Half the Field

Playing in the finals of the NAOP (why was this changed from "Grand National Pairs?" "Grand National" sounds so ... grand, while NAOP sounds like nothing.) I pick up a moose.
 S:AKJ104 H:KQJ8 D:A C:K83
I'm dealer and open 2C:, strong, forcing, and artificial. Partner waits with 2D: and I bid my spades. Partner raises. Hearts might be better than spades (maybe I ought not have opened 2C:?), but we can no longer find a 4-4 heart fit. I should be able to find out what I need about this hand from key card (other then 4-4 hearts), so I trot out 4NT. Partner shows two key cards without the queen. I can't be 100% sure about the third round of clubs, but most likely I'll have pretty good play for slam, so I bid 6S:. I can't try 6NT unless partner has the D:K, because if there is a spade loser, we're down immediately. If partner has the D:K, he'll probably bid 6NT anyway unless he has a stiff somewhere. And probably even then — AAK vs. a 2C: opening isn't playing the hand below 6NT at matchpoints.

The opening lead is the C:4, and dummy is a bit of a surprise.

S: Q9
H: A76
D: QJ1054
C: A96
S: AKJ104
D: A
C: K83
I have no idea why partner raised spades on a doubleton and even less idea why he denied the S:Q. If he'd shown it, we'd be in the normal 6NT. Or maybe 7NT. Once I bid 5NT, he might not stop short of a grand. (I'd like to bid 6C: over 5S: asking for third-round club control, but this partnership doesn't play that. Then again, I'm not sure what we are playing on this hand!) On the other hand, 6S: might not be so bad. If the D:K is on the right, I'll make an overtrick and beat the pairs in 6NT. Of course, if spades are 5-1 or 6-0, that's not so good for me.

My plan is to draw trumps and take the diamond ruffing finesse, but if spades are 3-3, I can ruff a diamond early and cater to a doubleton D:K offside. If spades are 4-2, however, I can't afford that; I'll only have one trump left after drawing trumps. I don't have to commit quite yet, though. I duck the opening lead and the C:10 appears on my right. Hmmm...I suspect that the opening lead is a singleton. LHO didn't think about his lead much, so RHO is almost certain to have C:QJ10. (He might not have the queen, but folks don't tend to fire out leads against slams from random queens. When they do, the lead tends to be slow.) If that is a stiff, then to play for 3-3 spades and 2-5 diamonds is to play RHO to have three spades, five diamonds, and six clubs. That doesn't leave room for many hearts. I'm definitely drawing one round of trumps. Maybe LHO led from four small clubs and RHO is 3154. I lead a trump to the 9. RHO contributes the S:7. That could be a false card or it could be count, but I'm inclined to believe that trumps are not 3-3, so I'm not going to ruff an early diamond. That means I might as well draw trumps; they might be 5-1 and I'll have to change plans.

On the second round of trumps, RHO shows out, pitching the C:2. So much for the hopes of being in a decent contract. 6NT is going to outscore 6S: no matter what now. Is there any hope of an overtrick? I have 12 top tricks (5S:, 4H:, 1D:, 2C:). If RHO really has six clubs, then if he has the D:K I can squeeze him in the minors. Given the blocked suits, it'll have to be a criss-cross squeeze, but I'll have a count in the majors, so I should be able to guess the ending. Probably it won't happen, but I don't see anything better to play for, so I draw trumps and run hearts coming down to

C: A
D: A
C: 83
RHO has shown up with four hearts and pitched three clubs and a diamond. It looks like he was originally 1426 exactly. That means he has stiffed the D:K if he had it. It's 5-2 against, but I shrug and cash the D:A. The king comes tumbling down. Making 13 tricks might not be a complete disaster after all.

It was not to be. The whole field was in 6NT or higher. A few were in 7NT, mostly making. Exactly half the field found the criss-cross squeeze to make 13 tricks, so we only beat those in 6NT making only six and the one poor soul who was in 7NT down one. This was a lot of work for a 20% board.

I wondered why so many found the squeeze. After all, some might lead a diamond from five small against 6NT from my side, but it turns out that a lot of Easts bid clubs, so whichever side played 6NT got a club lead. After that, the hand more or less plays itself. There is no issue of ruffing diamonds in 6NT.

Copyright © 2008 Jeff Goldsmith