Maritha Pottenger

Hands are from Adventures in Bridge, Senior Pairs, October 5, 2018.

Hand #11

North (Dummy) Q842 J7 AQJ62 K10

East (Defender): 76 K1062 754 AQ84

The auction goes: 1 by North. You pass in the East. South bids 1, and partner doubles. North raises to 2 and you bid 3. South passes. West passes, and North takes the push to 3. All pass.

Partner leads the 9 and Declarer takes the A on Dummy as you follow low. Declarer then plays a spade to his J, and your partner takes the A.

Partner now shifts to the 9. Declarer thinks a long time and play the 10, so you win with the Q. What now? Your issue is whether to cash another club, hope to give partner a diamond ruff, or switch to a heart.

If partner has led a singleton diamond, you can give him a ruff now and another ruff when he gets back to you with the A. You may think it likely that partner has a singleton diamond because he appears to have doubled on 10 HCP. (South is marked for the K on the lead, and with the K the way he has played the suit. Partner's club play makes it apparent that Declarer has the J as well. That leaves only the A and AQ for partner's possible high cards.)

On the other hand, one spade trick, two heart tricks, and two club tricks will set this contract. Partner could have led a doubleton diamond—and the 9 does look more like a doubleton than a singleton. The point is: you do NOT have to guess. You can cash your other high club, giving partner a chance to give you suit preference by the club he plays. If he plays another high club under your Ace, he wants the heart shift. If he plays his lowest club under your Ace, he wants the diamond ruff.

This allows you to set the contract one trick whenever partner has a doubleton diamond, and three tricks when partner has a singleton diamond. If partner indicates a singleton when you cash your second high club, lead your HIGHEST diamond for partner to ruff to show your K. He will cash the A, and play a heart to your K, and you can give him another diamond ruff.

This defense was not found by our E/W pair. East tried to give partner a diamond ruff and our second club loser went away on the long diamonds in Dummy.

Hand #20

North opened 1NT (15-17) and East elected to pass, though some Easts will make a penalty double with that 16-HCP hand. With a fifth diamond, I think the double is mandatory. With only four diamonds, East has to decide. He is worried about being end played a lot with all his Kings after the diamonds are done. Our East passed.

South passed. West passed—which is wrong according to Mel Colchamiro. According to Mel's rules, in the pass-out seat, against a strong NT, it is correct to bid any time you have a singleton, a void, or two doubletons. [If you want a copy of my handout on overcalling NT according to Mel's rules, email me and ask.]

West could show spades and a minor. E/W can make 3, 3NT, and 4.

Friendly defense allowed me to escape for down one in our 1NT contract, rather than down three (-800 if doubled). I ducked diamonds twice, won my A, and then played the Q.

Matthew Kidd’s comments

1NT is arguably the most difficult contract, given the diversity of cases which arise and the difficulty of diagnosing them at the table, both as declarer and particularly for the defense. I’ve said before that the one book no expert has dared to write is How to Play and Defend One Notrump.

The result swings back and forth several times on this hand. Double dummy any lead except a club gives the defense nine tricks. On the natural lead of diamond, declarer’s correct but non-intuitive play is to duck once. Ducking twice concedes another trick to the defense. If declarer ducks twice, declarer must lead a heart as Maritha did. West’s diamond continuation is okay; only another heart, which concedes a tempo to declarer, or the A, chucks a trick. But the fourth diamond leaves East with a guess. Only a spade exit is safe, whereas a black suit return by West would make East’s job easier. Even so, the defense should still collect eight tricks if East guesses wrong. So Maritha was lucky to escape for down one, which requires another defensive mistake.

Double dummy, declarer wins the second diamond trick and must attack hearts to escape for (only) down three. Say the 10 is run to the A and West returns a clubs. Declarer must fly with the A and continue hearts. Say East wins the second round of hearts with his K and leads a spade to partner’s A in order to have another low club led through declarer’s remaining Q2. East then cashes two clubs, two diamonds, and the K, before conceding a heart and spade to declarer.

What if declarer doesn’t fly with the A at trick four? Suppose he insert the Q, won by East’s K. Now East can cash the remaining two diamonds. During the play of the four diamonds, East might be able to signal a spade honor, depending on the partnership understandings. Then East can play the K followed by a low spade, ducked by East, to preserve a link. This holds declarer to only a spade and the A, because spades can be run after East takes his K. (East can also exit with a low spade, so long as West ducks, achieving the same result after taking the and unblocking the K.)

Flying with the A at trick four and leading another heart sets up two hearts trick while declarer still has a spade stopper, whereas on the previous line one round of hearts has to be pitched on the run of spades.

Why is ducking diamonds twice also fatal? Once again it comes down to the spade suit. East can switch to spades. For example, the K and small. The details don’t matter as much now. West doesn’t have to duck the second round because he still has the A entry. Declarer must snatch the minor suit aces due to the urgency of establishing the heart suit. In fact declarer does just as well to snatch the A at trick one. Ducking just delays the main line one non-fatal trick.

None of this is easy! But there are great benefits to defending 1NT well. I know—I’ve suffered many a -200 at the hands of David Oakley and his various partners.