Voyage of discovery

How strong is the following hand, and what is your strategy for bidding it? You are dealer, not vulnerable against vulnerable opponents.

8
3
AKJT86
AKT92

You have an obvious loser in each major, and perhaps there will be a trick to lose to the DQ. In clubs you expect to lose one trick: the A-K are winners, then you may lose one round, then usually each card after the first three rounds comes good (typically the others are out of the suit by then). This is a “four loser” hand.

In fact, give partner long diamonds and short clubs, and you may be able to make 5D even if partner has few or no points (which was pretty much the actual situation at the table). Despite this, the recommended opening is 1D (not a Benjamin 2C or even stronger opening as some chose), so there is room to show both your suits.

What if the opponents then bid rapidly to game in a major, while your partner passes? You should now bid 5C, offering a choice of minors (and partner will revert to your first suit with equal length in each). With two such long and chunky suits, you want to push the opponents to 5-of-a-major, not let them have an easy run at the 4-level.

Here is another bidding decision:

WEST       EAST
 AKJ754    QT62
 KJ2       AT86
 —         754
 J653      Q7

WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
                1D
1S   Pass  3S#  5D
?

# 3S was pre-emptive, showing four spades but a weak hand

West’s massive spade fit and void in the enemy suit make this an occasion where it is reasonable to bid “5-over-5”, in other words to bid on over the opponents at the 5-level. So you bid 5S, and receive the lead of the D2; how do you play?

There are two unavoidable losers in clubs. You can avoid the fatal heart loser if you can work out who has the HQ, and then finesse that player for it.

On the one hand, South is clearly the one with most of the missing points. On the other hand, South has lots of diamonds, so is likely to be short in the other suits, increasing the chances that North has any particular card in those other suits.

The solution is to make a “discovery play”, putting off the decision about how to play the hearts until you can find out more about the hand. The play may proceed somewhat as follows. After ruffing the diamond lead, cross to dummy’s S10, and lead another diamond, ruffing again. Cross back to dummy with a spade to the queen (on which South discards a diamond), and lead (and ruff) East’s last diamond.

You now play a club to dummy’s queen, losing to the CK. South cannot lead hearts as that would solve your problem, and a diamond lead would afford you a ruff and discard, so South will probably continue clubs, cashing the CA then leading another club. North discards a heart on this third round of clubs.

What information have you gathered? North had only two clubs so South had five. South also showed up with one spade and, for the 5D bid, must have at least six diamonds. Therefore South has at most one heart. So now declarer cashes the HK (in case South’s singleton heart is the queen), then takes the marked finesse against North’s HQ.

South’s hand was the one we looked at earlier, although the bidding was slightly different. Here is the complete hand:

Dealer South, NS vul.

          NORTH
          
 93
          
 Q9754
          
 Q932
          
 84
WEST                EAST
 AKJ754             QT62
 KJ2                AT86
 —                  754
 J653               Q7
          SOUTH
          
 8
          
 3
          
 AKJT86
          
 AKT92

Note that South could make 5D. West leads spades and South ruffs the second round then cashes one top trump, revealing the 3-0 trump break. If three rounds of trumps are drawn now, declarer will be able to ruff clubs only once in dummy, yet on the common 4-2 break it will be necessary to ruff twice.

Therefore before drawing more trumps, declarer cashes the A-K of clubs and ruffs a club with the D9; crosses back to hand with a trump; and ruffs the other club with the DQ. The last club is now established as a winner, so after the remaining trump is drawn, 11 tricks will be made.

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