Real Deal #21

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 10/08/2019
Level: Intermediate

Dir: North
♠ A543
♥ J1062
♦ 8
♣ AK42
♠ KQ8
♥ 93
♦ A7432
♣ J109
  ♠ 2
♥ Q875
♦ KQJ96
♣ 876
  ♠ J10976
♥ AK4
♦ 105
♣ Q53


North has only 12 HCP, but is clearly worth an opening bid (of 1♠). Should East overcall? The first thing to notice is the vulnerability; East (along with everyone else) is vulnerable. For close decisions, that usually indicates the low road (caution). Here, however, I don’t think it is close. East is worth a 1♠ overcall. Even though a minimum (most players choose to use a minimum of 7 or 8 HCP for a 1-level overcall), there is one excellent reason to bid. The quality of the diamond suit is superb. East would like his partner to lead the suit if South plays the hand. Furthermore, when you have a very good suit, you are less likely to run into a severe penalty if you end up playing the hand. If East had 8 HCP and K7642 in diamonds (especially vulnerable), he shouldn’t overcall.

After the overcall, South bids 1♠. Does this promise a 5-card suit?

No! A negative double would promise both majors (4-4). Accordingly, if South were dealt only 4 spades (but not 4 hearts), he would still bid 1♠. Contrast this with when there is a one-heart overcall. Now, with spades the only major in the picture, a 1♠ bid would indeed guarantee at least 5 (and a negative double would show only 4). This simple issue can be incredibly confusing at first. If you didn’t follow, please read this paragraph again (and again). Summary: South’s 1♠ bid shows four or more spades (it is just a coincidence that on this Real Deal, he happens to hold five).

What should West do to show his excellent support of diamonds? In “Standard,” he would jump to 3♠ to show his limit raise. In the modern tournament world, such a jump would be weak. I’ve shown the modern solution—a cue-bid. Bidding the opponent’s suit (spades, here) says nothing about that suit; it shows a limit raise or better in partner’s suit (diamonds). Actually, there are two cue-bids available (2♠ or 2♠). I don’t want to get into the difference (even some expert partnerships won’t have bothered to discuss which cue-bid means what). Suffice to say that 2♠ here takes up more room from the opponents than 2♠ (West, with all those diamonds, is more than willing to get his side to the 3-level).

Indeed, the 2♠ bid gives North a problem. He wants to support spades, but at the 3 level? He wanted to bid 2♠, and now he can’t. Is he worth 3♠? Maybe. The 1♠ bid could have been made with as few as 6 HCP. So, for the opener to make his rebid on the 3 level, he needs extra values. North has some extras, but maybe not enough. Besides, the auction isn’t over; he will get another chance when East retreats to diamonds.

When East bids 3♠ (he is not interested in bigger or better things), South has a problem. He has extra values (10 points when he might have had only 6). He has no good bid to make, so is shown as doubling. Doubles on the two- and three-level (especially when the opponents have bid and raised a suit) are not for penalty. South’s double doesn’t mean “I have diamonds.” It just means “I have extra values and no other clear call to make.”

At this point, North will support spades. He could bid only 3♠, but he has a lot in reserve. He was close to bidding 3♠ the first time (even without learning of partner’s extra values). Now that North knows about South’s extra strength, he is worth a jump to 4♠—which will be the final resting spot.


Normally, a lead from J109 would be infinitely more desirable than laying down an ace (from ace-empty). But here, North has bid clubs (the J109 suit) and West’s partner has bid diamonds (the ace-empty suit). So, West will likely lead the ♠A.


It isn’t clear what West will do at trick two, but only one suit of relevance remains: the trump suit. Declarer can easily manage his losers in the other three suits. He can trump a diamond loser in dummy. His heart loser has two places to possibly go: the fourth club, or a successful finesse. We can see that both work. Eventually, declarer (after drawing trumps and ruffing his diamond in dummy) would test clubs. When they split 3-3, he won’t even need to take the heart finesse. Had clubs not split, declarer could play East for the HQ.

So, all that matters is how declarer plays the trump suit. There are thousands of suit combinations. It is impossible to memorize them all. Should you finesse twice (lead the jack and run it, later prepared to finesse again) or should you lay down the ace on the first round? It can be worked out with brute force/logic. Finessing twice is best (and works here). If KQx (or KQxx) are offside, no play matters—declarer always loses two tricks. So, let’s consider all other cases (where the suit can be picked up for only one loser). If West has Honor-x-x, either line will work (cashing the ace or finessing twice). If West has Honor-x (or singleton honor), again either line works. That leaves only these two situations to worry about: West has xx (East has KQ doubleton) or West has KQx (East has a small singleton). Laying down the ace is catering only to KQ doubleton offside. Finessing twice caters to East having the singleton 2 or the singleton 8. That is two layouts as opposed to one. So, declarer (assuming there are no other considerations involved) should lead the ♠J from hand, prepared to run it when West plays low.

If declarer plays spades correctly (with the odds), he will make 11 tricks (+650) which is a fine result.




1)      In close situations, base overcalls on suit quality.

2)      After the opponents make a 1♠ overcall, responding in a major promises 4 or more (does not guarantee 5).

3)      When your partner overcalls, a cue-bid of the opponent’s suit shows a limit raise or better

4)      Doubles on low levels when the opponents have bid and raised are not for penalty

5)      There are thousands of suit combinations; do the best you can, but don’t expect perfection