Strong Notrumps

Once upon a time, I was playing a club game with a new player. She knew about how to bid after 1NT openings, but had no idea about any other bidding. I had a 6-4 15-count, and since I hoped to find a 4-4 fit and play in game if sensible, I tried opening 1NT. It worked; we found our fit and played game and made it. We even won the game.

Playing in a regional pair game with a partner who is better than the one mentioned above, I pick up  S:10 H:KQ87 D:J9 C:AKQJ63. Partner opens 1S:, and I get to respond 2C:, game forcing. Partner rebids 2D:, and I have a problem. I could rebid the clubs, but then he'll bid something at the 3-level, and I will both have failed to show my extra values and failed to show my enthusiasm for notrump. I could also bid 2H:, but that tends to suggest lack of direction. My hand has quite the opposite problem—I have lots of direction, just no convenient way to show it all. After some consideration, I decide to treat my hand as a strong notrump and jump to 3NT. It's matchpoints, after all.

Partner raises to 4NT. That's good news. I surely have a maximum, and I want to play clubs, so I jump to 6C:. Partner considers for a moment, then passes. The opening lead is the S:K, and I see

S: A87653
H: A5
D: AK42
C: 5
S: 10
H: KQ87
D: J9
It seems that partner also thinks 6-4 is notrump shape!

It looks as if I have 12 tricks off the top: one spade, three hearts, two diamonds, and six clubs. I could try to set up spades for my 13th trick, or I could just ruff a heart in dummy. I'll need 3-3 spades or 4-2 spades and 3-3 clubs to set up spades, but just a 4-3 break in hearts to score a heart ruff. The 4-3 looks better, and if something goes wrong with the heart ruff, I'm still likely to make, but if I get overruffed in spades, I am almost sure to go down, so I like trying to ruff a heart in dummy. Perhaps just playing for 12 tricks is best, but it seems pretty safe to try the ruff, because LHO didn't lead a heart singleton or from the J109. I can't test trumps before playing hearts, so I might as well start immediately. I win the S:A, cash the H:A, and cross to the H:K. Surprise! LHO ruffs this. So much for the inference about not having a singleton. After a little thought, she plays a diamond.

I'm down to 11 tricks. Maybe I ought to have taken the safe route to 12 tricks, but that's water under the bridge. My best chance now is a double squeeze, and that looks very promising. LHO looks to have spades, and RHO is known to have hearts. I'm short entries to the table, so I'm going to have to play for 4-2 spades. To that end, I ruff a spade to hand. RHO contributes the S:9 and LHO the deuce. That doesn't guarantee LHO's having KQJx, but she might have led her stiff instead of KQx in dummy's long suit. Regardless, there's nothing to do but run the trumps. Another surprise! RHO shows out on the second trump. Trumps were 5-1! No wonder she didn't lead a stiff; she had a natural trump trick. So I only had 11 tricks, not 12. As I'm about to cash the last trump, the position is

S: 8
D: A42
D: 87
H: J10
D: Q10
H: Q8
D: J
C: 3
On the last trump, LHO pitches the S:Q, and dummy throws a diamond. RHO has already pitched two hearts, so she, perforce, pitches a diamond. That brings her down to at most one diamond. Now, when I cash the H:Q, LHO has to pitch a diamond to keep her S:J, so I pitch dummy's spade, and score the last two tricks with dummy's diamonds. The double squeeze worked as expected, because LHO was 4-1-3-5, so RHO could not guard spades.

This was a good board, but not a top. A few made 12 tricks in notrump. One got the lead of the H:J, which dropped the singleton H:9. Declarer just finessed the H:8 for his twelfth trick. We were pretty lucky to see clubs 5-1; otherwise 6NT would have been cold. We still would have got a good result, because not many bid the slam. That's pretty strange. After all, don't two strong notrumps equal a slam?

Copyright © 2011 Jeff Goldsmith