This Real deal was dealt by Bonnie Rosen
The Negative Double
North has a normal 1 opening, and East a routine 1 overcall. South has a balanced hand with hearts stopped, but he should not bid notrump. His first priority is to look for a 4-4 major-suit fit. Should he bid 1? No. Had East passed, yes—the response would be 1. But after the 1 overcall, South shows 4 spades by making a negative double. This action is so normal, that it isn’t even alertable. If South had 5 or more spades, he would bid 1. Actually, the 1 overcall is helpful—it allows responder to clarify whether he has exactly 4 spades (negative double) or 5+ spades (bid 1S). Both actions show at least 6 points (no upper limit).
Opener’s Rebid and the rest of the auction
Opener usually should avoid repeating a 5-card suit (he usually rebids in notrump with 5-3-3-2 distribution, or bids his second suit with 5-4 distribution). Here, opener’s second suit is the opponent’s (hearts), so he can’t bid it naturally. Nor would he want to bid notrump—for 2 reasons (he isn’t balanced, and he doesn’t have a stopper in their suit). Therefore, the least of evils is to repeat the 5-card club suit. What should South do next? He has too much to pass, but not enough to insist on game. Given that he is balanced and has hearts stopped, 2NT is a standout call. It is natural and invitational—perfect. North has a minimum and nothing special, so he rejects the invitation and 2NT becomes the final contract.
West has five spades, but should lead partner’s suit. You have to have a good reason not to lead partner’s suit. Though West has 5 spades, his partner is the one with the defensive strength and probable entries to his suit. Furthermore the 10 and 9 of hearts are excellent “pushers” which could help establish the suit. Just because declarer has shown a heart stopper, that is no reason not to lead the suit. Better thinking is: “Yes, they have a stopper, so let’s knock it out.”
East plays low on the 10 for two reasons. For one, if the 10 is a singleton, going up with the ace would present the declarer with a second heart trick/stopper. Declarer, with a hypothetical K9x, would be able to develop a second heart trick. So, if the 10 is singleton, playing low is correct. Even if the 10 is doubleton, playing low is best. This forces the declarer to win the trick (holding up is out of the question), and it lets the defense maintain communications. If West later gets the lead, he remains with a second heart to play—enabling East to take 4 heart tricks. If East wins the first heart and returns one, his partner is out of hearts. The only way East can get his remaining hearts would be if he himself gets the lead.
Declarer wins the K and sees a total of 4 top tricks (the K, AK and A). He needs to develop 4 more tricks. Clubs is by far the best suit to work on (even if diamonds behave, that won’t produce enough tricks for the contract). How best to play the clubs? As long as they are 3-2, it will be easy to take 4 tricks in total (losing one trick to the K is okay). However, there is an outside chance that East started with 6 hearts—meaning that if he gets in, he will cash 5 heart winners. So, in case he has the K, it is best to lead clubs from dummy. Declarer should cross to the A at trick 2 to lead a club towards his ace-jack. It is unclear exactly how to handle the clubs, but low to the jack feels good. It happens to lose to the K after which West will win and play another heart. West has his other heart to play, but the defense can take only 4 heart tricks. After that, declarer has the rest. Clubs present no further problems, so declarer takes 4 clubs, 1 heart, 1 spade and 2 diamonds for 8 tricks and +120. Well-judged in both the bidding and the play.
1) A negative double after a 1 overcall shows exactly four spades.
2) When rebidding after partner’s negative double, try to rebid 1NT with a balanced hand.
3) Responder’s 2NT on the second round of the auction is invitational.
4) On defense, try to maintain communication with your partner.