Playing in a national pairs event, I am fourth to speak with
 S:64 H:A954 D:KJ432 C:A3
Partner opens 1C: and I respond 1D:. He rebids 1S:, and I have a choice to make. With a hand which looks suit-oriented and only a single heart stop, I think I'll take a two-step to 3NT via the fourth suit, which we play as forcing to game. So I bid 2H:. It gets doubled on my left; partner then bids 3C:. My slow route will allow partner to pull 3NT now if his hand is unsuitable, so I bid 3NT. It seems that his hand is unsuitable for 3NT because he bids 4D:.

What now? If 3NT was making four or more, we need to play slam to get a decent score. Is 430 available? LHO didn't overcall 1H:; he might with five decent hearts and an entry. If he has only four hearts, then 3NT will make only three unless we have no side loser. So 5D: might score well even if we make six. In addition, I have a minimum for my previous bidding, so I see no reason not to bid 5D:.

Partner has a surprise in store for me. He finds a call that I was not expecting: 4NT. Ruh, roh. The director is summoned and whips out the rule book. We all know this one, but there are a few complications. He says, "normally, you can correct your bid to 5NT and not bar partner, but in this case, 4NT would have been conventional, so even if you do that, he is still barred. So you can make any call you like, but he must pass." Partner insists that his 4NT would have been natural, since we had just bid 3NT. I'm a bit dubious about that, but I don't need to argue the point. I contribute, "in any case, 5NT surely is conventional, so no matter what you choose, I shall be barred. And remember Law 23—if they are damaged by my enforced pass, the score may be adjusted." Partner doesn't care. He wants to bid notrump, so he bids 5NT and, of course, there we rest.

LHO finds the S:9 lead (odd...I assumed he would lead a heart), and this dummy hits:

S: AKQ10
H: 82
C: QJ975
S: 64
H: A954
D: KJ432
C: A3
5NTAll Pass
At least I now understand why partner wanted to bid 4NT so much. He ought to have bid it instead of 4D:.

5NT isn't much of a contract, but it's not so bad without a heart lead. I don't think there's much to the play. I'll need to pick up clubs, and when I give up a club trick, they'll surely switch to hearts, so I need to unblock diamonds first. If all goes well, I'll take three spades, one heart, five diamonds, and four clubs. They will have taken one trick by then, so that looks like a reasonable line to twelve tricks.

Following that plan, I win the spade and cash two diamonds. LHO shows out on the second one, pitching the H:6. Curious. I don't need the fifth diamond if clubs come home...does the 5-1 diamond break mean anything about how to play clubs? It looks as if LHO has three or four spades and four or five hearts. He has between three and five clubs. Which is it? RHO probably gave count in spades at trick one; if so, the opening leader has four spades. He doesn't have very good hearts, at most H:KJ10xx. He probably would not have overcalled with  S:xxxx H:KJ10xx D:x C:Kxx. He might not have doubled 2H: with only four hearts; for all he knows, I could be 6-5 in diamonds and hearts and we could have an 8-card heart fit. Maybe he has six hearts and chose not to preempt. It's hard to say, but clubs look like they are 3-3. More importantly, if I am wrong by playing for them to be 3-3, I can still make 5NT if things go right, but if I'm wrong having played them to be 4-2 (by finessing the C:9), I think I must surely go down. So I cash the C:A and play a club to the C:Q. Neither the C:K nor the C:10 appears, so I still don't know how they broke. I have ten tricks and probably 11 since I think the S:J is dropping, but without a fifth diamond trick, I am not making six no matter what, so I continue with a third club.

RHO shows out, pitching a heart. Rats. Got that one wrong. LHO shifts to the H:J and RHO overtakes with the H:Q. How friendly! Were hearts 6-1 the whole time? That would give LHO 2614 shape, which is quite consistent with the play so far, but would he really not bid over 1D: with that hand? Wait a sec...RHO pitched a heart on the clubs. So LHO was 3514. RHO is winning the heart, so I can safely duck this trick, since his partner has the good club. I ought to be able to squeeze RHO in diamonds and spades now. LHO glares at his partner. RHO sheepishly returns another heart (What??? Where did he get that?) and I win. Unless these guys are playing a very deep game, I have a claim now; LHO is going to be squeezed in hearts and spades, since he was obviously 4414. It's sort of a double squeeze, since RHO needs to guard diamonds, but since he can't have a fourth spade, that doesn't matter. I cash my two diamonds and LHO starts to think. There has been enough agony on this hand already, so I just claim, showing him my cards, and he gives up. He had led from S:J983 and was squeezed on the last diamond.

The director has been hanging around, because it took almost ten minutes to work out the ruling. The play wasn't exactly lightning-fast, so he tells us we have a late play on the second board.

I tell partner that if (when?) our score is adjusted to 5D: down one, I'm going to smack him. He should have known better than to bid 5NT. If we get a good score there, we are not going to be able to keep it. If he really wanted to play notrump, he ought to have bid six. And so it is...after the next round, the director comes back and informs us that he is adjusting the score to -50 in 5D:. Upon reflection, that seems generous to me. I'd've probably gone down two, but since I made 11 tricks in 5NT, I guess he figured they would not find a good defense. We don't have time to discuss it with him, and -50 is probably a zero anyway, so I don't think anyone really cares. And frankly, I'm not thinking about 5D: much...with what shall I smack partner!

Copyright © 2004 Jeff Goldsmith