Playing the last round of a sectional swiss, things have not been going our way. We are playing probably the 2nd best team in the field. A big win for either side will let them be second overall. The winners have already been decided.

With no one vulnerable, RHO deals and opens a strong NT and I hold

 S:107652 H:A109 D:73 C:KJ10
I pass, of course, as does responder. Partner bids 2H:, showing hearts and a minor. Opener passes, and so do I. LHO balances with 3D:, partner passes, and RHO thinks for a long time, then passes. I bet she's thinking of bidding 3NT, which I very much doubt she can make. That won't be bad for us, so I bid the normal 3H:, which gets passed around to opener who does bid 3NT. I have a problem.

What does RHO have? Probably D:AKx, the H:K, and the S:A. She figures her partner has five diamonds and a card, and she should have some sort of play for this. I think she's mistaken; the H:A is not where she thinks and I don't plan to give her a heart trick. My clubs are so good that there's a good chance we will take the first four or five tricks. Maybe even six including the H:A. Perhaps I ought to double to collect a nice penalty. What will happen if I double? I'm sure she'll run to 4D:. Am I willing to double that? Definitely not. It wouldn't surprise me if it made, and we are not beating it a lot. Will we beat 3NT more than we will beat 4D:? Almost certainly. I'll choose a penalty pass and hope to beat 3NT a bunch.

All pass and I lead the C:J as planned. Dummy is a little better than I had hoped, but at least it does not have a sixth diamond:

S: KJ9
H: J2
D: Q10654
C: 753
S: 107652
H: A109
D: 73
C: KJ10

Me Dummy Partner Declarer
Pass Pass 2H: Pass
Pass 3D: Pass 3NT
All Pass

Partner wins the first trick with the C:A and continues with the C:2. That's his original fourth-best, so we have only four club tricks at most. Declarer tries the C:Q from hand at trick 2. I win and cash another club. Partner plays the C:9, which I assume means he wants me to know that he doesn't have the H:A. I knew that already.

What are declarer's high cards? Probably the D:AKJ, the H:K, and the C:Q. That's 13 HCP, so she can have either the S:A or the S:Q, but not both. Despite partner's high club, I think declarer has the S:A. 3NT was a bit of a flyer, but it seems much more likely she'd bid it with maximum 1NT opener than with a minimum.

If she has four spades, she is going to have four spade tricks and five diamond tricks if she guesses spades. That's bad. I doubt she'll guess spades, and I am not about to do it for her. At trick four, I exit with the D:7. Declarer wins and cashes four more diamonds. Partner discards the H:8 on the second round of diamonds. We are playing upside-down signals (scary this time—that eight-spot might matter), so he's going out of his way to tell me not to play hearts, not that I was going to.

Declarer has five diamonds. That's good! There's no way she has four spades. Even Marshall Miles would not bid 3NT here with a stiff H:K! That means she is going down, probably two. To prevent partner from making an error lest declarer run the H:J from dummy, my first discard is the H:10. Upside-down or right-side-up, that card must promise the H:9. It will also ensure that partner covers the H:J should it be led. I discard two spades on the last two round of diamonds; partner discards two more hearts and his 13th club. It's time for declarer to guess spades. Seems to me that she ought to cash the S:AK; partner has not discarded a spade and must be 2-6-1-4. At least she ought to cash the S:A and then finesse, as partner will then be endplayed. She doesn't do that; she takes a first-round spade finesse instead. It loses and partner exits with a spade. I'd cash out now, but she tries a heart to her king. I win, and we take the rest, partner's hand being good. Perhaps she thought partner was 3-5-1-4? Then she would see my last spade on the second round of the suit; there'd be no point to taking a hopeless finesse. In any case, she got the ending wrong and went down three, so we score +150. Our teammates were allowed to play in 3D: and were allowed to make it, so we win six IMPs on the board.

Unfortunately, while we won the match by a lot, it was not enough even for second. Someone blitzed and managed to catch us by one victory point. Rats. If I had doubled 3NT and then doubled 4D:, we would have luckily collected +300 and one more victory point. The only reason we can get them two tricks is that their two hands are mirrored. If one of their low spades is switched with a low club, we would be lucky to beat them one.

Copyright © 2002 Jeff Goldsmith