Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Pair of 2 Spade Contracts

In matchpoint pairs, the humble partscore deals are as important as the games and slams.  They are often more difficult to play and defend, since both sides have a lot of high cards and, thus, options.  Here are two that I played back-to-back in last week's club game.
1.  I dealt and picked up this hand:

♠ KJ9
♣ QJxxx

Jenn and I play a 14-16 HCP range for our 1NT openings, so I opened 1NT.  Jenn bid 2 Clubs, Stayman.  I rebid 2 Diamonds, and now she bid 2 Hearts.  This, by agreement, is "Garbage Stayman", showing a very weak hand with at least 4 cards in each major.  I am obligated to pass with 3 hearts or correct to 2 Spades if, as here, I am 3-2 in the majors.  Everyone passed.  LHO led a spade, and I looked at:

♠ xxxx
♦  xxx
♣ T

♠ KJ9
♥ xx
♦ AKx
♣ QJ8xx

RHO played the spade ace, and returned a spade.  I put in the jack which held.  Now what?

I thought that I would try to set up the clubs, so I played a club to the ten.  LHO won with the ace, and played a third spade to RHO's queen and my king.  I continued with my plan by playing the queen of clubs, pitching a heart, and losing to the king.  Now RHO returned a diamond.  I won and cashed the jack of clubs, pitching a diamond.  Had both followed, I would have ruffed a club with the 13th spade, then eventually try to win one heart trick for the 8th trick.  However, LHO showed out on this trick, pitching a diamond.  Now what?

I now had to try to win 2 heart tricks.  LHO had 3 spades and 2 clubs.  I had to hope he had either 2 of the missing heart honors or, if he had just one, I would make the right guess and the suit would split 3-3.  I played a heart to the jack which lost to the ace.  Good, now I was up to 7 tricks.  RHO now returned a diamond, which, as it turned out, was his last one.  I won with the king and played another heart to the 9, losing to his ten.  He now played a club for me to ruff with the 13th spade.  I cashed the heart king, perforce, and as the suit split 3-3, I scored a low heart at the end, making 2, for 8 out of 8 matchpoints.

Note that when RHO won the ace of hearts, he was effectively endplayed.  If he had played a fourth round of clubs when in with the heart ace, he would have had to play from his 9x to my 8x. If he played high, I would have ruffed in dummy, played a diamond to my hand and scored the 8.  If he played low, I would have won the 8 right away. RHO's original hand was AQx/ATx/xx/K9xxx.  So he played a diamond, giving me the time to set up a second heart winner.

2.   On the very next board, I dealt and looked at:

♠ xxxx
♣ AKJ9xx.

I opened 1 club.  Jenn bid 1 Heart, I bid 1 Spade, she raised to 2 Spades and I passed.  The opponents, who were not vulnerable, evidently weren't aware of Larry's Iron Law (see earlier article) and allowed us to play it there.  LHO led the heart jack, and I looked at:

♠ KQTx
♣ T

♠ xxxx
♣ AKJ9xx

The jack held trick 1, and another heart went to RHO's queen.  I ruffed.  What now?

Since they tapped my hand early, I couldn't take advantage of my hand's best feature, the long club suit, since if I tried to set them up, I could be tapped again before trumps were drawn.  So I had to try to scramble by getting as many ruffs as possible.  I played the AK of clubs and a third club.  LHO played the queen on the third club and they split 3-3.  I ruffed a heart and played the 9 of clubs.  I was planning to ruff high and try and get another heart ruff in hand.  LHO ruffed this and I overruffed.  I tried to ruff another heart, but LHO overruffed me.  Fortunately, LHO was now down to nothing but the ace of spades and diamonds.  He was therefore endplayed so I got the king of diamonds.  I ended up with 2 clubs, a diamond and five spade tricks to scramble home with the contract for another 8 out of 8 matchpoints. 

This time the defense could have prevailed.  If LHO doesn't ruff the fourth club, he could have exited with ace and another spade, putting me on the board, and now I would have been forced to lead a red suit.   RHO could have won another heart and played a diamond through, or if I played a diamond I'd lose my king to the ace.

This hand illustrates the importance of using defensive count signals.  LHO didn't have a complete count on the clubs, so he didn't know, when I played a fourth round of clubs, if his partner had to follow suit or not.  He was afraid that if he didn't ruff, I would discard from dummy and win the trick.  If his partner gave him honest count in clubs, he would have known that partner could have ruffed the 9 of clubs so that he wouldn't have to. 

Of course, if the opponents are alert, (and following the law heretofore mentioned) they won't let us play at the two level at all--after all, we only have 16 points between us!

Good luck!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Balancing with Balanced Hands

I have observed that many partnerships do not have well-defined agreements covering how to handle balanced hands when LHO opens one of a suit and it goes pass, pass to you.  Have you discussed how to show balanced hands of any strength?  Have you discussed the meaning of the following bids with your favorite partner?

