The Real Deal


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This real deal comes from the 2010 Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs in Orlando. The South players held:
♠ A J 9 7 6 3   —   9 8 6   ♣ K 8 6 4

With none vulnerable, what would you open? I like 2♠, which was the choice of my table opponent (a many-time NABC champion). I won’t embarrass him by giving you his name, but I will tease you by telling you he is a columnist for the Bridge Bulletin.

Some of my students ask: “Can you open a weak two-bid with a side void?” Sure — why not? If the void makes the hand too strong for a two-bid (picture this hand with ♠A Q J 9 7 3), then I would open with a one-bid instead.

After 2♠, partner bids 3♠. And you? Discipline says to pass. Partner’s raise could be based on nothing other than three trumps. Nobody sent for you. If you were to break discipline, however, this sure feels like the time. Anyway, you buy the hand in 3♠ (which turns out to be the field contract) and you see:

♠ Q 10 5
A 7 4 3
Q 7 3 2
♣ A 9

♠ A J 9 7 6 3

9 8 6
♣ K 8 6 4

The lead is a high heart, so it looks like you have missed a good game (with a diamond lead, game wouldn’t be as good). You win the A and
throw a low diamond, of course. Should you draw trump? Of course not. You want to ruff clubs in dummy. So, at trick two you play the ♣A and then a club to your king.

On the third club, left-hand opponent follows low. Do you ruff high or low in dummy? You can afford to ruff this one (and the next one) high. No reason to risk an overruff. On dummy’s
10, RHO follows harmlessly with a club. You ruff a heart to hand and play your fourth club. LHO discards a heart and you ruff low (RHO is following) in dummy to leave:

♠ Q
7 4
Q 7 3 2
♣ —

♠ A J 9 7 6

9 8
♣ —

On dummy’s ♠Q, RHO plays low.

And you? Surely you won’t try to drop a singleton king offside (if West held a singleton king, he could have ruffed in on the fourth round of clubs). You run the ♠Q and both opponents follow low. You come off dummy with a heart ruff and lay down the ♠A. LHO shows out (RHO started with ♠K 8 2) so you have to lose a spade and two diamonds for plus 170.

What kind of score would you expect for 170 in the Blue Ribbon semifinals? I’d expect a near-zero. Not because you missed game (the field was in a partial), but because you failed to make all of your overtricks. What’s this?

You should have made 11 tricks. There was no need to lose a spade trick. Let’s look at the full deal:

♠ Q 10 5
A 7 4 3
Q 7 3 2
♣ A 9
♠ 4 ♠ K 8 2
Q J 9 8 6 K 10 5 2
K J 10 4 A 5
♣ Q 5 2 ♣ J 10 7 3
♠ A J 9 7 6 2
9 8 6
♣ K 8 6 4

After the heart lead won in dummy, you should have immediately ruffed a heart in hand at trick two. This counter-intuitive play of ruffing in hand and shortening your own trumps was the way to make 11 tricks.

Next comes the ♣A and another heart ruff in hand. Then the ♣K and a ruff in dummy. Then a third heart ruff in hand. By the time you ruff the final club in dummy, you remain with only ♠A J 9 in hand. You lead dummy’s ♠Q and East can’t afford to cover. The queen wins and you still have the A–J in hand. You have to score both of them. It’s an easy 11 tricks if you get the timing right, but surprisingly the most common score was plus 170 for only a little below average. The players who carefully took 11 tricks for plus 200 got nearly a top board (losing only to the few North–South pairs who reached game).