It’s a pleasure to analyze a deal from bridge hall-of-famer, Freddy Hamilton. I once had the pleasure of conducting a bridge seminar with Freddy in Atlantic City.
On this deal, Freddy managed to deal out the cards to allow me to present several good lesson pointers:
Should North open the bidding? Old-timers would require more than 11 HCP, but modern experts open this hand. This is a beautiful 11-count because it contains 2 and ½ quick tricks (ACE and ACE-QUEEN). Also, aces are undervalued in the 4-3-2-1 system—hands with aces are worth more than just 4. Furthermore, AQJ8 in a suit is a powerful holding, often worth 4 tricks (picture the king opposite, or in front of the AQJ). Holding AQJ8 in one suit is much better than an ace with two low ones, queen with two low ones and a jack with two low ones—all scattered about.
After North’s 1, East has an almost perfect hand for a preempt. The hand contains a beautiful 7-card club suit. The only flaw is the Qxx on the side in hearts, but that’s not enough of a deterrent to keep East from butting in with a 3 overcall.
South, with 15 HCP knows his side has at least a game. He could just bid 3NT, but it must be better to start with a negative double. Negative doubles (the most important convention, IMHO) should be played on any level. In effect, South’s double shows a decent hand (on the 3-level it should be at least 11 or so points) and asks the opener to further describe his hand (typically by showing a major if he has one).
After the negative double, West passes and North shows his major by bidding 3 (he would jump if he had extras—which he certainly does not!). Now, South has not located a 4-4 major-suit fit, so he has to think about other games. In general, 5-of-a-minor is to be avoided, and since South has a stopper in the opponent’s suit, he will try 3NT. Granted, he’d like a second stopper, or maybe something like A10x, but a doubleton-ace is all he was dealt.
If North held 4 cards in spades (along with 4 hearts), he would now correct 3NT to 4 (knowing that South must have one of the unbid majors for his negative double; otherwise South would have just bid 3NT the first time). Since North has nothing more to say, 3NT becomes the final contract.
West leads the highest card in his partner’s suit, the 10. In notrump, declarer should count sure winners. Here, he has 3 spades, 4 diamonds and the A for 8 tricks. A possible 9th trick can come from spades or hearts.
If ever there were a time for a holdup play, this is it. South ducks the first club and wins the second round. With the expected 7-2 break, South can now hope that if West wins a trick, he will have no clubs left.
Declarer could try for 4 spade tricks by laying down a high spade from hand (in case there is a singleton jack) and then leading the 10 and letting it run for a finesse. This might be odds-on in the spade suit (since the player with 7 clubs is less likely than the player with 2 clubs to hold the J). However, even though we see it works (looking at all 52 cards), this would be a very dangerous play at the table. If it were to lose to East, he would cash all the clubs! So, in practice, declarer would just play spades from the top, hoping for a 3-3 break or the jack to fall singleton or doubleton.
We can see that the spades don’t come in, but declarer has another trick up his sleeve. If East has the A, he can never score his K (East will just cash all the clubs when in with the A). But, if West has the A (likely, since East is the preemptor), declarer can score his K by throwing West in.
Declarer, after cashing all the top spades and diamonds, has taken 8 tricks. Then, he simply exits with his spade loser. West has no clubs left and is down to AJx in hearts. He wins the J and has to play a heart. South gets his K for the 9th trick. Well bid and played (notice that 5 is unlikely to make, but can be made looking at all four hands).
1) AQJx along with another ace is worth an opening 1-bid
2) With a good 7-card suit and a weak hand, be happy to make a preemptive jump overcall (even with a Qxx on the side)
3) Use negative doubles at all levels
4) Use a holdup play to shut out an opponent’s long suit
5) Consider a throw-in play when the defense will have to give you an extra trick