Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A couple of difficult hands from Auburn

In an otherwise decent effort Kim and I had a couple of tricky hands at the CMBA sectional in Auburn, MA.  First, a defensive problem.  Your hand is ♠– JT864 KQ ♣Q87654.  None vulnerable and partner deals and opens 1♠.  You bid a forcing 1NT.  LHO, a player who has never met a hand on which she could not find an overcall, bids 2.  Partner passes and it comes back around to you.  Double is primarily for take-out (but with the expectation after the pass that it might well be converted to penalty).  Bidding 2 and 3♣ both seem somewhat flawed.  So, let's say you do double and partner leaves it in.  Game for us seems unlikely, so 300 would be a top and even 100 might get most of the matchpoints.  In any case, you have to defend assuming that we are in the right contract.

Partner leads the ♠A (Ace from AK) and dummy comes down with an undeserved trick for declarer: ♠T8642 9752 3 ♣AT2.  Dummy follows low and you are at the cross-roads.  Partner won't be expecting your hand, that's for sure.  Maybe something like ♠93 AT84 72 ♣KJ765 or maybe ♠9 AT864 Q2 ♣K8765.  If you had one or two small trumps, you'd like to ruff a spade early so somehow you'd like to persuade partner to play a small one, if any, before your trumps get drawn.  You might do this by playing a low club then a low heart.  On the other hand, with your actual hand, you don't particularly want to waste any trumps on ruffing partner's losers.  Rather, you want partner to get dummy's entry off the table before the high spade could become good.  So, although this might typically suggest you have the king, I think the right card at trick one is the ♣8.

Unfortunately, neither of us defended optimally and on this occasion, declarer's hand was just good enough to take advantage and score 8 tricks for 180.  This wasn't an absolute bottom for us, but it was a low score.  Actually, it turns out that the normal contract was 3♣ by our side making exactly, so even +100 would not have been a good matchpoint score.

Here's a poor result that was entirely my fault, but is interesting theoretically, nonetheless.  I picked up ♠AK7 98 Q542 ♣KT85 in fourth seat at favorable vulnerability. Partner opened 1 and I responded a forcing 1 notrump.  Partner now rebid 2 which, in our system practically guarantees six pieces and tends to show a minimum hand strength-wise.  Obviously, I was going to bid game, but which game?  I felt that it might be advantageous to have the lead come up to my hand, especially on a minor suit lead, and bid 3NT – but I neglected three important factors.

First of all, partner's hand might be short on entries given the auction (or alternatively have a poor heart suit).  Both of these factors argue in favor of playing in a major suit game.  Secondly, the choice of notrump versus a major suit tends to work better with a 5-3 fit rather than a 6-2 fit.  Finally, choosing notrump over any 8-card major suit fit should generally only be considered with a plethora of high-card points, something like in the range 27-30.

So, to my contract of 3NT, a fourth-best deuce of spades was led.  Dummy came down much as expected with
♠J6 AKJ764 K8 ♣J97.  Obviously, I was going to try the J.  If it held, my judgment would be vindicated and I would likely make the same number of tricks as the heart declarers.  Unfortunately, the J was covered by the Q and I won with the Ace.  Now, I was definitely behind the heart declarers.  Any lead from the other defender would have likely given away a trick.  Not only that but I now had to be quite careful.  If the K proved not to be an entry, it would be highly embarrassing to leave several hearts stranded in the dummy.

So, I turned to a couple of guidelines.  One was that if hearts were 3-2 I was destined to score badly.  The heart declarers would always score 20 points better than me.  If hearts were 4-1 offside, I'd be just as badly off, probably even worse.  That didn't bear thinking about.  But what if hearts were 4-1 on-side?  The heart declarers would all likely finesse the J and then try to drop the Q or T.  A first-round finesse was obviously called for, but which finesse?

That's when I turned to my Principle of Least Commitment for guidance.  This is the lazy man's way of avoiding having to learn all 656 suit combinations from the Bridge Encyclopedia.  In this case, least commitment suggests running the 9.  The advantage of running the 9 is that if RHO wins with the Q, you know where the T is (unless RHO is very devious indeed).  If you run the 9 and it loses to the T of course, you know nothing about the Q and if you finesse the J and it loses to the Q, you know nothing of the T. 

If entries to dummy were not a problem (or if hearts were trumps), then the best play is to cash a high heart, cross over and finesse the J.  You'll make 6 tricks 37% of the time and 5 tricks 88% of the time.  But if we assume no outside entry to dummy, then we essentially want to duck a trick to maintain our link.  Again, this suggests running the 9, which is what I did.  It lost to the T.

Another way of looking at it is this: if indeed there is no further entry to dummy, running the 9 first will result in either 2 or 5 tricks in the suit, assuming that the hearts are distributed unfavorably: Q532–T or T532–Q.  Finessing the J first will result in either 3 or 2 tricks.

