Paul Bethe

Balancing at the 3-level

It is often a difficult problem to bid directly over a 3-level preempt, and it is just as hard to balance, although at least in balancing, some inference should be available from the previous 2 passes.

I heard 3 -P-P and looked down to find:  K8 A AJT82 KJT83.

What to do?

Well, I could pass…  as I am likely to go plus, but at Imps, Vul vs. not, there is just too much risk against not scoring a game bonus.

Double?  If a minor suit card were a spade, I think this would be my first choice, but as is, what to do when partner bids 3S or 4S?  I suppose we could bid 3N or 4m over 3S, and pass 4S hoping partner has at least 5 — although under the general principle that suits break badly after preempts, would we really want to play in a 5-2 spade fit?

4m?  First of all which one?  If partner is 3-1 or 4-1 the way we don’t pick, we could go down in 4m when cold for 5 of the other.

3N?  Hamman’s rule?  RHO’s failure to raise at favorably strongly suggests that partner has some heart length.  A simple Txxx after an honor lead should be enough of a second stopper if we need to knock some card out — imagine pard with QJxx Txxx KQxx x :  8 tricks after knocking out the spade, and a ninth if they persist in hearts, or give me time to lead a club up.

In fact 9xxx might do if west leads an honor from KQhxxx(x) and their partner has a singleton or doubleton Jack or Ten.

4N?  Pick a minor?  As I just suggested, partner may have heart length, and if they also have spade length, they may be 2-2 or worse in the minors.

Sadly, at the table, 4N is all that occurred to me, and partner had AQxxxx Jxxx 97 9.

5D was not a success.  4S turns out to be a very difficult contract, even though spades cooperate 3-2, as the preempter was 2=6=5=0 with one diamond honor.  Of course since spades break, 3N is cold with a successful club finesse, and the other bad breaks not mattering.

Would you pull 3N with these cards?  Partner did not double, so they may be 1-3-3-6 or 7 with a running or one loser minor and a single or double heart stop — and then 4-2 or 5-1 spades will not bode well for 4S.

Would your system get this one right?



West East
AKJ3 T9764
T874 63
K42 97
72 QT65

This hand proved to be a problem for many pairs in the 1st session of the Silodor Open Pairs.  Some Norths opened 1NT, were raised to 3 and lost the first 5 tricks.  2=5=3=3 with 15-17 can be a tough hand to open 1, as what to do when partner responds 1♠, so with 15-16 I might well open 1N.  However, on this hand, with all prime, I would open 1 and plan to rebid 2N if partner responded 1♠.  At some tables, I understand that some Norths stayed with the upgrade, and thus raised 1N to 2N (also what I would have done).  At this point if south has the 3-card limit raise that went through a forcing or semi-forcing 1NT, he should cuebid at the 4-level, or bid game.  Thus with a good Hx like this hand make a rebid of 3H (or 3D transfer, if you play them).  North, aware that S did not bid 1S, knows the opponents have 8+ spades, and can try 4H in the 5-2.

Amusingly at my table East bid a light 1S over 1H, and now we had no problem avoiding 3N to settle in 4H.

Nice technique pard

Dealer: N

Vul: All

West East
A9873 Q62
T83 A765
T8 432
972 KQ5

On the given deal, from the first day of the Silodor Open Chairs in Reno, the field was in 3N by N.   Deep Finesse tells us that NS can make only 8 tricks.  However, that assumes the perfect lead of the Q.  The more normal lead of a fourth best heart happened at many tables, including mine.  My partner took the Ten with his King, and continued the 9, which was ducked.

I won’t tell names, but at least one World champion declarer now tried to play on clubs, and now went down when the Q of spades switch was found.

My partner observed the diamond 7 in dummy, and noticed that doubleton T8 in either hand would preclude having to play on clubs.  So he cashed the diamond Queen, and continued with the 9 to dummy’s Ace.  Technique was rewarded when West delivered.

The heart Ace was driven out, pitching a spade.  Now when the opponents switched to spades, we were scoring up 10 tricks, using the diamond 7 as an entry to dummy’s good heart.

Note that West might have tried to guile declarer by dropping the Ten of diamonds, offering the losing option of a restricted choice finesse of the 7 of diamonds.  However, on this hand, declarer should reject this.  If East has 8432 of diamonds, he can fly 8 on the second round to quash the entry, and thus declarer should stick to the legitimate plan of T8.

We could have made it harder.

Dealer: N

Vul: None

West East
T52 83
A76 J953
8 QJT952
AQJ843 9
West North East South
1 Pass 1
Pass 2 Pass 4
All Pass

In a recent IMP match, my partner and I scored an early ruff, but then made no more resistance.  Against 4S, I found the lead of the Ace of clubs, Queen of clubs, King, ruff.

