Saturday, October 24, 2009

Six-five, Come Alive! (3)

I was dealt another 6-5 beauty in yesterday's pair game.  In third seat, with neither side vulnerable, I picked up:

♠ void
♥ AKxxx
♣ xx

Partner and RHO passed.  My plan was to start with 1 Diamond, then reverse into hearts.  While the hand had just 13 HCP, it had only 4 losers so surely was strong enough for a reverse.  LHO passed, and partner surprised me by bidding 1 Heart!  Now the hand became huge, so I immediately thought of a possible slam, even though partner was a passed hand.  RHO overcalled 1 Spade.  What now?

If I had been playing with Jenn, I would have had two tools in my arsenal to use here.  A jump to 4 Diamonds would show a strong heart raise with a 6-card or longer diamond suit with at least two of the top three honors.  Alternatively, I could jump to 3 Spades showing a strong heart raise and short spades.  I wasn't sure that this partner would have understood 4 Diamonds.  Even if he had, I think that 3 Spades is the superior call, since what I really needed to know was whether or not partner had a club control.  3 Spades left room for him to show it, so that is what I bid. 

LHO doubled.  Now partner, bless him, bid 4 Clubs, just what I wanted to hear!  RHO passed.  I could have dithered with a 4 Diamond cue bid, but I was concerned that LHO, who had doubled 3 Spades, would bid again, and since I thought that 6 Hearts would have a good play, I just bid it.  They led a spade, and partner looked at:

♠ void
♣ xx

♠  xx
♥ QJxxx
♦  xx

6 Hearts was an excellent contract.  How would you play it?

It may make a difference whether you are playing matchpoints or IMPs.  Playing matchpoints, you have to consider how likely it is that others will be in this contract.  There is a safety play available that gives you about a 90%  play for the contract, but it gives up the possibility of making an overtrick.  At IMPs it is clear that you take the safety play.  Should you take it here in a pairs game?  Do you see it?

There are two possible lines of play: 

(1) draw trumps, taking 3 rounds if necessary, and take a diamond finesse.  If it wins, cash the ace.  If diamonds split 3-2, ruff out the diamonds, ruff the last spade, and pitch all your clubs, making an overtrick.  If diamonds split 4-1, you will not be able to get enough club pitches after ruffing out diamonds, so take 2 club finesses and if that suit comes in, you make an overtrick.  If not, you make 6.  If the diamond finesse loses and a club comes back, you have to guess whether to play for 3-2 diamonds (play the ace and go for 3 club pitches on good diamonds) or take the club finesse.  If you guess wrong, you go down. 

(2) draw one round of trumps ending in your hand.  If trumps are 2-1, leave the last trump out and lead a diamond.  Play the ace unless LHO shows out and ruffs.  Draw the last trump, again winning in your hand, and play a diamond towards dummy.  If LHO wins, you can set up the diamonds for 3 club pitches, making six.  If LHO follows and RHO wins, and plays a club, you don't have to finesse, as diamonds are breaking 3-2.  Go up with the ace, set up the diamonds and take 3 club pitches, again making six (unless RHO had a stiff king of diamonds, in which case you make seven).  If LHO shows out on the second diamond, and RHO wins and returns a club, take the club finesse.  If it wins, you make six.  If not, then nothing you do could have succeeded.   

We made six and got a top board.  I later found out that other pairs had more interference.  At some tables, my RHO opened 2 Spades.  I have a tool to handle this.  A bid of 4 of a minor after a weak 2 in a major shows a big 2-suiter with that minor and the other major, so I could have bid 4 Diamonds.  (Some people refer to this as Leaping Michaels.)  LHO, holding 5 spades, would almost certainly have competed with 4 Spades.  Partner looks to be good enough to bid 5 Hearts over this, after which I would have had to guess whether or not to go on to six.  In any event, nobody else got there, so it would have been best to play as safely as possible to make it.   

Good luck!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Six-five, Come Alive! (2)

This is the second in what is likely to be several articles about one of my favorite themes.

At Wednesday's team game, I was dealt, vulnerable vs not, in second seat:

♠ ATxx
♦  Kxx
♣ KQx

RHO opened 2 Diamonds, weak.  This is a good hand, but not good enough to compete, so I passed.  Now the auction took a strange turn.  LHO bid 2 Spades, forcing.  Jenn, my partner, bid 2NT and RHO doubled! Are we playing with a 60-point deck, or is something unusual going on?

To put this in context, Jenn and I have an agreement known as the Sandwich NT.  When you are in fourth seat, LHO and RHO both bid and partner passes, you are in what is known as the "sandwich" position.  (Imagine both opponents being two slices of bread with you in the middle.)  Our agreement went as far as this:  when both opponents bid at the 1-level and you are in the sandwich position, a bid of 1NT is a takeout for the other 2 suits.  Since a double is also a takeout, the 1NT bid is either weaker or more distributional. 

We had not discussed whether this applies at the 2-level, or after one of the opponents had made a weak 2 bid.  So I wasn't sure what was going on, but suspected that Jenn had a distributional 2-suiter.  Anyway, since 2NT was doubled, I didn't feel the need to bid.  With my good hand, I was happy to suggest a good hand by passing.  Now LHO removed the double by bidding 3 Diamonds.  Jenn doubled, and RHO passed.  Now what?

I was now certain that Jenn's 2NT wasn't natural, given that I had Kxx of diamonds, LHO supported them and Jenn doubled 3 Diamonds.  So it must have been a takeout with hearts and clubs.  But since I had spades and diamonds stopped and a good hand, I tried 3NT.  Jenn removed this to 4 Clubs.  Now I was sure that she was very distributional, probably with at least 5 hearts and 6 clubs, and light in high cards.  Since I had QTx of hearts, I decided that since we were at the 4-level, I might as well try for a vulnerable game, so I bid 4 Hearts and everyone passed.

