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Buck the Odds
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In a Round of 16 match in the Open Trials, you are faced with the common problem of whether or not to open 1NT with a 5-card major.

N-S vul, South deals. As South, you hold:

South
AKJ63
K73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
?

Your opening 1NT range is 14-16.

South
AKJ63
K73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
?

Suppressing a 5-card major can leave to a missed major-suit fit. However, if opening something other than 1NT will lead to difficult rebid problems or if the hand has notrump written on it, then it is better to open 1NT on a 5-3-3-2 hand.

Opening 1 in a strong club structure is scary with 16 HCP, since this is more than partner will be expecting. Granted this is a bad 16, but is still 16. You might not be able to catch up.

Opening 1, planning on rebidding 1 over 1, is possible. Still, the auction may get awkward.

In addition, this hand has notrump written on it. Minor honors in all the short suits. A major which might not need time to establish. Everything points to a 1NT opener.

You open 1NT. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
?

1NT: 14-16

2: Diamonds and a major

Your call?

South
AKJ63
K73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
?

It would be nice if you could safely pass and see what happens, but you don't have that luxury. Diamonds is one of East's suits, so if you pass the auction could be passed out and you won't get another chance. If you want to show your spades, you must do so now.

Bidding 2 is far from safe. Spades could be East's major, or West could have a spade stack. However, passing is not safe either, as that could lead to an adverse double part-score swing. The overall strength is probably roughly evenly balanced, and you have a doubleton in their suit. It is seldom right to sell out at the 2-level with shortness in their suit, particularly when you can reasonably compete at the 2-level in a higher-ranking suit. Bidding 2 looks to be percentage.

You bid 2, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

West leads the queen of hearts. Standard signals.

North
92
8652
A2
J9875
South
AKJ63
K73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

East plays the 9, and you win your king. Standard signals.

How do you start?

North
92
865
A2
J9875
South
AKJ63
73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

The hearts are clearly 4-2, since if East has 5 hearts he would have won and continued the suit, hoping his partner's queen was a singleton. Also, East's hearts must be AJ109. If East had the 4 he would not have sqandered the 9 with dummy having 8xxx. Giving partner a signal is never as important as making the technically correct play, and from East's point of view it may be important to be able to win the fourth round of hearts.

While it is possible that East has Qxx of spades, you can't afford to play for that. The ace of diamonds is dummy's only entry, and you would have to take a diamond finesse. If it loses, and it probably will lose, you are in jeopardy both from an overruff in hearts and a potential club ruff. You have to simply play spades from the top and hope for the best.

You lead out ace and king of spades. East plays the queen on the second round. What next?

North
865
A2
J9875
South
J63
73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

It has to be right to cash the jack of spades. This will leave only the high trump out. If you don't cash, there will be the annoyance of the two trumps out against you.

You cash the jack of spades. What do you discard from dummy?

North
865
A2
J9875
South
J63
73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

While the fourth heart shouldn't be of value unless East made a mistake, you have no use at all for the fifth club.

You discard a club. East discards the 3. What next?

North
865
A2
J987
South
63
73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

You are going to have to attack the club suit. It appears that East's original shape is 2-4-5-2. While playing West for the 10 looks good, it is potentially better to play East for honor-doubleton of clubs. You don't need to get to dummy to do this. You can simple lead out the queen of clubs. If West wins, you can later lead a club to the 9. If West ducks, you can later lead a club to the jack.

There is the danger that West will win the first round of clubs and shoot a diamond through. For that reason, perhaps it is better to lead a small club to the 9, losing if East has A10 or K10 doubleton. It will be pretty difficult for West to go up from A10x or K10x. However, this won't work even if it does. East will win, and shove hearts through you. You will have to ruff the fourth round of hearts. West will overruff, and put a diamond through in time. This will be an obvious defense, since East will know from the bidding and play that West holds a high trump. Therefore, you might as well lead the queen of clubs.

You lead the queen of clubs. West plays the 3, and East wins the king. East cashes the 10 and jack of hearts, West following to the second heart and discarding the 4. East now shifts to the 5. Which diamond do you play from your hand?

North
8
A2
J98
South
63
QJ
62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

Unless East has made an unlikely error, the king of diamonds is onside all along, and West will be covering your diamond play. It looks best to play the queen of diamonds. This will keep both opponents in the dark about the location of the jack of diamonds, which may prove beneficial.

You play the queen of diamonds. West covers with the king, and you win the ace. What next?

North
8
2
J98
South
63
J
62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

You have to come to your hand to make your club play. Best is to ruff a heart. It doesn't figure to make a difference, as West should overruff and lead a diamond, clarifying the position. But it can't cost. Maybe West will find some reason not to overruff.

You choose to lead a diamond to your jack. And now?

North
8
J98
South
63
62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

You cannot afford to delay your club play. If you play a trump, West can win and tap you.

You lead a club. West plays the 4. Your play?

