Some problems from the Grand National Teams: Answers

Today's panelists: David Weiss, Barry Rigal, Mike Shuster, Kent Hartman, David Caprera, Ed Davis
  1. favorable, you hold

     S:KJ10x H:A D:Kxxx C:xxxx

    1D: 1H: 2H: 3H:
    PassPassDbl Pass

    Yes, you've taken one or two questionable actions so far, but what now?

    I would not have opened, but it's close and I don't consider it horrible to do so. In my preferred methods, 2H: is an inverted minor with a heart card (2D: denies a heart card). That differentiation would be helpful here (as it often is, which is why I play that way) because a heart card is a negative feature opposite my hand. I will presume you do not play my way, and can only trust the vulnerable opponents to have the other heart honors based on their bidding.

    I would not consider passing, so I need to decide whether my hand is good offensively. Suppose partner has  S:Qxx H:xxx D:AQxxx C:Ax. That's not asking a lot; it leaves the opponents enough to justify their bidding, and yields a fine game. So I cannot afford to sign off in 4D:. Having limited my hand with my pass last round, I will bid 3S: to convey my optimism and inform partern where cards are most valuable.

    3S:. This does not feel right for defense. 3NT with stiff honor is extreme though it might be right? I expect to be facing balanced 11-13 with 4 diamonds and 4S: could be our best spot I suppose? With three club losers and  S:AQ H:xxx D:AQxxx C:xxx opposite? (Joke)
    Pass. This is difficult. [You want easy problems? --Jeff] Previous auction not particularly questionable IMO. This hand seems to fit better for the opponents than it does for us. RHO might well have a fifth heart to only bid 3 at the prevailing vulnerability, but more likely is just making a normal raise. Partner is just showing that his hand was a game force lacking four spades or the ability to fit jump. So partner is (1-3)-(2-4)-(3.75-5)-(1-4) (I think partner is very unlikely to have 5 clubs which are bad enough to preclude a fit jump). All this tells me is that there is a very wide range of hands for partner to make this largely undefined double. Maybe we can navigate a club ruff or, if partner has good clubs, we can get three rounds of trump played early. I don't expect the opponents to make and 5m could well be a struggle. Perhaps we can make 4S: ( S:Axx H:xx D:AQxxx C:Axx or such... but that will also make 5D: and nip 3H: at least 1).
    Pass. Partner could have forced in any number of ways or bid some number of diamonds. I expect this shows more than a minimum without extra diamond length. I don't think 2H: promises a rebid on this auction.
    I think this is a "do something smart" double, not pure penalties, and I don't want to convert it with a singleton (admittedly a good singleton), so I make my most descriptive call of 3S:.
    I like 4D:. I would have bid 4D: over 3H: since I have a stiff heart. I play the pass over 3H: as saying nothing and it includes the weakest hands (but could also made with a good hand waiting to hear partner's bid). Bidding 4D: instead of pass is NF but it is better than a minimum.

    I don't care for pass of partner's double with a stiff heart. If partner has three hearts, pass will probably work out okay since we may get to lead three rounds of hearts before the opponents can get their ruffs in but there is too great a chance that partner has only two hearts and that they will make. Pass has more going for it at matchpoints.

    Bid. Partner had  S:xx H:xx D:AQJxxx C:AQx. Both 5D: and 3NT make (the C:K is onside). The bad guys only go for 200.
    It didn't occur to me that partner could be unbalanced; I expected some 5332 shape most of the time. If he's balanced, I think it's probably right to defend. If he can be unbalanced, I think it's probably right to bid, as they might make 3H:x.

    So what does partner do with his actual hand? He doesn't want to defend 3H:, but he has no stopper for notrump and does not want to go above 3NT, since that might well be the best game. I believe that 3S: there is "last train to 3NT," no meaning other than I don't want you to pass 3H:x and 3NT is still in the picture. Playing that, then the double promises some willingness to play in 3H:x.

    Without such an agreement, this looks like a guess. Better methods are needed.

    If we don't pass, 3S: seems pretty clearcut.

  2. Assign the blame for missing a pretty good slam:

    S: xxx
    H: Ax
    D: AQJx
    C: AJ109
    S: AKJxxxx
    H: xx
    D: x
    C: Qxx

    1NT (15-17)2H:
    2S: 4D:
    4H: (last train) 4S:

    It has to be all East's fault. West can hardly drive to slam with nothing in spades and half his hand in the splinter suit. West did make a minimally cooperative noise despite these negative features, so East should have bid once more. What made it hard for East was that there was nothing to cuebid, and Blackwood would not always tell him whether 6 was playable. Therefore I think East should have bid 5S:, and West would have known to go on.
    Too tough; no blame. East might have bid 5S: over 4H:; West might have advanced with 5C: over 4H:... both actions are reasonable. West might have been facing  S:AKQJxx H:Qxx D:x C:xxx. East might have been facing  S:Qxx H:Ax D:AJxx C:AJxx (a 'better' hand where 6S: is almost no play on a heart lead)

    There are fewer hands where West is right to pass than East; 60-40 in favor of West to blame.

