This real deal was dealt by Brenda Montague.
This column by Larry Cohen first appeared in Audrey Grant's Better Bridge Magazine.
Real (random) deals are dealt out by celebrity guests and passed on to Larry to analyze.
East deals and opens 1. Some 12-counts wouldn’t be opened, but this one with three aces and a five-card suit is an automatic opening bid.
What should South do? A takeout double (in spite of the short spades) would be an error. Would South be happy when his partner took out the double to something other than diamonds? No. So, then South would want to “correct” to diamonds. But, doubling and then bidding a suit shows 18+. Since South shouldn't double and then bid diamonds, he is best off just overcalling to begin with. This two-level overcall doesn’t show garbage; it should contain a decent suit (often six cards) and about opening bid values or more.
Should West take action? A 2 bid would show 10+ points, so that is out of the question. The only possibility would be a negative double. This is a little off-shape for a typical negative double, and a little bit light, but it would be a possible action with West’s hand (the problem is that if opener rebids, say 2NT, this dummy will be quite a disappointment). So, West is shown as passing.
North has nothing to say and it is up to East in the balancing seat. Typically, it is good to be aggressive in this position (where pass would let the opponents play in a partscore), but East has no good action. He can’t repeat the spades or heaven forbid show those clubs on the three level. A 2NT bid would show much more (like 18-19) and a takeout double is not a good idea with only two cards in the unbid major. So, reluctantly, East would pass.
West leads his partner’s suit, of course (the 7, high from a doubleton), and East wins the ace. When the king drops, East won’t know if it is truly a singleton, or a falsecard from K5 doubleton. Rather than guess, East should look for guidance from his partner.
A shift to the A at trick two makes sense for several reasons. One, the defense might be able to get some heart tricks. Maybe partner has the king and East can get a heart ruff. Two, East will get a signal from his partner. On the A, West wants to send the message that he likes hearts. He does so by playing the 6—a high spot card in context (it is the highest one he has). If West didn’t want hearts (say he had a singleton spade and wanted a ruff), he could play a low heart to say: “I don’t like hearts.” Likely, East would interpret that to mean he wanted a spade ruff. This is not a suit-preference situation. West’s heart card sends only one message: “I like hearts—or I don’t like hearts.” Likely East can read the 6 as a high one and he continues the suit.
West cashes the king-queen of hearts with East throwing the 2 to say: “I don’t like clubs.” Notice that on this deal West gave an attitude signal when his partner led the A and now East gives an attitude signal with his discard. Those are the two times attitude signals are used (on partner’s lead or on a discard).
With no future in clubs or spades, West might as well play a fourth heart. Normally, the defense doesn’t give a ruff-and-sluff to declarer. Here, though, West knows there is nothing useful declarer can discard, and furthermore, East might be able to promote a trump trick for West. Picture East with Kx. He would ruff with the king and the defense would get 3 trumps tricks. Declarer would overruff and West’s Q109 would all be good. If East had the Jx of diamonds that also would create an extra trump trick (East ruffing with the jack). Even here, East can ruff the heart with the trump ace! If he doesn’t do so, declarer can ruff and cross to dummy in clubs to lead a diamond towards his hand—limiting the loss to only 2 trump tricks. This beautiful defense gives the defense the first 5 tricks. West still has 2 trump tricks to set the contract two--+200 for a great East-West result.
> A two-level overcall shows a good suit/hand.
> In passout seat against a partial, try to balance, but not if you have the wrong shape.
> On defense, a low card as a signal says “I don’t like the suit” and a high card says “I do like it.”
> When a ruff-and-sluff won’t help declarer and might promote an extra trump trick, go for it!