Breaking Even

Playing in a sectional pairs game, the field isn't all that strong, but they've been great against us, so it's clear that I'm playing for pride, not finish. I pick up:
 S:Q42 H:8762 D:K10863 C:7.
With no one vulnerable, partner deals and opens 2D:, Flannery, showing four spades, five hearts, and 11-15 HCP. RHO takes only her ten seconds, but clearly shows interest in the proceedings. With this partner, I play that jumps to the three-level are "blocking," preemptive in nature, although not necessarily made on very weak hands. This hand seems to fit that definition. Should I do it or just bid 2H:? One of the advantages of Flannery is that it's very hard to know when to balance. After 2D:-2H:, do the opponents have a good fit and no values or near-game values and a misfit? Guess wrong and trouble ensues. As a result, I'm reluctant to jump, just in case 8 tricks is the limit, but I'm dead certain that RHO will balance if I bid only 2H:, so I might as well make her decide at the 4-level. I bid 3H:, and partner alerts and explains. RHO has no trouble passing this, so I get to play there.

After the opening lead of a small club, I find this dummy:

S: AJ53
H: AQ1095
D: Q2
C: 108
S: Q42
H: 8762
D: K10863
C: 7
I guess I'm happy I preempted. They'd surely bid 3C: and probably make it. If they bid 4C:, we'd have to double to get any matchpoints, but which of our hands is going to want to double?

Anyway, now my goal is to make 3H:. The club lead goes to the C:K, and RHO tries to cash the C:A. Perhaps it's right to let this trick hold, but I don't exactly have a lot of entries to my hand, so I ruff and lead a trump. LHO plays the H:K. Partner reaches for the H:A, but I caution him to stop. LHO is not a very imaginative player, and the tempo suggests that the H:K is a true card. If so, I have a trump loser. Is there anything to gain by letting the H:K hold? Perhaps there is. LHO is going to have to lead something that will give me a trick. It's not clear I can use a diamond trick right now, but maybe she won't work it out and will try something else. After a little thought, I play the H:9 from dummy, and LHO starts to think. Good! That means it was a singleton trump. Phew!

She thinks and she thinks. Out comes a low diamond, rats! I would've liked to see a black card. I play low from dummy and win RHO's D:9 with the D:10. I'm still a bit short of entries to hand, so if I were to draw trumps and exit diamonds, I'd be sure to lose at least one spade and maybe two. A 3-3 break or doubleton S:K on the right will be good enough to make the contract. I think I can do better. I continue with a diamond and LHO wins the D:A. She continues with another diamond. Maybe diamonds are 3-3. I pitch a spade on the diamond, hoping RHO will follow suit. No, sadly, she ruffs and exits with a trump. I can claim now, drawing trump and returning to my hand with my H:8 to pitch two more spades on the diamonds. Making 9 tricks.

RHO had three hearts and two diamonds. It seems as if she had five clubs (she'd've bid with six and had nothing to think about with four) so it looks as if spades were 3-3. Rats. It'd've been great if they were 4-2. Just to be sure, I ask how the spades were. Yes, 3-3, but the S:K was offside, so I couldn't do any better than nine tricks. That was a lot of work just to break even. At least spades were not a doubleton King onside. That'd've been frustrating.

Jeff Goldsmith,, November 2, 1997