    West 50%. Or both 100%. I think West overcompensated for the QJ of diamonds wasted and could probably afford another move with excellent controls and a third trump (which could be worth a whole queen back). East should move again over a cooperating strong NT - 5S: showing good trumps seems right. Are those West X's lower than the East ones (removing the primary extra chance on a heart lead)?
    Neither. Reverse East's clubs and hearts and the slam doesn't look as good. East made a fairly aggressive try. Even subtracting the diamond QJ, those aces and third trump rate to be useful on this auction, so a last train 4H: looks about right. East has to be concerned over 4H: — he has already bid this hand to the max and needs to be facing almost exactly the given hand for the slam to be decent.
    (I assume 4D: was a splinter? [Yup. --Jeff]) Hard to blame either partner. West had only ok trumps (xxx), a wasted D:QJ, and questionable value in the C:J10 yet didn't sign off. (Yes, West also had three bullets which are always very useful.) East had good trumps but otherwise a pretty minimal hand and doesn't have another call. If the question was, "who was in the better position to take another call?", I would say West and not East. I think the methods are to blame. Varis and I would bid these hands:

    1C:(2 way)-1H: (S:)
    1S:(R, 16+HCP)-3D: (8-11HCP, 6+S:, D: shortness)
    3H:(R)-3NT (7 card suit, D: singleton — could have been void)
    4C:(R)-4H: (3 controls, A=2, K=1)
    4S:(2P unless partner has an exceptional hand which he doesn't)-P

    I don't believe I would relay past 4S: with the West hand - make the C:Q the H:Q and 5 is in danger — but if I did
    4NT(R)-5C:(0 or 2 spade honors)
    5D:(R)-5H:(0 or 2 heart honors)

    See why relay is so much better!

    Now, even if I guess that partner has S:AK, then I know that partner can't have another K and the slam is not looking percentage. (I agree on the actual cards, slam looks something close to 75% on a H: lead and better on anything else.)

    I think the opening bidder's hand is too good to settle for game. Three aces, possible source of tricks in clubs, ruffing value in hearts and three trumps rather than two add up to enough for slam. If I didn't think I had enough to force to slam if not off 2 KC, I would jump to 5S: over 4D: showing, in my opinion, the three aces outside of trumps but some concern about trumps (I would choose this bid if I had xx in spades).

    Let's give East some example hands:

    1.  S:KQJxxx H:Kxx D:x C:Kxx
    2.  S:AKJxxx H:Qxx D:x C:Kxx
    3.  S:AJxxxxx H:KQ D:x C:Qxx
    4.  S:AKQxxx H:xxx D:x C:Kxx
    5.  S:KJxxxxx H:KQx D:x C:Kx
    Aren't these typical hands for him? I would be willing to be in 6S: on each of these hands except hand E and KC might keep us out of 6S: on that one (should responder show the S:Q in response to KC? [I think not, as we don't necessarily have a tenth trump. --Jeff]) even though 6S: is not a bad contract. Switch the heart and club suits on any of these hands and some of the contracts become even better. On some of these hands you get your 12th trick on the OL.
    I was East.
    West: 52%, East: 48%, but really "no one did anything wrong."
    At first I was with the majority, who felt that no one did anything wrong. East has great trumps, but no side aces, and he looks like a minimum for his action so far. West has no trump honor and 7 HCP in partner's stiff and got to show some interest already.

    Mike thought the hands would get to slam after an old-fashioned 1NT-3S: GF, and I do, too. West sees the 9th trump, aces, and good slam honor structure. He doesn't get to know about the diamond singleton, so he loves his hand.

    That brought me around to Ed's point of view. West really should not focus on the diamonds, which are not that awful vs. a stiff (imagine making the D:Q the S:Q and the D:J the H:J and is the hand better?), but on the doubleton heart and the club spots. One of those two features is going to be huge, because partner has to have length in one of those suits. West knows his partner has at most one ace and isn't going to bid past 4S: as a result. Three small isn't that bad a holding (though 10xx would be nice, since heart ruffs are a possibility) vs. a 6- or 7-card suit. West's honor structure is very slammish; upon reflection, I think he should move past game, but it's close enough that I'd give little blame to anyone.

    S: 109xx
    H: AKJ102
    D: x
    C: KQJ
    S: 7x
    H: Qxx
    D: A8xx
    C: xxxx

    1D: 1H:
    1S: 2C:*
    2D: 2S:
    3C: 4S:

    Opening lead is the H:3, fourth best. Declarer wins and immediately plays a diamond. Over to you.

    The reflex action is to duck smoothly, and that's what I think most of us would do. However, I don't think it's correct this time. I am worried about the powerful dummy. I infer declarer's distribution to be 4-1-5-3. I took 3C: to deny a club stopper. His hand might be something like  S:AQxx H:x D:KQJxx C:xxx, or the slightly weaker  S:KQxx H:x D:KQJxx C:xxx. If I duck the diamond, declarer will switch to clubs and can scramble two clubs, two hearts, one diamond, and possibly five trump tricks. But if I grab my ace, he has no chance.

