The Real Deal


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I played this deal in an online money game. At IMP scoring, I held:

♠ Q 6   8 4 3    A K 9 5 2  ♣ 10 9 7

With both sides vulnerable, my partner dealt and opened 1♠. If playing Standard, which I would call old-fashioned, this hand might be worth 2. That bid (the old-fashioned way) shows 10-plus points, and this hand is probably worth it due to the good five-card suit and beautifully fitting ♠Q.

Anyway, 2 would be game-forcing the modern way, so I had to respond 1NT semi-forcing, (my preferred way, which happened to be the default bidding system in this particular game). My partner bid 2. Now what?

Partner’s 2 has a wide range: It could be up to 17 or even 18 points (just short of a jumpshift), so passing is too pessimistic. I took what is referred to as a “false preference” back to 2♠. If partner is the expected 5–4 in the majors and has a minimum, 2♠ in the 5–2 fit would be just fine.

But then partner bid again. He next called 2NT. What is this? He has to have extra values – he would have passed 2♠ with a minimum. I had extras myself – I just love that ♠Q. Partner is likely 5=4=2=2, and I pictured something like:

♠ A K J 7 2   A 6 5 2    10 3  ♣ A 2

That would be nine easy tricks. I was a little worried about the club suit, but decided to raise to 3NT. West led a low club.

Dlr:
North
Vul:
Both
North
♠ K J 8 4 3
A 10 9 2
Q 4
♣ A K
South
♠ Q 6
8 4 3
A K 9 5 2
♣ 10 9 7

You have six top tricks and you can work on spades or diamonds. Which one?

If spades are 3–3 or 10–9 doubleton, four spades, one heart, three diamonds plus two clubs add up to 10 tricks. Even if spades don’t come in, you could fall back on 3–3 diamonds for five potential tricks. It is better to play spades first, because if they don’t break, you have the option of setting up the long spade in dummy with an entry to it. Working on diamonds first puts all your eggs in one basket. More on this a little later.

So, you win the club lead and play a spade to the queen and a spade to the king and ace (neither the 10 or 9 appears). East returns a club to knock out dummy’s other high club. You lay down the ♠J, but West discards a heart. Now what?

You have eight tricks (two spades, one heart, three diamonds and two clubs). If you play diamonds now and they split, you are fine. But, if they don’t, you are out of options. It will be too late to go back to spades. On the other hand, if you set up the long spade (without testing diamonds), you might go down immediately. You are giving them two spade tricks and if clubs are 5–3, they have three clubs to cash. Imagine setting up the spades, watching them cash three club tricks and then finding out diamonds were 3–3 the whole time!

The answer is in trick one. I purposely glossed over it at the time. Astute readers were likely wondering why I didn’t tell them which club was led. In fact, it was the ♣2. A good declarer has to notice such things. Assuming your opponents are playing standard leads, the 2 tells you that West has only four cards in clubs. Yes, he could be deceiving you, but in general, defenders lead honestly. They don’t want to fool their partner.

Knowing clubs are 4–4 gives you the answer. You should establish dummy’s long spades. The defense can get only the two spade tricks and will have only two club winners to take. This was the Real Deal:

Dlr:
North
Vul:
Both
North
♠ K J 8 4 3
A 10 9 2
Q 4
♣ A K
West
♠ 7 5
K J 5
10 8 6 3
♣ Q 8 5 2
East
♠ A 10 9 2
Q 7 6
J 7
♣ J 6 4 3
South
♠ Q 6
8 4 3
A K 9 5 2
♣ 10 9 7