Thursday, 13 June 2013

Welcome to Elsinore

Defending against a doubled 1NT is somehow always more nerve-racking than defending against any other (doubled) contract, especially when the chances of success and failure seem evenly balanced. Why is this? Maybe it is because one undertrick can make the difference between a top and a bottom  - although this is relatively unlikely and no more rare than with many other contracts at pairs. Maybe it is the psychological effect of conceding a score ending in 80.

Just briefly digressing to mention a very effective tactic from my university days; I recall a particular player who advocated doubling 1NT on many relatively weak hands with long broken minor suit holdings such as seven cards headed by the ace and little outside. This "convention" often led to very entertaining results since the partner of the 1NT bidder might have a good hand in terms of point count, leave the double in and then find the contract going off (perhaps the doubler's partner had a "suitable holding" such as king doubleton in the doubler's long suit), while a game or a solid part-score was available in another denomination.

The convention sometimes "worked" even when it "went wrong" - on more than one occasion did the doubled contract make with two over-tricks (+380 or +580), only to find that this scored less than the value of the game bid at other tables (+400 or +600). 

Sadly this convention has gone out of fashion.

See if you can avoid conceding a number ending in 80 on this hand.

As West, you hold AQ A52 KJ97 Q762 and hear your right hand opponent open 1NT (12-14), third in hand following two passes.

The opponents are not-vulnerable while you are - a situation tailor-made for the weak no-trump.

Personally I would pass this hand. I have no clear source of defensive tricks, an unappealing choice of opening leads and the spade holding looks like a liability. Not only has this hand got -180 written all over it, but for the double to work well, the contract will need to go at least two off (+100 is very unlikely to be a great score). If partner has a hand good/shapely enough for that to happen, he may reopen, or more likely the responder to 1NT may remove the contract from 1NT - giving you a second bite at the cherry when the bidding comes back to you.

At the table the contract was doubled with this "unweeded garden of things rank and gross in nature" and there was no further bidding. West then thought about what to lead - a clear warning that double was perhaps somewhat risky, and an indication to declarer about the nature of his hand. The 7 was selected, and dummy was tabled:









Declarer played the 8 from dummy and that held the trick - East playing the five and declarer contributing the three. A heart was now led from dummy: four, seven, knave ....

Already we know that declarer stated with six points in diamonds. The heart situation is not clear: declarer might hold QJ93 or maybe a more vulnerable holding such as KJ3. It didn't seem absolutely vital at this stage to win the A - not least because West still didn't know what to lead to the next trick, so he played small.

Declarer now led 9 to dummy's knave, which again held the trick, East contributing the three, and then followed by a spade: five, three, six.....

This is your last chance to redeem yourself, what do you play after winning with Q?

Of course, this is a trick question: you must not under any circumstances win with the Q  - you must play the A. There is just no room for declarer to have K in addition to the K, AQ and QJ! Win with the queen and the suit is iretrievably blocked.

At the table, however Q did win the trick and the lead problem came back with a vengeance. Perhaps as he played A, East realised that not all was well in the state of Denmark (apologies to any foreign readers - especially Scandinavian readers- of this blog for these obscure references).

At trick six, West led another club, declarer winning in dummy to play a diamond to the ten and knave, East again following. However to all intents and purposes the defence was now all over, for the remaining cards were:

















West could get off lead with another club, but declarer could simply win and play AQ. Although West could take his diamond and club winner, declarer had to make a heart at the end, and seven tricks in all via two hearts, two diamonds and three clubs.

In the post-mortem both East and West blamed themselves for letting the contract make. West could  have won the first heart with the ace - but repeated spade plays by declarer might well have then caused the heart endplay to operate against East. It was definitely not right for West to have won the first spade with the queen - but, for all that, I blame East. When a small spade was led from the table, he should have played the knave - not the eight and certainly not the three. The play of the knave would have enabled West to read the situation - placing East with both the king and ten in the suit. Five rounds of spades and a diamond through would have restricted declarer to six tricks - still not a brilliant score for  East/West who could have made eight tricks in a spade contract fairly easily, but certainly better than the dreaded -180.

Truth is that this was always going to be a good hand for North-South after opening a weak no trump. And therein lies the rub.

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