North
8
J98
South
63
62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P

East apparently has one club left, either the ace or the 10. If there is some other layout, your play won't matter.

Initially, East's relevant holdings are A10 doubleton, K10 doublton, or AK doubleton. The fact that you have seen the king (thus leaving only AK doubleton or K10 doubleton as possibilities) doesn't change those initial odds, since you haven't learned anything new -- had East won the ace, the position would be the same. This is a perfect restricted choice application. If there are no other considerations, the odds are 2 to 1 in favor of playing the jack.

Are there other considerations which justify bucking the odds? In order to determine this, it is necessary to examine every bid and play E-W have made and see if they might have done something different with the different hands. The relevant hands are:

West: 10xxx Qx Kxxx 10xx

East: Qx AJ109 10xxxx AK

Or

West: 10xxx Qx Kxxx Axx

East: Qx AJ109 10xxxx K10

Would West have had a problem ducking the second round of clubs if he had the ace of clubs? Not a chance. He has a complete count on the hand.

Would East have defended as he did with either hand? Yes, he would. From his point of view his partner could have KJ of diamonds, and a diamond shift when he shifted would be necessary to defeat the contract. This would be true whether or not he held the ace of clubs, since if he didn't have it he would know his partner had it. Also, from AK of clubs he could just as easily won the ace, since it couldn't make a difference to his partner.

Would West have made a different opening lead? It is hard to see why possession of the ace of clubs would affect his opening lead. He knows his partner has hearts in any case.

Would they have bid differently? That is possible. If East didn't have the ace of clubs he might have been reluctant to enter the auction. Furthermore, if West had the ace of clubs he might have been more inclined to compete to 3.

Are these considerations from the bidding sufficient to justify going against the 2-to-1 restricted choice odds? That is difficult to say, but it is likely to be the case.

You choose to play the jack of clubs. Wrong. East wins the ace, and you are down 1. The full hand is:

West
10874
Q4
K874
1043
North
92
8652
A2
J9875
East
Q5
AJ109
109653
AK
South
AKJ63
K73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
2
9
K
3
1
0
A
7
2
5
3
2
0
K
4
9
Q
3
3
0
J
8
5
3
3
4
0
Q
3
7
K
2
4
1
10
7
4
5
2
4
2
J
3
4
6
2
4
3
5
Q
K
A
1
5
3
2
6
J
7
3
6
3
2
4
J
A
2
6
4
10

How was the defense?

West
10874
Q4
K874
1043
North
92
8652
A2
J9875
East
Q5
AJ109
109653
AK
South
AKJ63
K73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
2
9
K
3
1
0
A
7
2
5
3
2
0
K
4
9
Q
3
3
0
J
8
5
3
3
4
0
Q
3
7
K
2
4
1
10
7
4
5
2
4
2
J
3
4
6
2
4
3
5
Q
K
A
1
5
3
2
6
J
7
3
6
3
2
4
J
A
2
6
4
10

It looks okay. The opening lead is certainly reasonable. East knew the lead was from a doubleton since declarer wouldn't open 1NT with 5-4 in the majors, so East's duck of trick 1 was correct. East had to shift to a diamond rather than continuing a fourth round of hearts in case West had KJ of diamonds. East might have won the club lead with the ace in order to make the strength difference between the two possible hands less, but that isn't a big deal.

Should E-W have done more in the bidding?

West
10874
Q4
K874
1043
North
92
8652
A2
J9875
East
Q5
AJ109
109653
AK
South
AKJ63
K73
QJ
Q62
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
2
2
P
P
P
D
2 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
2
9
K
3
1
0
A
7
2
5
3
2
0
K
4
9
Q
3
3
0
J
8
5
3
3
4
0
Q
3
7
K
2
4
1
10
7
4
5
2
4
2
J
3
4
6
2
4
3
5
Q
K
A
1
5
3
2
6
J
7
3
6
3
2
4
J
A
2
6
4
10

The 2 call was fine, and a perfect hand for their methods. Even though West has a possible trump trick vs. 2, he does have 4-card diamond support and all of his honors are in his partner's suit. It is true that there might only be an 8-card fit, but it still looks right to compete.

At the other table, East inexplicably passed out 1NT. West naturally led a spade, and the contract made.

When faced with what looks like a close decision in the play, it is often right to go with your gut. There are subtle things which you may pick up at the table. West isn't going to be huddling deciding whether or not to play the ace of clubs, as the position is clear and any expert will have no problem ducking without giving the show away since he doesn't really have a problem. It is the converse which you may pick up. Some players may rush their play if they have the ace, to make it look like they don't have a problem. Some players may make an involuntary slight huddle when they don't have the ace, while when they have the ace they will never do this. This isn't exactly a coffee-house. It is a natural attempt to be deceptive when one realizes that your opponent has a problem. An alert declarer will pick up on this and have a better guessing percentage than the numbers indicate. You won't always be right, but if you pay attention, understand what you are picking up, and follow your instincts, you will be right more often than not.

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