Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Heavy Duty Bridge, by David Rock and Jim Kaplan

David Rock sends me the following heavy-duty column for bridge technicians (you’ve been warned!): “I know you’re always looking for interesting hands, and I had this one come up at a Swiss teams in Johnston, RI. Sonja Smith and I were sitting North-South with both sides vulnerable, when I picked up this hand:

S A 10 9
H A Q x
D A K Q x
C K 10 x

The bidding proceeded as follows:

South West North East
2C Pass 2D Pass
2NT Pass 3C DBL
3NT Pass 4NT Pass
6NT All Pass

Opening lead: club 8

Rock explains: “I opened 2C, West passed and Sonja responded 2D (positive, non-bust, game-forcing). I rebid 2NT, she bid 3C (Stayman), at which point my right-hand opponent doubled. I wanted to deny a major and show the club stopper, so I bid 3NT instead of 3D. She then bid 4NT, quantitative. I figured her for about 8-9 high-card points, and thought, well, assume she has nothing in clubs — the doubler must have all that — and can’t have more than one point in diamonds, so it must all be in the majors. I have 10 HCP in the majors, so she has all but at most the two jacks or the spade queen that’s missing, with at least one four-card major. So I counted an optimistic seven tricks in the majors, one club, and four diamonds, and went to 6NT, even though I was a minimum.

When West dutifully led the club 8, Smith tabled the dummy:

NORTH (Smith)
S K x
H K J x x
D 10 9 x x
C Q J x

SOUTH (Rock)
S A 10 9
H A Q x
D A K Q x
C K 10 x

“Not what I had pictured. I don’t recommend a lead-directing double against a 2C opener on the strength of A 9 x x x as a general principle; it is too likely to get redoubled if the 2C opener happens to hold K Q J 10 8, and 3C redoubled making four or five vulnerable will not be a good result for the defense. (See below for the other reason it was a bad double.) With 10 HCP’s, Smith’s 4NT rebid may seem like a slight underbid, but with the flat, aceless hand the alternative, jumping to 6NT, would definitely be an overbid. By all rights, I should have passed with a flat minimum. Be that as it may…

“Since I have two club tricks on the opening lead, 12 tricks looks laydown if diamonds are 3-2 (2S, 4H, 4D, 2C), and there would be no story. East thought about it a moment (I played low from dummy), then rose with the ace and returned… a diamond. Hmmm. A small dark cloud loomed over the horizon.

“I rose with the ace, and decided to find out the bad news. On the diamond king, East showed out, and Diamonds were J x x x with West. Unfinessable. I looked over the situation. It seemed the only chance would be to manufacture a squeeze against West, which would only be possible if she held the spade queen-jack. So I cashed the king-queen of clubs, the ace-queen of hearts, then went to dummy and played the king-jack of hearts. On the lead of the heart jack, this was my hoped for position:

North
S K x
H J
D 10 9
C —
West
S Q J x
H —
D J x
C —
South
S A 10 9
H —
D Q x
C —

“On dummy’s last heart, I discarded the small diamond, hoping West would have an impossible discard. She threw….

“A diamond! So I led a diamond to my queen, dropping her jack, went to the spade king, cashed the good diamond, and won the final trick in hand with the spade ace.

“East was fuming — he had pitched all his clubs to save the spade jack! West, in fact, had had to discard from S Q x x D J x, and thought I had the spade jack (certainly possible — she could count my hand, and without it I was a 22 HCP minimum and might well have passed 4NT). West ‘knew’ she was well and thoroughly squeezed and hoped maybe the transportation wasn’t there — but it had to be.

“At the other table, the auction and play up through trick 3 were identical. At trick 4, the declarer cashed the S-K before cashing clubs and hearts. This meant that W, discarding after declarer, could discard whatever declarer discarded, because declarer no longer had a late entry to the good diamond in dummy. When declarer threw his small diamond on dummy’s last heart, W threw his small diamond and scored the S-Q at the end.

“What if West had pitched a spade? My plan was to cross to the diamond king anyway, to put some extra pressure on East to hold a club and unguard a spade honor, then lead to the spade king and hope the spade return to the ace fetched a spade honor from both defenders. It wouldn’t have — East was hanging on to the guarded spade jack for dear life, knowing the diamond position and that West had to keep the diamond jack, and thus her queen was unguarded.

“The lessons: On defense, if partner has to hold a specific card to set a contract, in this case the spade jack, put it in their hand and play accordingly. On offense: Don’t give up. Sometimes they will have the only holding that will allow you to make the contract; and sometimes they won’t, but will think they do, and make a mistake in desperation.

“And finally: If East refuses to win his club ace on the opening lead and when the suit is continued, the hand can’t make — there is no squeeze. South can’t lead a third round, of course, and on the fourth heart East and West can throw a low spade safely. Declarer will most likely lose a spade and a diamond in the end.

“This gets a little complicated, because East must keep two clubs no matter what; otherwise South can throw him in with a club and force a spade lead. After the lead of the last heart, with five cards to play, North will have K x of spades, 10 9 of diamonds, and queen of clubs. East will have three spades to the jack and the A x of clubs. South will have A x x of spades, diamond queen and a club, and West will have Q x x of spades and J x of diamonds. South can lead a diamond to hand, East pitching a spade, but then has to lead a spade to the king, and a spade back, East playing the jack perforce.

“If East is allowed to hold the trick, he takes the last two tricks with clubs, so South wins and then has to concede either a spade and diamond to West or two clubs to East. If South instead pitches the club on the last heart, and keeps the Q x of diamonds, he can’t come to hand with a diamond before starting the spades. If he goes to dummy with the spade king and returns a spade to his ace, East can play low (he didn’t have to pitch another spade on the diamond) and West then must drop his spade queen under the ace to avoid the endplay in diamonds. South can cash the high diamond, but then loses the last two tricks to East (spade jack and club ace) or throws West in with the diamond jack as East must pitch the club ace and hold the spade jack, which isn’t that easy after seeing West drop the spade queen under the ace, and requires East to have counted South’s club discard as the 13th club. If South finesses the second round of spades, West wins and returns a spade to South’s ace, leaving South with a diamond loser.

“So, given that it can’t — or shouldn’t — be made without East taking the club ace sometime on the first two leads of the suit, I would like to coin what is I believe a new term: a ‘Count-Rectifying, Lead-Directing Double,’ meaning a lead directing double for the lead of an ace-empty suit that leads defenders to take a trick they will always get too early and thus helps set up a later squeeze. (Given that East had asked partner to lead the suit, could he possibly hold up his ace?).”

I agree that Rock’s reasoning is brilliant, but I still would have passed 4NT with the minimum 22 HCP for my 2NT rebid. But, then, I would have had to find a different subject for a column.

The hands:

North
S K x
H K J x x
D 10 9 x x
C Q J x
West East
S Q x x x S J x x x
H x x x H x x x
D J x x x D x
C 8 7 C A 9 x x x
South
S A 10 9
H A Q x
D A K Q x
C K 10 x

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