Real Deal #17

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 03/21/2019
Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Real Deal #17


Dir: South
♠ AK
♥ 643
♦ KQ1093
♣ 974
♠ 9753
♥ Q9852
♦ A2
♣ K3
  ♠ Q864
♥ 107
♦ 54
♣ AQ865
  ♠ J102
♦ J876
♣ J102

Today’s Real Deal was dealt by Jerry Helms.  

While there are some 11-counts I would open, South’s isn’t one of them. Yes, there are two 10’s but the hand is very jacky and flat and ugly. After South and West pass, North has a routine 1♠ opening. East shouldn’t even think of overcalling 2♠ (lousy suit, lousy hand and vulnerable to boot!).

What should South respond? He could raise diamonds (showing a limit raise). However, his hand looks very notrumpy to me. I’d better stop adding “y” to all these words—my spell-checker is rejecting everything so far this month. South doesn’t really have everything stopped, but his hand looks so flat and notrump looks more to the point than diamonds. How many notrump should South bid? One notrump would show 6-10. Possibly South should downgrade his hand and make that call. If he is more optimistic, he can bid 2NT. If he were an unpassed hand, that 2NT response could be ambiguous. Some players treat it as 11-12 invitational, while others play it as 13+ forcing (I happen to recommend the former). It is a matter of partnership agreement. As a passed hand, which South is, there can be no ambiguity. The jump to 2NT must show more than 6-10, but less than an opening bid. Since I open most 12 counts, I’d say the range for 2NT by a passed hand is 11 to 11.  That’s a narrow range!

North doesn’t really have enough to go to game (he knows there are 23 HCP combined). He passes and 2NT is the final contract.

West makes his normal lead from his longest and strongest suit. Playing “Standard” the lead is the ♠5 (4th best). Dummy plays low and third hand plays high (the 10) and declarer wins the jack.

In notrump, declarer should count winners. South now has 3 heart tricks to go with the 2 top spades. That’s only 5 fast winners. By knocking out the ♠A, he can develop 4 more tricks. Notrump contracts are a battle of timing and stoppers. When South knocks out the ♠A, he has to hope the opponents can’t cash enough tricks to set him. From South’s point of view, he has no choice but to play on diamonds. Cashing his 5 top tricks and then playing diamonds later will be too helpful to the defense. Maybe by playing diamonds right away, the defense will lose its way. Maybe they won’t be able to signal for a club switch. Maybe clubs will split 4-3, in which case declarer will still make his contract (losing only 4 clubs and the ♠A). On a good day, clubs could be blocked (picture one defender with king-queen doubleton).

So, declarer wins the ♠J and starts the diamonds from hand. West should duck the first round (second-hand low), but he has to win the second round. Meanwhile, he is unable to get a signal from his partner (in “standard” carding, all East can do is play hi-lo in diamonds to indicate that he started with an even number of diamonds). When West takes his ♠A, what should his thinking be?

From the first trick, he knows the entire heart layout. He knows his partner has 107 doubleton. How’s that? Third hand has to play high, so when declarer’s jack won the trick, West knew declarer also had the AK. What about the ♠7? If declarer had AKJ7 in hearts, he would have responded 1♠ (not 2NT). So, declarer has exactly AKJ in hearts.

How about tricks? It sure appears that in addition to the AKJ of hearts and dummy’s AK of spades that declarer has 4 diamond tricks in all. That means declarer has at least 9 tricks. If West makes a passive return (such as a heart or a spade), declarer will soon claim those 9 tricks. What does declarer have in the way of HCP? West knows of 8 points in hearts and it looks like declarer also has the ♠J for 9. That doesn’t leave much in the black suits. In fact, West’s partner is likely to hold very strong clubs. Declarer can’t have much in that suit. Accordingly, an attacking (aggressive) switch is called for.

West switches to the ♠K. I can picture East smiling, but the way he shows his pleasure is to signal encouragement. Playing standard signals East plays a high one, the ♠8 to say: “Come on partner—more clubs—I like it.” West continues clubs and East enjoys taking all of his clubs to set the contract one trick.

Lesson Points:

1)      Do not open ugly flat 11-counts, especially vulnerable.

2)      Make sure you know how your partnership plays a 2NT response to a minor-suit opening.

3)      As a passed hand, a jump response of 2NT shows approximately 11 HCP and denies a 4-card major.

4)      On defense, after partner plays 3rd-hand high to your lead against notrump, try to picture declarer’s holding in that suit.

5)      On defense, decide if you should be passive or aggressive. When declarer has enough tricks for his contract, consider an aggressive shift.

6) **For Advanced players** -- Declarer could have made it tougher on the defense. If he sacrifices a trick by winning trick one with a higher heart (not the jack), look what illusion he creates. When the 10 forces the ace (or king), West will place his partner with the ♠J. This might seduce him into continuing hearts when he wins his ♠A.