Unfortunately, partner obliged my suit preference and returned a low heart.

When I won, declarer could simply run all the trumps and squeeze partner in the reds.

In fact, declarer can always make, but we should at least make it harder, by returning diamonds (partner trusted my suit-preference too much).  Declarer wins the Ace, ruffs a club, and leads a heart up.  If I duck, he ruffs the last club (important), and continues hearts.  Now when I win, he is able to run trumps ending in dummy to affect the same squeeze.

Notice the critical 2 club ruffs to shorten his hand.  He is still OK if he plays a trump to hand to lead the first heart up, as long as he ruffs clubs the next two times.

But, if he ever makes the innocent mistake of leading a diamond to hand…

Playing safe in Vancouver ’99



West East
xxxxx xx
T8xx K9xx
xxx xx
K T9654

The Winter Olympics in Vancouver reminded me of this hand, played at the ’99 Spring NABC in Vancouver.  In a team game, both declarers reached 6N uncontested and received spade leads.

Both declarers won in dummy, took a club finesse and went down when East later carefully covered a heart finesse to avoid a squeeze.

Drop the club King when it is stiff?  Yes.  Declarer should realize that with 7 pointed-suit tricks, 5 are needed from hearts and clubs.  The heart suit always provides 2, and the clubs may provide 3.  But how to play the club suit depends on whether a loser can be afforded.  So, declarer should win and take a heart finesse.  If that loses, then declarer must take 3 club tricks without a loser, so a double finesse is the best option.

However, if the heart finesse succeeds, declarer can add one more chance for three tricks to the mix, by cashing the club Ace and then leading towards the club QJ.   This safety play makes on all the same hands as finessing the QJ of clubs, plus the stiff King of clubs.  The bridge gods would have rewarded technique on this one.  In fact, at trick 2, East might not cover the King of hearts.  After the club Ace bears fruit, declarer can unblock the Ace of hearts, and run winners to squeeze East for 13 tricks.

Who has the last trump?

Dealer: N

Vul: None

Lead: J♥

West East
?xxx(?) ?xxx(?)
KJTxx xx
(?)xx (?)Jx
J T987
West Dad East Me
1 P 2
P 3 P 3
P 4 P 5
P 6 All P

My father and I each pushed a bit, the result being a thin slam.

It seemed to me that if both minors broke 3-2, then the slam was cold on two spade ruffs, and there was no need to take either major suit finesse.

So, I won the Ace of hearts, played Ace and ruff a spade, crossed to the Ace of clubs (noting the Jack), and ruffed my last spade.  The Ace of diamonds was unblocked, and a heart ruffed back to hand.  Finally the King of diamonds, opponents following and a heart discarded from dummy (NOT a club).

At this point I played a club towards dummy, planning to claim with one trump loser if they broke.  However, LHO thought for a bit, then discarded a heart.  When I lead a heart from dummy, RHO had to think (yes RHO showed out, so the heart finesse would have worked), then they discarded a spade (as a club discard would have been fatal).  At this point, I was cold, even though I didn’t know who had the last trump.  So I lead a club towards dummy.  West could not ruff, or my club loser would go away, AND could not discard a heart, otherwise dummy’s Queen would provide a winner for a club discard.

So after their Spade discard, LHO was known to hold the heart King and either the high trump, or a spade.  RHO was known to hold a good club, and either the master trump or a spade.  When I lead a heart from dummy, I was either scoring my last trump en-passant, or via the compression squeeze affected on LHO the previous trick.  Either way, +920 was worth a lot of matchpoints.

Bidding freak hands.

The following three hands came up in the Edgar Kaplan regional:

  1. AKQJT86 AQ52 6 T : What is your plan, and if you open 1 and get a 1NT response what now?
  2. AKJ9xxxxxx K AK – : Does your system handle this big monster?
  3. K87x Kx QJ97xxx : You respond 1N to partner’s 1, and hear 3N.

Bidding distributional hands can be daunting as evidenced by the results from these three boards.

In case 1, why not jump-shift to 3H planning to follow 3 or 3N with 4, which describes this hand fairly well?  If you are lucky enough to catch a cuebid (in support of hearts) or a raise to 4 you can Blackwood.  At all 12 tables of the BAM, no slams were reached.

Partner’s hand: x Kxxx J8xx AJxx, 6 or cold on 3-2 hearts (which they were).

In case 2, what do you play 2-2-3 as?  I play it says ‘Spades are trump, cuebid Aces, or bid 3N if you have no Aces, but some Kings.’  (raise to 4 with nuthin’)  If you do so, and partner cuebids 4, you now can safely bid Blackwood and find out whether they also have the Ace of hearts as well, to decide between 7 and 7NT.  (ignoring the small chance that all three spades are in a single opponents hand).  If they don’t cuebid 4, you probably settle in 6 Spades.   It turned out partner held x AKJx xx AT9xxx, yet in the flight A-pairs, only 13 of 26 tables found 7NT, 4 found 7, and the remaining 9 bid only a small-slam!

