Sunday, October 30, 2011

Event 3 - Match 2 - Board 5

Board 5
Our side vulnerable

♠ J 8 J 7 3 Q J 6 5 2 ♣ A 6 5

Two passes to me. I pass, and LHO opens with one notrump (15-17). Partner bids two spades. Since we play Astro, this should be at least a six-card suit. And, since we do not play weak two-bids, this hand might well be opened with two spades at the other table.

RHO bids two notrump, natural and non-forcing. Wow! Some one who is even more old-fashioned that I am!

Back in pre-lebensohl days, responder's two notrump in competition was more competitive than invitational. You tended to stretch to game with most invitations. So two notrump was apt to be a hand on which you would have passed had RHO not acted. Accordingly, opener rarely pressed on to game. This approach has rightly fallen out of favor. From a total tricks perspective, it makes little sense to play this way. It's seldom right to bid two notrump as essentially a signoff in a competitive auction. If the opponents have an eight-card fit, you should probably compete in a suit rather than in notrump. If they don't, your surest plus is probably on defense.

I pass, as does LHO. Partner leads the six of spades (fourth best).


NORTH
Stella
♠ Q
K 6 4 2
10 9 7 4
♣ Q J 8 4




EAST
Phillip
♠ J 8
J 7 3
Q J 6 5 2
♣ A 6 5


West North East South
Jack Stella Phillip Kate
Pass Pass Pass 1 NT
2 ♠ 2 NT (All pass)

What is going on the spade suit? If partner has ace-ten seventh, the suit is running. How do we fare if partner has six spades? I will unblock the jack under dummy's queen. Hopefully, I will gain the lead before partner does and lead a spade through declarer. By the rule of eleven, declarer has two cards higher than the six. If declarer covers my eight, partner can win and drive declarer's last high card. If declarer ducks my eight, partner must overtake. Hopefully declarer will not have a major tenace left, so partner can set up his suit with one more lead. The only holding declarer can have where ducking my eight prevents us from establishing the suit is ace-ten fourth. In all other cases, partner can afford to overtake my eight and continue the suit.

Partner has at most eight high-card points (unless South opened light), so he has only one prime card outside spades: either a minor-suit king or a red ace. A diamond card will be of little use on defense. To have a realistic chance of beating this, I must hope his side card is an entry, either the club king or the heart ace. Let's examine each case in turn.

(1) The club king. Declarer might have eight tricks outside the club suit: two spades, four hearts, and two diamonds. But there is room in partner's hand for the heart queen. And declarer might have ace-queen doubleton of hearts. So it's possible declarer doesn't have four heart tricks and must play on clubs. If so, I must make sure to win the ace on the first club trick, preserving partner's entry.

(2) The heart ace. Declarer has two spades tricks and two diamond tricks. Three club tricks bring her up to seven, so she must go after a heart trick or a third diamond trick to make this. On the auction, the aces are probably split, so declarer must hope to drive partner's ace first. Since she is missing the heart jack, the natural play is to work on clubs first, hoping partner has the club ace. If I hop with the club ace and continue spades, however, as I must do in case (1), she might decide it is hopeless to play me for the heart ace as well. She may go after an extra diamond trick instead. If she has ace-king-eight of diamonds, she can take a double finesse against my queen-jack. If she has ace-king-five, she can lead the ten from dummy, hoping to pin a singleton or doubleton eight in partner's hand (a better play than hoping partner has a singleton jack or queen). To do that, however, she needs two dummy entries. I can prevent this diamond play by ducking the club. If she plays a second club, I must win it if she began with king third (else she will perforce abandon clubs, possibly playing a heart to her ten to develop two heart tricks). If she began with king fourth, however, I must duck again. When the second club holds, declarer must guess who has the club ace. If partner has it, she must play a third club. If I have it, she must switch to hearts. She will almost surely guess wrong. Normal defensive strategy in this situation is for third hand to grab his tricks early to preserve his partner's entries. It is unlikely East would duck the club ace even once, much less twice. It is surely more likely that West has ducked the ace, clinging to his only entry in quiet desperation.

So what should I do when declarer leads a club from dummy at trick two? Hop, playing for (1) or duck, playing for (2)? Partner rates to have more hearts than clubs, so he is more likely to hold the heart ace. Also, if he does hold the club king, there is a pretty good chance declarer has eight tricks outside the club suit. So many of the hands where he has the club king don't even count.

Ducking would appear to be the percentage play. But to ensure that declarer doesn't suspect anything, I must echo in clubs. I am trying to respresent ace third of clubs in partner's hand and two small in mine, and I would never fail to give count with two small. Of course, when partner echoes as well, declarer will know that one or the other of us has echoed with ace third. I'm hoping she thinks it's partner.

I play the jack of spades, and declarer plays the five. All my preperation comes to nothing when, at trick two, declarer leads the nine of diamonds. What is this all about? Whatever is going on, I don't see any gain in covering. I play the six (false count with the jack)--three--eight.

What just happened? Why did declarer take a double finesse in diamonds at trick two? If declarer is missing the club king, I don't see how this play helps. But if she is missing the heart ace, it makes a lot of sense. Any time I have the club ace, this must be superior to playing clubs at trick two. She must play diamonds eventually. Playing the suit now not only avoids the need for two dummy entries later, it also gives her an extra way to pick up the suit. Partner can't profitably continue spades. So if the nine loses to honor third or fourth in partner's hand, she has established her eighth trick. She may regret this play if our aces are switched. But even then she might survive. I might cover, the double finesse might work, or, if the finesse loses, partner might not find the necessary heart shift. Nice play, Kate. This line didn't occur to me.

Declarer leads the three of clubs from dummy. Do I still have any chance of beating this? She has two spade tricks and three diamond tricks, so I must hold declarer to two club tricks. But if I duck twice, playing her for king third, she can simply switch to hearts. I need to hope for king doubleton of clubs. I must duck the first club (to kill any squeezes against partner), win the second, then clear spades. I play the club five--king--deuce. Declarer cashes the diamond king, on which partner pitches the ten of clubs. I follow with the deuce. Declarer plays the three of clubs, and partner pitches the five of hearts. Oh, well. My only chance now is that partner began with ace-ten seventh of spades. I win and play the spade eight. No such luck. Making two.


NORTH
Stella
♠ Q
K 6 4 2
10 9 7 4
♣ Q J 8 4


WEST
Jack
♠ A 9 7 6 3 2
A 9 8 5
8
♣ 10 2


EAST
Phillip
♠ J 8
J 7 3
Q J 6 5 2
♣ A 6 5


SOUTH
Kate
♠ K 10 5 4
Q 10
A K 3
♣ K 9 7 3


Our teammates collected 200 against two spades doubled. I don't know how the auction went. But if it began the same way, perhaps North made a negative double over two spades. I avoid this double with a singleton trump (so partner can pass with four), but I would double with this hand. The singleton queen and the maximum in high cards provides enough defense that I don't mind partner's passing. Besides, what's the alternative? The only other choice is to overbid and drive to game. Come to think of it, that wouldn't be so bad. Three notrump will probably make, won't it? In three, the natural play at trick two is a heart to the ten.

Table 1: -120
Table 2: +200

Result on Board 5: +2 imps
Total: +18 imps

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