Double, then 1NT
Double, then 2NT

Jenn and I had, fortunately, had a detailed discussion about this recently when I was dealt

♠  KQx
♥  A9xx
♦  AKx
♣  Axx

LHO opened 1 Diamond, which was passed around to me.  We had agreed to cover all of the ranges as follows:

1NT = 10-14 HCP
Double then 1NT = 15-17
Double then 2NT = 18-19
2NT = 20-21.

Since I had 20 HCP, I duly bid 2NT.  Jenn bid 3 Clubs, Stayman.  I rebid 3 Hearts, she bid 3NT and I passed. 

LHO led the king of clubs, and I looked at

♠  T987
♥  KTx 
♦  QTxx
♣  xx

♠  KQx
♥  A9xx
♦  AKx
♣  Axx

How would you play it?

I decided that LHO had to have 4 diamonds, since with only 3 of each minor and a club suit headed by the KQ, he surely would have opened 1 Club.  So, with a marked diamond finesse (if the jack didn't fall on my right) I had 8 tricks: one spade, 2 hearts, 4 diamonds and one club.  The ninth could come from a second spade, if the jack was on my right, or a third heart if the suit split 3-3 or the queen or jack was doubleton.  There was also the possiblity of an endplay against LHO since had to have most of the outstanding honors. 

I held up ace of clubs until the third round, and pitched a spade from dummy.  RHO played the jack on the third round, suggesting that the clubs were 5-3 with length on my right.  I took the AK of diamonds, and finessed the ten which held.  RHO pitched a spade on the ten of diamonds.  Now I had a choice of plays.  I could play the AK of hearts hoping for an honor to drop then, if not, another heart hoping for 3-3.  I could finesse hoping RHO had the jack of spades.  I could play the queen of diamonds, pitching a heart, then play a spade to the queen hoping to endplay LHO. 

If the heart suit is considered in isolation, the best percentage play is three rounds of hearts.  However, I couldn't do this because I couldn't afford to lose a heart to RHO, who held 2 good clubs.  So I decided to cash the diamond and pitch a heart, then play spades.  RHO pitched another spade on the diamond queen.  Now I played a spade to my queen, on which RHO discarded a club, and LHO ducked.  Now I knew that LHO's hand was

♠  AJxx
♥  ??
♦  Jxxx
♣  KQx

He opened the bidding, so I decided he had to have the heart queen and/or jack.  So I played a heart to the king and another heart, planning to duck this into him for a forced spade return. As it happened, RHO covered with the jack, I played the king dropping LHO's queen and my nine of hearts was the ninth trick.  I could also have ducked the heart to LHO and scored the spade king as I originally intended on an endplay. Cute hand!

Good luck!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Six-five, Come Alive! (4)

When it rains, it pours!  I seem to have been dealt a lot of these lately.  Here is yet another 6-5 beauty from a recent pairs game.  Unlike the others, we got this one wrong.  There are some interesting bidding issues involved. 

I picked up, in third seat with neither side vulnerable:

♠  Axxxxx
♥  AKQTx
♦   xx
♣  void

 Jenn,  my partner, dealt and opened 2 Diamonds, a weak-two bid.  RHO doubled.  How would you handle this? 

This problem exposed an area where we did not have a firm agreement.  We do have an agreement that a new suit is forcing after a weak-two, but did not have an agreement whether or not this applied after a takeout double.  Game was possible in any of three suits.  I wanted to get both my suits in.  I could have shown a good hand with a redouble, then bidding later.  However, the opponents had to have a big club fit, so if I redoubled, by the time it came back to me again it could have been at any level.  So I bid 2 Spades even though Jenn might not think it was forcing.  I didn't think this would end the auction, since I expected someone to bid clubs.  LHO duly bid 3 Clubs, which was passed back to me.  Now what?
The obvious choices were 3 Hearts and 4 Hearts.  While I had a really good hand, I knew 2 things:  RHO probably was 4-4 in the majors, so those suits were unlikely to split well for us.  Also, Jenn couldn't act over 3 Clubs.  So I took the low road and bid only 3 Hearts.  Jenn corrected to 3 Spades.  I expected her to be 2-2 in the majors, and I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to get to her hand.  For example, she might have held xx/xx/QJTxxx/KJx.  So I passed. 

LHO led a heart, and I looked at 

♠ Jx
♦ AKTxxx
♣ xxx

♠ Axxxxx
♣ void

 As soon as I saw her hand, I was sorry I didn't bid 4 Hearts, or raise her 3 Spades to 4 Spades, since not only did her AK of diamonds cover both my losers there, but the heart lead resolved any problems in that suit and I had entries to dummy to lead spades through RHO.  We ended up making 5, since RHO's spades were KQT2, so he scored only 2 spade tricks.  (I went to dummy's ace of diamonds and pushed the Jack through him.  He had to cover, I won the ace, and kept leading spades so he didn't score his deuce.)

Our lack of agreement as to the nature of my 2 Spade bid was partly responsible for this poor result.  Jenn didn't expect me to have a really good hand, so she didn't think she could bid 3 Diamonds freely over 3 Clubs to show a good suit.  If she had, I would have bid 4 Hearts and we would have reached 4 Spades.

I welcome any comments on what agreements any of you have to cover situations like this. 

Good luck!