Friday, 18 January 2013

Informed Consent

You pick up a solid seven or eight card suit, headed by the AKQ, what is your first thought - sacrifice, shut-out or slam? Well, of course, your best spot will depend on partner's holding in the side suits. The risk in bidding slowly in an attempt to uncover that holding is that it invites intervention - and ends in a a game of "chicken"at the six or even seven level. Bid fast and you end up guessing wildly as to the right level of contract, with partner unable to play an informed part in the decision.

This was the monster when Chris Larlham and I played for Cambs & Hunts against Hertfordshire in a recent Eastern Counties League match.

With both sides vulnerable, North picked up AKQJ9875 J7 75 6 and heard his partner open second in hand with a strong no trump (15-17). The next hand passed and there were a series of choices to be made.

The good news is that intervention from the opponents is not so likely. Had the hand on your left not passed originally, and had the opposition been not vulnerable, there would be a danger of a transfer bid (showing spades) eliciting a double - and the next time the bidding came round to you, there might well be a decision to be made at the four, or even five, level. Your hand is clearly too good to bid 4 immediately - if partner has the "right" key cards, a slam could easily be making. A direct bid of 4NT from you would be quantitative, and while possibly expressing your playing strength, it would not highlight the critical importance of controls (aces and kings) in your partner's hand. Partner would bid 6NT with almost any kind of maximum and you could well be missing two aces.

Since the hand is unlikely to play better from your side of the table, you temporise by making your lowest transfer bid of 2  (I am assuming that you had in your armoury the potential to bid a direct South African Texas 4, also showing spades). Partner duly bids 2 and you are on the spot again.

Perhaps, at this stage, it would be good to see all four hands:

As you can see, 6, or indeed 6NT, is unbeatable played by the South hand. The question is: how should one get there in a way in which one knows that it is a laydown contract or, at least, a good prospect?

It is not clear what a bid of 4NT over 2 would show or ask. Conceivably it might be a Blackwood type of request for aces, with spades the "agreed" trump suit. True, if partner has only one ace, one certainly does not want to be in slam. However, what if partner has no aces? You are already too high!

With a bid of a new suit at the three level being natural and forcing, the answer, it seems to me, is to play an unnecessary jump bid as showing this type of hand - a solid seven card (or longer) primary suit with the jump bid pinpointing a shortage, and inviting partner to cue bid his lowest ace. In this case, South would have had no problem in bidding 4 in response to a 4 jump, and over the 4 rebid bidding the slam, knowing that he had eleven top tricks and realising that the slam would be, at worst, on a finesse. Alternatively - and very conservatively in this case - a 5 bid over 4♠ would invite partner to bid a slam with an eighth spade.

So what happened? At our table and two other tables, the bidding died in 4. At the fourth table where Hertfordshire held the N/S cards, they bid 6 but played by North! As you can see, an opening heart lead by East would set the contract, but sadly this deal had no happy ending. East actually led a diamond and declarer romped home. To add (minor) insult to injury, declarer made thirteen tricks by means of a double squeeze. After winning the opening lead and drawing trumps, he cashed his top clubs, discarding a small heart from hand. He then  ruffed a club, noting the break, and ran his spades, discarding all dummy's hearts. By the time the last spade was led, dummy was left with A6 and 10 and East was squeezed in the minors. When he opted to hold onto his "known" ♣Q, dummy's last club was discarded and West was squeezed between his heart winner and his diamond guard. When he held onto the A, the 6 duly won the thirteenth trick!

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