A spade came back and now I had another decision to make.   So far, my strategy was not panning out.  The heart declarers would finesse the J and see the T come up on their left.  Then they'd bang down the top hearts and hope to drop the Q.  If that happened, I'd lose.  Was there a way to win?  Yes: take another finesse in hearts.  But wait!  If that lost to the Q, I might be in the ignominious position of not taking any heart tricks at all and going down quite a few.

Here's where I goofed.  I got scared.  I didn't "stay with the program."  I couldn't bear the thought of looking so silly so I played off the A and K.  The Q failed to appear.  She was exactly where I needed her for a good board.  What an idiot!  I ended up with -50 while my competition were all +420.  I might still have ended up with 400 which would have been good for slightly over average.


  1. Well, since you scored better in Auburn than did I, feel free to take these comments with a grain of salt. But ...

    On Board 27 (which I did not play), the double as takeout on a hand with two diamonds and the spade void seems just right to me. If partner has four diamonds, I expect partner to convert and that suits me fine. If partner takes out, suggesting fewer than four diamonds, then we probably have a reasonable fit in a rounded suit, and that also suits me fine.

    I like your C8 encouraging signal. To my way of thinking, that shows either the CK or CQ when the ace is in dummy. Sure, if partner does not hold the CK and leads a club your CQ is scooped up, but it might not have been a trick anyway. Meanwhile, if partner does own the CK, your signal tells her that when she is done playing spades, clubs is an effective exit.

    I am not sure what happened on your defense next, but it seems pretty prosaic for partner to cash three rounds of spades and then exit with a club. Seems likely that declarer would win the CA in dummy and take advantage of the sole dummy entry to take the heart finesse opposite declarer's AQ5. Oops, that loses to partner's stiff king. She exits with a club, thanks again to your earlier signal. From that point it is hard for me to see how declarer will not be down, probably multiple tricks, and so something amiss must have occurred at your table. Stuff happens.

    On Board 16, our opponents reached 4H in their 6-2 fit and made easily, noting the fall of the HT on the first round of that suit and then finessing the jack the next time around, ultimately losing the two minor suit aces (look at those great club intermediates, and it turns out the Q is onside) and a trump. On a top of something like 17, -420 was only 3.2 mps. I think pard and I were innocent bystanders.

    The real interest is how should you play 3NT when you suspect the field is in 4H?

    Looks to me like you are in a great contract. If you can pick up hearts by playing that suit the same as the heart declarers, you might get a top for the extra 10 points. Passing the H9 would not occur to me, especially given the transportation problems that later spooked you. I would just hook the HJ at Trick 2. If the HJ wins, I will next try my luck passing intermediate clubs from dummy. This is a possible path to +460.

    As it turns out, the HJ wins, but you see an ominous HT from your RHO. I think I would still try clubs next, working out later whether LHO is under pressure to retain his now Qxx of hearts or the HT is a clever false card from Tx ... but at least I have not put myself in position to possibly take only two heart tricks. I am not so sure I will any longer emerge with an overtrick, but I should make my contract with two spades, three hearts, three clubs and a diamond, while losing the minor suit aces and two length spades.

    Sorry, Robin, but running the H9 does not seem right to me at all in the 3NT hand. And the defense must have lost its way to not set 2DX given the favorable start including your good signal of the C8.

    But then ... this comes from a member of a pair that finished well behind you and Kim, so what does my opinion mean?

  2. FWIW, the auction on the 3NT hand seems inconsistent to me. Whether you would initially value your hand as a game invitation or a game force would dictate your first call as 1NT or 2C -- that is a close matter of judgment. But once you concluded that your hand is invitational only, why aren't you rebidding either 2NT or 3H? The parlay of 1NT, then 3NT seems incongruous.

    My opponent responded 2C. I slightly prefer that response: even if you think it is a slight overbid, by being game forcing it sets a good foundation for subsequent calls in a way that is not likely to be matched by the follow ups to forcing 1NT.

  3. Thanks for your comments, as usual, Jeff. Let's address your first comment first. On board 27, I'm glad you liked the double. The C8 was not played, and three spades were not cashed. As you say, stuff happens. Else, as you say, it's hard to imagine how things went wrong. On board 16, I think you might have missed the point that heart declarers (from the other side of the table) could not fail to receive a more helpful lead than I. So beating them by 10 points was not likely if I played the suit the "normal" way.
    In your second comment, I'm surprised that you would think that the auction was inconsistent. There's nothing inconsistent about starting with a forcing notrump and then bidding game. To me, a forcing notrump is an eminently sensible way of starting an auction where we want to be in game, but at the same time want to put the brakes on quests for slam. Personally, I would never bid 2C with that hand.