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Should South open with a weak two-bid in hearts? It depends on who you ask. There is much confusion about the requirements for a weak two-bid. This is because there is no “standard.” Different teachers teach different rules.
I am not a big believer in exact rules. Don’t mistake that for “anything goes.” I actually advocate a “middle of the road” style (more in a moment), but stress “different strokes for different folks.”
A normal preempting style would require a “decent” 6-card suit for a weak two-bid and a “decent” 7-card suit for a three-level preempt. What is “decent?” Surely not jack-empty-sixth. On the other hand, I am not strict about requiring two of the top three or three of the top five honors. I care more about medium cards such as 10’s and 9’s. A suit such as AK5432 has two of the top three, but I’d prefer to have QJ9876. Vulnerability is very important. Vulnerable against not, I like to have a pretty good suit. On the other hand, if white against red, I could have a poorish suit. Position is also important. After two passes (where you expect the hand belongs to the opponents), you want to preempt aggressively. In first (and especially second) seat, you want to be sounder. Putting this all together, I would open with a suit of J108654 in third seat favorable, but it wouldn’t occur to me to do so second seat unfavorable.
Got all that? Even if you personally like a “middle-of-the-road” approach, you might have an aggressive (or very conservative) partner. It is important that you each know the other’s style.
What about cards outside the suit being preempted? The general idea is to try to have most of your strength in your suit—but there are no strict rules. You can have a side ace—or even a side void. How about a side four-card major? Usually, this is to be avoided, but I’d certainly open 2 with: 6432 KQJ1083 3 53.
In summary, there is no absolute right or wrong—there are only guidelines.
Back to the South hand in the diagram. The suit is so-so. It doesn’t have 2 of the top 3 nor 3 of the top 5, yet it is a far cry from J65432. How about the side cards? I’m not thrilled to have the Q and K, but I can live with it. The downside of preempting 2, is that partner won’t know to correct to spades if he has, say, AKxxx in spades and a singleton heart. What about the vulnerability? I think that is the deciding factor. When it is favorable, try to jump right in. Preempting does make life tougher on the opponents. Also, it gives partner a somewhat accurate description of your hand.
With all that said, I’ve shown an opening bid of 2 in the diagram. I’d guess that 90% of today’s tournament players would indeed open this hand with a preempt. If you changed it to unfavorable vulnerability, I would pass, and I’d guess only about 50% of the field would preempt.
West has opening bid values, but not quite enough to make a takeout double at this level. If you took one low heart and put it into a minor, I’d double. It is borderline, but most experts would likely pass as shown.
North has no reason to respond. In Standard, 3 (new suit) would be forcing. Why would North want to get any higher? The only possible call is a raise to 3—possibly to try to keep the opponents out of the auction. I’d recommend that preemptive raise only if North held a third trump.
As it is, 2 is high enough to keep East silent. He has okay shape for a balancing takeout double, but he is a tad short in HCP. Give him another 2-3 decent HCP and I would balance with a double.
Against partscores, the general idea is to lead passively. There is usually no need to attack—the tricks you have coming aren’t likely to run away. Leading (or underleading) aces against suit contracts is a no-no. West really has no good alternative to a diamond lead. Since the 10 is considered an honor (for leading purposes), West should lead low—the 3.
After the diamond lead, declarer might as well try the “free finesse.” If the Q wins, South can hope to throw away two spades on the diamonds. If it loses (as it will here), he can ruff and later discard one spade on the A.
How should he play trumps? This isn’t 100% clear. Leading the Q for a finesse gives declarer a chance at no trump losers. Can you figure out what holding for East-West would be needed? How about a doubleton king with West? He can cover the queen, but then declarer can pick up the suit if he guesses to lead low to the nine on the second round (playing East for an original holding of 10xx) or by leading low to the jack on the second round (playing West for an original holding of K10 doubleton). Considering the deal as a whole, I think it is better to just play a low heart to the ace. For one thing, if either player has a singleton king, leading the queen would be costly. Even with 3-2 hearts, a losing finesse on the first round would lead to all sorts of communication and potential defensive trump promotion issues. In general, it is best to start this suit by leading low to the ace.
After the HA, declarer can discard a spade on the A. Then, he continues trumps. The Q drives out the K and whatever West does, declarer can get in to draw the last trump. Then, he works on clubs by leading low to dummy’s queen. When it wins, he plays another club from dummy. When East follows low, declarer should also play low. Why? He knows East doesn’t have the A (he would have captured the queen with it). Meanwhile, West might have started with a doubleton A and there is no reason to waste the king. On the actual 3-3 break, not much matters. West wins the club, and makes declarer ruff (a spade or diamond). But, declarer still has a trump left, so when he plays the 3rd club, it sets up his 4th club. He will take the last two tricks with the long club and a good trump.
In all, declarer takes 5 hearts, 1 diamond and 2 clubs to score +110.
1) Requirements for weak 2-bids are a matter of personal style—there is no rule etched in stone.
2) Vulnerability and position are important in the weak-two opening decision.
3) Lead passively against partscores
4) With Ax opposite QJ9xxx in trumps, it is usually right to play the ace and another.
5) With Kxxx opposite Qxx, lead towards one honor and if it wins, lead to the other honor, but play low, hoping for a doubleton ace.