    Is it possible for a diamond guess to be the key to this one? Let's give declarer  S:AKJx H:x D:KJxxx C:xxx. Even if he guesses wrongly, he can score two clubs, two hearts, and six trump tricks. I had better grab my trick.

    I win it — and play for partner to have top winners; I took too long at the table for the duck to be right. I'll shift to a club. Can declarer have  S:KQxx H:x D:KQJxx C:xxx? Not impossible. Might he have a hand without D:K(Q) and S:AQ — slightly more likely! ( S:KJxx H:x D:KJ10xx C:Axx) I wish I'd had time to think.
    I'd play small out of instinct. Perhaps that is wrong on reflection, but probably not. Even if partner is able to play three rounds of trumps after the D:A, declarer will set up either hand with a single ruff. Better to hope for a different miracle.
    I'm hopping on this and leading a club, hoping partner has the S:KJx and the C:A. I think I'm missing something major—gave this one more thought than the rest combined.
    I take it that 2C: was GF. Why not 4D: by the way? I know ... my job is to defend, not bid. [Yeah, I don't vouch for opponents' actions. --Jeff]

    I grab A and play back a C:. Hoping for  S:AQxx H:x D:KQJx C:xxxx. Tough with no guarantees.

    The auction says declarer has the C:A so we need to play declarer for something like a)  S:AJxx H:x D:KJ10xx C:Axx and duck the D: hoping declarer goes after diamonds or b) S:Kxxx or S:Qxxx and take the D:A. I think the latter play is best since, if the former, declarer will still make most of the time by going after hearts or playing on a crossruff. I sympathize with the duck because, although I think it is the wrong play, it must be done without thinking to give declarer a guess and it is harder to get it right if you don't have time to think.
    I ducked.
    Declarer had  S:Kxxx H:x D:KQJxx C:Axx. Winning the D:A leads to an easy down one; ducking it lets the contract make.
    I don't think it's relevant, because as several pointed out, one doesn't get the opportunity to reflect. At the table, one has to act in tempo, and I agree that it is natural to duck. It's probably right to fly on these cards, but probably one should be ducking unless one is a lightning-fast analyst.

    S: AJ76
    H: xx
    D: 9x
    C: AKQJx
    S: 98x
    H: KQx
    D: KQ10x
    C: 5xx


    Opening lead is the C:9. Plan the play. Assume a first round lead to a red face card holds.

    I would not have led to a red face card. I would have played the D:9, floating it if not covered. If the nine is covered, I am in good shape. It seems almost certain that LHO has the heart ace, as he refrained from leading the unbid suit. I'm not so confident about the diamond position, but I think my best chance is to let LHO win this trick. Even if the nine loses to the jack, LHO will have learned little and may well get out with a club that I have conveniently left in his hand. Then a second diamond, and I stll have a sure heart entry.
    I would take two clubs and play a diamond to the king, then run the clubs and pitch two spades from hand and play a diamond to the queen. I need one ace right and West's defense suggests major-suit holdings (but nothing about D:A).
    I think it is very close between winning and reeling off 5 clubs and hoping the opponents are under more pressure than I and floating the D:9 at trick 2. I kind of like the latter approach better, although that can cause me to go down with the D:A onside.
    Diamond up, S:8 from hand, hoping to take two spades and two red tricks.
    I can also assume that RHO follows to the C: lead? [Only David asked! And moreover, no one wondered if the C:10 had appeared. Yes, RHO followed and didn't play the C:10. --Jeff] D: to the Q, C: to the K, D:9 to a smooth duck and I play K. I may have outsmarted myself (I am good at doing that) but I am guessing that LHO didn't lead a H: because he has good hearts and didn't want to blow a trick. And some percentage of the time the defense is going to help me get the D: suit right by either not ducking the D:Q or covering the 9. I realize I am not making the best percentage play but I think I am making my "at the table" play.
    D:9. A passive OL is usually based on high cards and specifically I would expect the H:A to be offsides. Ignoring the knowledge that a red face card will win, I would think the D:9 at T2 give me my best shot. If it loses to the D:J and the defense continues passive with clubs, I have nine tricks unless they then switch to and can get two spades. If the D:J is onsides, they can't beat me.

    If I instead lead a D: to the king and then go to the dummy and lead another diamond to the queen, I will make if the D:A is onsides but almost surely fail if it is off. It is not a terribly hard play to duck the first D: with the offsides ace, especially if also holding the H:A.

    I took Kent's line, which I think is inferior to trying to guess diamonds. I used the same inference that suggested the H:A was offside to judge that the spade honors were onside. Wrong.
    Float the D:9. LHO had  S:xx H:A10x D:Axxx C:10987. Yes, he led the C:9 from C:10987. No, they didn't play Rusinow.
    Float D:93
    Lead to top D: honors2
    Attack spades from hand2
    I'm for the winning line. The D:9 might get covered. And if it doesn't, and it loses to the D:A, you are in line to make an overtrick. I don't see an 7-8% edge to any play, so the overtrick is the best vigorish you can get. For some reason, declarer only made 9 tricks at the other table after floating the D:9 at T2.

Jeff Goldsmith,, May 29, 2008