Come Alive. Part II

With 6-4, Bid More

My last column tipped our hats to Grant Baze and his advice, “with 6-5, come alive,” then explored the minimum requirements for opening 6-5 hands. The major conclusion is that informed opinions vary so widely that there's no substitute for partnership discussion and agreement. I proposed as a working arrangement: 

OK to open 6-5 if you have at least two defensive tricks, even if in the same suit, i.e. AK, and if the suit you bid is strong enough to stand as lead director. 

This is the minimum. Many discussants want a better minimum than that. I invited BBO readers to flesh out discussion of this issue in the Replies section.

I ended the column, which you need not refer to follow this one, with two problems from a deal, which I’ll discuss here. The discussion here is self-contained.

I’ll start with the declarer’s problem, then bidding, and defense, all based on the same deal.

Plan the play at 6 hearts with the layout below with a diamond opening lead. EW Vul; South has bid hearts and spades; North has bid clubs and supported hearts.  The solution begins right after the following diagram, so plan your play before reading on.

Declarer needs to plan to ruff two spades in dummy and lead to the ♣K when he still has entry to dummy to cash a winning club, once he’s set it up.  Why not make the club play early before West can figure out that ducking the Ace, if he holds it, is a good play? (Sometimes, when declarer leads towards a King in dummy, West needs need to win the Ace right away or forever lose a trick. Other times, like here, West can take it now or not—the trick will come back one way or the other.)  So win the opening lead in dummy, come to hand with a trump, and lead a club towards dummy. If West ducks smoothly, I’d finesse (going down on this deal). Then set about ruffing two spades, drawing trumps, cashing a winning club. 

An impatient South will play ♠A, heart to hand, ♠K, ruff a spade, heart to hand, ruff a spade and so on. Problem with that is West, with a singleton spade will waste one of his hearts on the ♠K. No need to cash the ♠K until after you draw trumps. Did you fall into that trap?  And the longer you wait to lead the club towards dummy, the easier it will have been for West to figure out it’s costless for him to duck. 

Bidding:

The 2/1 response of 2♣ and the rebid of 2♠ are routine for our partnership. 

The 2/1 textbooks diverge in their treatment of the reverse rebid of 2♠. Some, Hardy for example, say the reverse need not show extra value in this auction, already forcing to game.  It shows Shape. Others, like Thurston say it does show extra Strength.   Partnerships should discuss this.  To be clear, the Shape bidders might have extra strength, they just don’t promise it.  There is no right answer.  I suspect you should prefer Shape at match points and Strength at IMPs.  Even Hardy more-or-less waves his hands at the problems that the Shape bidders have in showing the extra strength when they have it and we can appreciate that failure to do so is more costly at IMPs.  

In the current auction, responder shows heart support at his third turn to bid and opener has nothing more to say other than to bid game:  4

Responder has boxed himself him—he must go on to investigate ace count for slam without having any idea about fit in clubs.  His hand is strong enough for that.

One reader suggested this column would shirk its duty if it failed to address sequences where South initially passes and the consequences flowing from an initial Pass.  Al Roth, may he rest in peace, would not open this hand, at least the requirements he gives in his book make this hand fall short by one high card point.  And, although I’d open this hand, it fails the “working arrangement” test I give in my initial paragraph above for opening 6-5 hands.  (If you count fractional honor tricks, you might say KJ10 and AJ9 add to two honor tricks.)

The auction would be difficult, requires judgment, and is worth discussing.  This is the bidding problem from the end of my last column.  Assume South initially passes, then responds to North’s opening 1♣ opening bid, does he first bid spades or hearts?  I prefer 1, planning to bid spades later, reversing, to show strength, having limited my hand with the earlier pass:

Expert Norths don’t splinter with a singleton Ace, I read.  (My limited experience teaches a bit of the why. The current South hand provides a good example.  South who knows his partner has a singleton spade x devalues his hand; South who knows his partner has a singleton space Ace and good trumps is excited by prospects.)  What is left to bid?  2 is a forcing bid, but not much else recommends it.  3 jump shift?  Does that bid give any hint of heart fit?  I’m stuck and would like advice. 

Maybe South prepares his initial response to bid both suits without reversing:

Here, South has limited his hand with the initial pass, so splinters with his rebid to show good support and a singleton diamond.  North has shown moderate strength already and cue bids his space Ace.  South has nothing more to say, so bids 5.  North has heard opening spade bid, strong heart support, and a singleton diamond, so deduces something in clubs.  North hears Grant Baze whispering: With 6-4, bid more, so bids slam. Or, do you think I’m writing with 20:20 hindsight?

The difficulty of bidding these hands if South fails to open his 5=6 suggests the wisdom of opening.  Or, do you think I’m writing with 20:20 hindsight? 

Defense

Now, your defense problem, initially posed at the end of the previous column, repeated here.  What do you think after six tricks about how to handle the defense? You are West, EW Vul:


Click NEXT in the diagram to follow the play.

Now what?  Formulate your strategy before reading my analysis.

After six tricks, declarer knows virtually everything about the deal and you know almost as much.  Declarer knows how many spades East holds and whether dummy’s trump holding will suffice to ruff out the losers there. 

You assumed declarer held six hearts and they’ve split 2-2. 

You don’t know whether declarer originally held four spades or five (given the theme of these columns you can guess, but let’s not use that clue here). 

  • If declarer originally held four spades, he had three cards in diamonds and clubs, with a diamond played at trick one.  Unless he has the K, no matter how West plays when clubs are led, declarer can get one trick and the defense can get two.  So, plan to duck in tempo and deprive declarer of that one trick if he guesses wrong.
  • Here, assume declarer originally held five spades including the ♠Q.  He can ruff his two losers and lose his remaining minor suit card if West takes his Ace when clubs are led to the dummy.   If declarer does not hold the ♠Q, He has a spade to lose AND a minor suit card.  If declarer leads towards dummy soon, West will not know whether declarer has the ♠Q and must take his ♣A or if declarer is fishing for West to hop up and save declarer a guess.

If you, as West, are good enough to think the preceding at the table fast and duck the ♣A when declarer leads towards dummy, declarer is likely to mis-guess and finesse the Jack.  He won’t imagine you out-thought him on this one.   In fact it would be an outstanding declarer who could think all this through and lead a club towards dummy at trick seven.

I think the lesson for declarer might be: if you can see that you will eventually put West to a guess, better to give it to him early than late, even if you haven’t worked out the details. 

With 6-5, come alive; with 6-4, bid more.

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