Now a strange thing happened.  This was such an unusual auction that RHO, thinking it was his lead, led the Queen of Diamonds out of turn!  With Kxx, I didn't like this lead, but I would be happy to have LHO lead diamonds, so, since this was one of my options, I asked for it.  LHO duly led the ace, and I looked at: 

♠  x
♦  x
♣ JTxxxx

♠ ATxx
♦  Kxx
♣ KQx

Readers of this blog know by now that Jenn is no shrinking violet when it comes to bidding!  She clearly took a risk coming into a forcing auction, but usually good things happen when you are 6-5, so in she came!  However, she never intended to play in 3NT with this distributional hand, so she wisely retreated.

After the ace of diamonds lead, 4 Hearts made with an overtrick (hearts were 3-2).

At the other table, RHO, with QJTxx of diamonds, passed, my hand opened 1 Club, and somehow our opponents wandered into 6 Clubs (Jenn's counterpart really came alive with 6-5 when his partner opened the bidding in his 6-card suit!) so we picked up 13 IMPs.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Leads of Kings and Queens in No-Trump ***+

What should you lead from KQTx in no-trump?  What about KQT9?  KQTxx?  KQT9x? KQTxxx?  If partner leads a king, do you show count or attitude?  What if she leads a queen?  These are things to discuss with your partners. 

Most expert partnerships have the agreement that if one partner leads a queen, the other must drop the jack if he has it, since declarer will most always duck holding AJx(x) and the opening leader needs to know whether or not to continue the suit.  So if the leader doesn't see the jack, he will know not to continue.  They also have the agreement that when partner leads a king, you show attitude.  If partner leads the queen and you don't have the jack, you give attitude. 

Therefore, they lead the queen whenever they think it is safe for partner to drop the jack, but the king whenever they are unsure whether it is safe.  The queen is led when holding KQT9 or KQT9x or  KQTxxx.  With KQTxx, it is less clear, but most experts lead the queen from this holding as well.   With KQTx, however, most experts lead the king since it is more likely that declarer will hold A9xx.  In this case, they will continue the suit if partner encourages.

Follow-up plays once you drop a jack are less often discussed.  But agreements are useful here as well.  Suppose that partner leads the queen, dummy has a singleton 4, and you hold J973.  You duly play the jack, and declarer plays the 6.  Now partner continues with the king.  Which card do you play? 

If your partner would lead the queen from KQTxx, you should give present count on the second round.  If you are playing standard count signals, you should play the three, showing an odd number.  If you play upside down count signals, play the 9.  Partner will have to work out whether you started with 2 or 4.   A good declarer will try to disrupt these signals by falsecarding, but you have to do the best you can.  You should be confident that you won't give declarer a trick by signalling with the 9, since he had to have started with Axx.

It gets more dicey when partner leads the queen and you hold J9x.  Now, playing the 9 may give up a trick if declarer started with, say, A865 and his 6 was a falsecard.  Here there is no sure answer; if you don't play the 9, partner, with KQT8x, may fear that declarer has A965 and not continue this suit losing a valuable tempo.   But if you do, partner may hold KQT52 and declarer A86x.

Good luck!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jennbridge: Tres Elegant!

I had an average looking hand take an interesting turn a few weeks ago at matchpoints:

♠  K53
♥  K95
♣ A109

Against relatively inexperienced players I opened a 14-16 notrump and partner bid 2, a transfer to spades. RHO doubled the transfer and, as I had 3 spades, I accepted it by bidding 2. Pard invited with 3 and I passed. LHO led the K and the dummy was:

♠  AJ872
♥  63
♦  742
♣  KJ3

♠  K53
♥  K95
♦  A1098
♣ A109

At least my K was placed well. I would need to guess well in spades and clubs, however. I ducked the diamond and when LHO continued with the queen, RHO ruffed! He then cashed the heart ace and continued with the heart queen to my king, LHO following. In an effort to obtain information, I ruffed my last heart, LHO showing out. Now I led a spade to my king and a spade toward the dummy, LHO showing out again. OK--now I should have a count on the hand. RHO started with 4S, 6H, 1D and therefore 2 clubs.

How to play the clubs?  As LHO had casually pitched 2 clubs for her discards, I decided to play RHO for the queen doubleton.  Accordingly, I played the king of clubs and led a club toward my hand.  Hmmm . . . no queen. . . now what? I won the ace and here were the remaining cards:

♠  J8
♥  ---
♦  7
♣ J

♠  5
♥  ---
♦  A10
♣ 10

I studied these cards for a while, unwilling to concede defeat. I had already lost 3 tricks and had a sure trump loser. And then a vision of loveliness came into view . . . yes! I would exit with a spade and RHO's forced heart return would squeeze LHO! RHO duly won his spade queen and when he returned a heart I pitched my club and ruffed on the board. LHO had to discard from the club queen and the Jx of diamonds. Her diamond pitch enabled me to score my ace and 10 of diamonds, making my contract. Plus 140 was a tie for top.

What a fascinating play. The squeeze couldn't be executed with my cards alone. I had to have the extra pressure brought to bear by one of the opponents.  Giving up the trump trick I had to lose anyway actually rectified the count for the squeeze.

"Tres Elegant!" said my partner, Bob K.  "Merci", I smiled.
Update:  A further analysis of this hand reveals that the club finesse is unnecessary in any case.  Once a count of the hand reveals that RHO started with only two clubs, the ace and king can be played without regard for the queen as the squeeze always operates if the queen does not appear.  For a further description of this squeeze check out the upcoming letter in The Bridge World!

See you at the table!