Stuart Rachels


Dogs

In a club game, with nobody vulnerable, we pick up these cards:

AJ6 5 A6432 Q754

Our partner Daniel opens 1, and Righty bids a preemptive 3. What now?

It's a close call. I wish we had better spot cards, but since our AJ6 rates to take two tricks, let's try 3NT. I'll take the blame if it doesn't work out.

If you thought our 3NT bid would end the auction, you haven't been playing with Daniel for very long. Daniel bids 4--a variant of Gerber. With two aces, we can show either a better or worse hand for our previous bidding. Naturally, we show the worse hand, with 4. Daniel now jumps to 6NT. This auction makes me nervous, since Daniel didn't have enough to open 2, but he still drove us to slam after we showed a minimal opener. The bidding has gone:

1    3    3NT   P
4     P      4    P
6NT   All Pass


West leads the 9, and down comes dummy:

2
AQJ862
KQ108
A10
 
AJ6
5
A6432
Q754                      Contract: 6NT

This is a bad contract--we're a long way from 12 tricks. It's odd that West didn't lead his partner's s; maybe he has an honor to protect. What should we do at trick 1? Can the finesse possibly work? The 9 looks like a top-of-nothing lead, but it may be deceptive. And we need something to go right, so we try the Q. It holds the trick. That's good news--though with s being led, we can predict that the suit will not divide 3-3.

Plan the play---if not to make the contract, then at least to minimize the damage.




Let's be clear on one thing: there is no issue of "minimizing the damage." With 27 points, we're going to be the only pair in 6NT. Remember, I forced you to bid an aggressive 3NT, and after that our partner could not be reasoned with. So, it's all or nothing; we'll get a top if we make it, a bottom if we don't.

However, our chances of making it after trick 1 are surprisingly good---if we suppose that the finesse legitimately succeeded (East wasn't just holding up), then the contract is almost guaranteed. The key is to see the potential of the suit. There were six cards originally missing, and two have already been played. The four remaining cards should not divide 4-0, since we can place one card in each hand: East should have the 10, since West led the 9; and we're giving West the K. If the remaining cards break 2-2, the suit will set up routinely. And the 3-1 breaks cannot hurt us--the A will either take down West's stiff K (if he led deceptively from K9 doubleton) or East's 10, in which case dummy's 8 will soon be good.

So, at trick 2 we play the A, and the 10 falls on our right. We continue with the J, losing to the K. Now our 8 in dummy will pick up the remaining spot card, so the suit will run. Soon we have 12 tricks: 1 , 5 s, 5 s and 1 . Did our partner make a great bid, or what?

Here is the full hand:

2
AQJ862
KQ108
A10
K5 Q1098743
K973 104
J5 97
KJ982 63
AJ6
5
A6432
Q754

Looking at all four hands, we can see that West made the only lead to give declarer his contract (aside from the comical K lead). I applaud West's decision not to lead s, since declarer might have had the AQ for his 3NT bid. However, I can't say West was unlucky. Against 6NT, you want to lead for safety, and his safest lead was a . Moreover, the 9 is potentially valuable in a K9xx holding--had West led the 2 (or even the 7), the defense would have prevailed.

I'm sorry--did I imply that I actually made this hand? I went down like a goose. Once I saw dummy, I gave up. I failed to see the golden rays shooting off the 8. After trick 1, I ran s and eventually congratulated myself for going down just one. The fact is, I don't pay attention to cards below the 9, unless my partner is signaling with them on defense. I need to work on that.

I could also use more discipline. After 1 3, 3NT was a bad call. With 11 points and poor spots, I could not be sure 3NT would make. But the key to the decision was my singleton ; shortness in partner's suit suggests defense. If I had passed, partner should reopen with a double, given his shortness. 3 doubled is down three for +500 and a top board. A likely defense would be: 5 to partner's J; K; Q; A; A; and now another by partner promotes a trump trick in our hand (if declarer ruffs with the Q, we discard). Had we been at favorable vulnerability--where 3NT is +600 and 3 doubled down three is only +500--a 3NT bid would have been more reasonable.

Are you curious as to why I called this hand "Dogs?" Well, I was going to call it "Spots," but I didn't want to make the correct line of play too easy to find.