A Matter of Trust

by Michael Shuster

I have an unusual agreement with my favorite partner. (He has an excellent web site; perhaps you've seen it.) When there is extreme distribution around the table, I get the very long suits, voids and occasional multi-void hands and he gets dealt his normal 4-3-3-3 or 4-4-3-2 piece of cheese. He calls it the "eye of the storm," but from my perspective, it is just business as usual.

In a recent sectional swiss, I held two hands with eight card suits, each of which presented several interesting bidding decisions.

In second seat, all vulnerable, I pick up  S:H:xx D:Axx C:AQxxxxxx.

RHO passes as dealer and I face my first choice. I could pass and hope to sneak up on the opponents, perhaps gaining useful information in the process. Alternatively, I could open 5C: to put maximum pressure on the bad guys. There are downsides to each of these actions. If partner has a strong hand, a constructive auction will be out of the question and 5C: could be offering our side up for a number against air, especially considering the lack of texture in the club suit—and the two aces—useful both for defense and for slam purposes. All things considered, I think it is best to take the middle of the road position, so I open 1C: to get the ball rolling.

LHO makes a takeout double and partner bids 1S:. RHO bids 2D:, and it's back to me. 3C: seems pretty straightforward and consistant with my plan. Partner's bidding spades and RHO's not doubling him worries me a little, so I'm not as keen on this hand as I was a moment ago.

LHO bids 3H: and partner skips to 5C:, which is passed back to LHO who bids 5D:. Partner doubles and RHO passes. The auction to this point is now

RHO Me LHO Partner
Pass 1C: Dbl 1S:
2D: 3C: 3H: 5C:
Pass Pass 5D: Dbl
Pass ?
I still lack a heart control, and partner just doubled diamonds, my ace-third suit. What could be more obvious than passing?

Let's see. As a matter of partnership style, the double of 5D:, while for penalties, means that partner believes it is our hand. And I trust my partner wouldn't make that call if he thought they were making, so he must have some defense.

Partner doesn't have very many diamonds, probably exactly one if the opponents are to be believed. So what can his defense be? His RHO announced the red suits, and with nothing in diamonds he must have at least one fast trick in hearts, as he would be worried about H:QJxx's being the victim of a crossruff.

Come to think of it, partner's failure to redouble 1C: is also making it look like he is short in diamonds. If he had a sixth spade, I think he would have made another try for 4S: (bidding 4H: over 3H:), so partner's shape is either 5-4-1-3 or 5-3-1-4. With either of these shapes he wouldn't redouble for fear that we could get blown out of our constructive auction by a diamond preempt.

I bid 6C: with a fair bit of confidence. RHO doubles this on the way out, and LHO gives this some consideration before finally passing. The lead is the D:K and I buy  S:KQ108x H:AQ9x D:x C:10xx.

I win the D:A, trump a diamond, and lead a club. RHO plays the Jack and I finesse the Queen. This holds, so I trump my last diamond and lead the S:K. RHO follows small. I'm pretty sure the heart finesse is working, and the show-up squeeze is marked as well (but RHO will never have the stiff king anyway) so I ruff, draw the last trump and take the heart finesse. This wins, too, so I make seven.

My partner and I are each pretty good at knowing the score for various doubled contracts, but this time we each reach to check at the same time and eventually enter 1740 in the plus column.

A couple of matches later, I hold another eight-bagger, this time in spades.

1st Seat, all Vul
 S:AKxxxxxx H:x D:AQxx C:

The choices are 2C:, 1S:, and 4S:. With so little defense I believe 2C: to be an error and 4S:, a preempt when holding the best hand at the table, is beneath contempt. I open 1S:, and hear LHO bid 2H:. Partner raises my eight shooter with 2S:! RHO bids 3H:, and I now have a real problem.

I have two goals on this hand. My first goal is to get to 6S: when partner holds the D:K. The second goal is to play the hand. Since I will have to drive to the 5-level in order to solve the problem of the D:K, the second goal ought to take care of itself.

I bid 4D:. My plan is to bid 5C: over partner's expected 4S: signoff if I get the chance. Now partner will have an opportunity to bid 5D: with the D:K and I'll bid to the appropriate level.

Over 4D:, LHO bids 4H: and partner 4S:, RHO passes, and it's my call again. The auction up to this point is:

Me LHO Partner RHO
1S: 2H: 2S: 3H:
4D: 4H: 4S: Pass
As it turns out, I don't have to follow through with my initial plan. Since 4D created a force through 4S: or a double of the opponents, our partnership agreements about when opponents bid in our forcing competitive auction apply. With good defense, we double, with extra values or a defensive minimum we pass (and then, with a good offensive hand, pull partner's expected double). So partner's 4S: bid shows an offensive minimum. That has to be the diamond king, so I bid 6S:. LHO doubles this and everyone passes. The opening lead is the club ace and I buy  S:Qxxx H:Jx D:Kxx C:10xxx.

I claim 12 tricks, and this time we know the score (1660).

In each of these cases, I was able to bid slam because I trusted my partner's auction. I also confess that both times I had second thoughts when I was doubled...until dummy hit with exactly what I was expecting.

Copyright © 2003 Michael Shuster