partner having the ♠K (ie perfect cards). A try with 5N could be considered worthwhile, as even if partner bids the grand with the wrong king, the slam should be no worse than 50%, but this isn't satisfactory.
One table started 1♦(!) - 1♠ - 1N(12-14) - 3♣ which promised 5-5 shape (else the bidding goes through checkback) and game forcing values. Here supporting clubs is easier since it is a known 9-card fit, and ending in 5♣ is not a worrying option. Cue bids of 4♦ and 4♥ should follow. From the reasoning above, East should drive to the slam.
Is it possible to bid the grand slam in clubs? Once we get to the 4♥ cue in the above sequences West might take control but a smart West might also recognise the dilemma of not knowing the right level after 4N-5♠ and for that reason prefer to continue the cue bids with 4♠. East now, in driving forward, should check on aces and after a 5♥ response from West, East has room for a 5♠ cue bid (or an asking bid would have the same effect) allowing West to bid the grand. The bottom line is that it is rarely impossible to bid to the right contract, but sometimes a few good views need to be taken en route.
This was a fascinating hand at some tables last night, but a very boring hand when West got to play in 3N as there were ten top tricks there. You have the same tricks in diamonds and the problem is, playing in 5♦, to conjure up an eleventh.
The leads found in practice were a small spade (twice) and a small diamond (six times) but both were equally passive and left declarer in charge. The spade loser is inevitable and it comes down to how to avoid two heart losers (and make two tricks from heart plays). The answer has to involve some form of elimination and then end-play. Declarer cannot waste too many dummy entries, but if clubs are played in time, two rounds can be ruffed and declarer ends with trumps in each hand and ♠J4♥J83 opposite ♠A6♥A72. The start has to be the spade ace if that didn't go at trick one, and then another spade.
The bidding and the play makes you quite certain that North had two hearts and South has five. When the win the second spade and play hearts you have two options. If North has doubleton honour then ace and another end-plays that hand. If North has a small doubleton, then when South is on lead they will be stuck. But which is it?
There are 10 ways North could have doubleton honour, and 10 ways they might have doubleton small. Problem not yet solved. We have to look to the bidding for clues. We need to ask whether North would have overcalled 1♠ with a 6-count and 5224 shape. The answer, at this vulnerability, is probably not. So when West gets the chance, it should be ace and another heart. North wins and gives you a ruff and discard. You ruff in either hand, and discard a heart from the other. You deserve your +600 for doing that.