Safe Hand Endplay

by Matthew Kidd

West North East South
Pass Pass 3 Dbl
Pass 3 Pass 3NT

This hand is from board 19 (rotated) from the October 12, 2017 pair game at Adventures in Bridge, also available at The Common Game.

The favorable vulnerability preempt is very awkward. It’s often right to take the bull by the horns and bid 3NT directly over a three level preempt, particularly a major suit preempt. If you don't act partner will not have enough to even balance with a double that can be converted for penalty. Newer players often get robbed blind by such preempts. But this hand is a couple of points short and worse it doesn’t have a five (or six) card minor to provide a source of tricks.

The alternative is to double despite holding only three hearts. If partner bids spades, raise to game and hope he isn’t completely bust. Partner rates to have 7 HCP on average before you hear from him, might have five spades, and probably has nothing wasted in diamonds. Even allowing for the fact that partner wasn’t strong enough to jump directly to game, and therefore more likely to have 6 HCP on average for the 3♠ bid, you should still have decent chances in game.

But of course partner bids hearts. Going quietly here is fine, particularly at matchpoints, but it doesn't make as interesting of a story. The bold alternative is to bid 3NT. What does this bid mean? Normally making a takeout double and rebidding a suit or notrump show a very strong one-suited hand or notrump hand and cancels the implication of shortness in opener’s suit. But in the limited room over a three level preempt we have to be more creative. If you really have the rare 4NT-style flat 25 HCP hand, you can rebid 4 and hope you find the right place, perhaps slam (a direct 4 bid shows a major suit oriented hand and asks partner to bid a major). So 3NT here still implies shortness in diamonds, promises a stopper, and says you want partner to figure out what to do. If he has the K you would like him to pass. If he has five hearts, you would like him to carry on to 4. This risk is that he has neither. When he passes you see:



The 8 is led and West plays the Q. Plan the play.

You duck the first diamond to kill the communication, hoping East didn’t preempt on a six bagger, and win the K continuation. What now?

It’s not clear at matchpoints whether you should play to make or to minimize the damage. With no diamond to ruff, the best result in 3 is likely the same as the best result in 3NT but if you are going down, you are probably going down worse in 3NT. So the best chance for a good result is to play to make.

West must have the ♠A to give you any chance. So assume he has it. And don’t feel pessimistic; with KQ-seventh and the ♠A, East might have opened 1. Say you play off four rounds of hearts to strip West of second suit in preparation for some kind of endplay. The suit splits 3-3. On the fourth round, East pitches a diamond as you and West pitch spades. What now?

The easy line to play West for the ♣K. If the suit breaks 3-2 you have three clubs, a spade, four hearts, and a diamond. And even if clubs are 4=1, you will prevail because East will be endplayed in spades when he takes the ♣K. But when I tried this line and East didn’t have a Tom Tatham style preempt, I went down several. This was the full hand.

What can you do if you decide East is more likely to have the ♣K? First hope he doesn’t also have the ♣J or ♣T in which case you’re dead. At trick seven, play a low club from dummy and cover East’s ♣8 (or ♣K), ducking into West.

West has to win to prevent an overtrick and exits safely for now with a club. But this gives you three clubs and spade. Well done.

So which line is best? Under the assumption that East does not have the ♠A, East is more likely to have the ♣K than not. But you also need him not have the ♣J or ♣T which given his likely doubleton is a 50-50 proposition. However, it turns out that ducks into West also works when West has the ♣K. When can win cheaply but is now endplayed in both black suits as below. So this line is the clear winner.