Hand 3:  some people play that 1M-1N-3N is a running suit with tricks, and that 2N would have been forcing.  But in this case, since it is not, you have to assume that partner has either a balanced strong hand (which must include some Aces, since I have the red Kings, or a tricks hand in spades.  If the former, we may be cold for 6.  If the latter, 4N is probably still safe as I have some undisclosed strength.  As such, 4 is the proper continuation.  Opposite that call, this partner with AQxxx Ax Axx ATx should raise to 5.  Why five and not a cuebid.  Partner may just have a club bust better suited to 5, so we allow for that and thus don’t bid 6.   Normally a failure to cuebid would deny having one, but here, the 3N bidder must have some, and thus by inference, have ALL of them.  Making that inference, the 4 bidder can raise themselves to slam.  Of 26 tables in play, only 2 reached this slam.

Textbook hands that come up.

Dealer: E

Vul: NS

West East
KT742 Q8
A Q6
Q84 J652
K976 QT853
East South West North
P 4 P (?) P

My teammate demonstrated solid declarer play on this hand.  At my table we competed to 5 Clubs, but North went for the vulnerable game bonus, competing to 5H.  Declarer guessed hearts correctly, but did not discard properly and made only +650.

Against my teammate, the club lead was won with the Ace and next came the correct guess play of a heart to the Jack.  West won and returned a spade.  Declarer won, ruffed a spade (important, to isolate the spade threat) and ran trump.  For the 4-card ending, West holding KQ84 K could either pitch the King of clubs, or pitch a diamond.  (a spade would be fatal).  After thought, a diamond was discarded.

Declarer kept 1 spade, 1 club, and Ax of diamonds in dummy and cashed the last trump.  At the table, West pitched a club, and when dummy let go of the spade, East was squeezed between diamonds and clubs.  If instead West had parted with another diamond, dummy still parts with a spade, and a diamond to dummy’s Ace fells West’s jack, and the finesse is taken through East.

The literature calls this a ‘pentagonal guard-squeeze’, as West is triple squeezed. Letting go of clubs creates a standard positional double squeeze, spades on West, clubs on East and diamonds in the middle; but letting go of two diamonds creates a finesse-able position, thus the ‘guard’.  Definitely fun when this comes up at the table AND you get it right!

Missed defense

Dealer: E

Vul: All

West East
AQ542 K
Q9 JT64
T8 K732
9865 JT73
East South West North
P 1N (15-17!) P 2H*
P 2S P 3N

Defending against my pushy 3NT at the Edgar Kaplan Winter regional, my opponent missed the precise defense to beat me.  A heart would have done the trick, but who can fault the actual opening club lead?   I won and played on spades, and East won and again, a heart would have done it, but he continued clubs (again, who wouldn’t?).

I won, pitching a diamond from dummy, and continued spades.  West won and now had to continue clubs.  I won (pitching a heart) and decided that with West long in both clubs and spades, East probably had the diamond King.  Therefore the contract could be beat, but I would make it hard.  I crossed to dummy in hearts and cleared spades, pitching a club.  West won, cashed a club, but made the fatal play of a diamond return.  I won the Ace, and cashed the spade winners, squeezing East in the red-suits to claim my game.

At that crucial junction, West had to return a heart to break up the squeeze communication.

I mentioned that after two spades had been knocked out, West had to play a third club.  What if instead he plays a diamond?  I win the ace, and play spades pitching a heart.  West wins, and now I can strip squeeze East out of the long club in order to drive the diamond King.  But just as before a heart would also beat the game.  Won in dummy and spades pitching a heart.  Now just as before, another heart will do it by breaking the communication, but this time, only as long as East has discarded a diamond and a club, and not a heart.  Otherwise I would just duck this heart to set up a long one for my 9th trick.

Kudos given

Dealer: S

Vul: All

West East
9 54
Q9 KJ642
QJ642 9
KT874 AJ965

A tip of the hat to the defender from this hand.  East-West found the good save of 5 against 4, and I incorrectly judged to bid on.  Against my partner’s 5, a club was led to the Ace and a diamond to the Ten, Jack, and Ace.

Declarer drew trumps with the Ace and King, ruffed a club, and played Ace and another heart.  Had East played low, his partner would have been endplayed, so he smartly hopped up with the King. A club ruff-slough would have been fatal, so he correctly judged to return a low heart which give up one trick, but that was not enough discards for declarer, and the contract went down.