Real Deal #16

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 04/15/2017
Level: Intermediate

 Larry Cohen's article from Better Bridge Magazine - The Real Deal #16


Dir: South
♠ AK106542
♥ J1086
♣ J3
♠ Q873
♥ 5
♦ AQ865
♣ 952
  ♠ J9
♥ K94
♦ 1097
♣ AQ1086
♥ AQ732
♦ KJ432
♣ K74

Today’s Real Deal was dealt by one of my golfing buddies, Marshall Hall. He had just come back from a Regional at Sea with Audrey Grant, and couldn’t wait to try to win my money on the golf course.

When he dealt out these cards, my first reaction was that North was going to declare spades (that good seven-card suit jumps out at you).

South opens 1♠ and North has an interesting responding hand. His hand was fun to begin with, but opposite at least five hearts, the value of the North hand goes up. The ♠J1086 are now very useful cards. It doesn’t take much to envision a grand slam (picture the North hand opposite the ♠AKQxx and the ♠A, for example).

North should be in no hurry. Rather than raise hearts, why not show that seven-card spade suit to start. One spade is fine (forcing one round, of course).


South has an easy rebid of 2♠ and now North has choices. Is it time to raise hearts? Probably so. To what level? With all that shape and great support, North should insist on game. As to how to count his hand—I’d say 9 HCP + “lots” for shape.  Marty Bergen advocates counting a void this way when supporting: With 3-card support, count it as 3 points; with 4-card support, count it as 4 points. You could also count for the long spades.  Any way you look at it, North has enough for game.

He could jump directly to 4♠. This is not quite a “closeout” bid. It must show a good hand (otherwise North would jump only to 3♠, invitational). The alternative to jumping to 4♠ is much more complicated. North would have to make some forcing bid. He can’t make any bid that South might pass (below game). That rules out 2♠, 2♠, 3♠ and 3♠ (all non-forcing). This means North would have to invent some artificial bid (such as 3♠-4th-suit forcing). This is getting too complex—let’s settle for the jump to 4♠—which isn’t a bad description.

1♠  1♠

2♠  4♠


Leading dummy’s spade suit (or worse, from the ♠AQ into declarer’s diamond suit) doesn’t make much sense. Leading a singleton trump usually is unappealing, but there is a decent reason to do so here: West has good diamonds (declarer’s second suit)—and it seems declarer might be trumping diamonds in dummy. Also, West has spades slightly stopped/controlled—he isn’t worried declarer is going to run dummy’s spades (making it less urgent to attack with a club—the unbid suit). Still, I think most Wests would lead the unbid suit, so we’ll go with a club lead. Which one? It is a matter of partnership agreement. MUD (Middle-up-down) is popular among intermediate-level players. Most experts prefer to lead low. So, let’s make the “expert” lead of the ♠2.


Declarer is somewhat happy with this lead, since his ♠K will be a trick. East wins the ace, and will try to cash another club trick for the defense (he doesn’t know who has the ♠K). He might as well try the ♠Q (it can’t cost) to smother dummy’s ♠J. Declarer wins the ♠K and has to make a plan.

He has six losing cards remaining in his hand (a small club and all five diamonds). What can he do with them? Two can be thrown on dummy’s ♠AK. The others can maybe be trumped in dummy.  Accordingly, declarer should not draw trump. He should play on cross-ruff lines.

At trick three, lets’ say he ruffs his last club in the dummy. Should he next lead the ♠J for a finesse? No way. Don’t dare touch those precious trumps in the dummy. When planning a crossruff the idea is to cash winners first (before the defense can discard their cards in that suit). So, next come the ♠AK as South throws two of his low diamonds.

South is now left with three losing diamonds in his hand and ♠J108 in dummy. Now it gets a little tricky. South has to keep getting back to his hand to ruff those diamond losers in dummy. Every time he plays a spade from dummy, there are two dangers: 1) West might be out of spades and threaten to overruff declarer or 2) East might be out of spades and throw away diamonds as declarer ruffs spades to his hand. On the actual deal, it is #2 that will cause us a problem.

Anyway, we have no choice but to try that third round of spades. Good news and bad news. East is the one who shows out, but he throws a diamond. We can ruff the spade low and ruff a diamond in dummy (it’s okay to risk the ♠8 on this trick—East is unlikely to have started with only a doubleton diamond). Now comes another spade ruffed in hand (East throwing his last diamond), but our luck has run out.

We still have two losing diamonds. We play the ♠J, covered with the queen and ruff in dummy, but East overruffs and returns a trump. This uses up dummy’s last trump and we still have a losing diamond in our hand. We’ll have to lose that diamond, along with the first trick and the overruff with the ♠K—making four (no overtricks).

It turns out that our beautiful 9-card trump fit did no better than we would have done had North just blasted to 4♠. In that contract, he would have lost only the ♠A and two trump tricks. Is the moral of the story that a 7-0 fit is as good as a 5-4 fit? I don’t think so, but sometimes bridge can be a strange game.

Lesson points:

As Responder, if you are sure you want to be in game, don’t make any bid below game that your partner is allowed to pass.

As opening leader, when you have strength in declarer’s second suit, consider a trump lead.

As declarer, when you have tons of losers to dispose of, and trump in dummy to trump them with, don’t draw trumps.