A Distant Third

I'm playing in a national Swiss team event against good opposition when I pick up  S:A5 H:AQ D:KQ5 C:AJ10932 as dealer. Our 2NT range is 20-21, so I think this is a toss-up whether to open 2NT or 2C:. If partner passes 2NT, I probably won't make game unless he has all his stuff in clubs, or at least length there, which is possible, but is a little unlikely. This is about a 3-3/4 loser hand; partner will need to cover about 2-1/2 losers to make slam good. He'll try for slam over 2NT with that much stuff, so upon reflection, I think 2NT is sufficient.

I open 2NT. Partner transfers to hearts and bids 3NT. What now? In general, after a 2NT opening (or 2C:-2D:-2NT), I think it's generally right to play partner's major with two of the top three honors doubleton. The suit is blocked, and partner's trumps provide dummy entries, which often makes the major play a lot better. This one is a bit closer than normal, however, since I have a six-card suit. On the other hand, the opponents will probably lead spades, and I may need time to set up the clubs, so I choose to play 4H:.

The opening lead is the C:8. Dummy is a little surprising.

S: Q2
H: 108532
D: A104
C: Q74
S: A5
D: KQ5
C: AJ10932
With eight HCP and five poor hearts, I don't think I'd use this sequence. With 5332, it's attractive just to bid 3NT. It seems unlikely that partner will go down in 3NT when we have 28-29 HCP and two balanced hands, particularly when I have slow cards in my short suits. But a bad heart break could easily beat 4H:. A 5-4 heart fit is probably worth playing, though, so I think it's probably right to trot out Stayman, but it's close. Partner's actual sequence seems to me to be a distant third choice. Then again, the spades could be very dangerous at 3NT. If the S:K and C:K are offside, 3NT could go down when 4H: makes. But my hand is a little skewed for 2NT, and he couldn't know that I have only two spades. Of course, partner didn't expect me to choose hearts with only two of them.

Given the C:8 lead, the C:K obviously is on this time, so 3NT is cold, but 4H: has some issues. I cover the C:8, RHO produces the C:K, and I win. I need to avoid three trump losers, so I cross to the D:A and take the trump hook. It loses. That's pretty worrisome, but LHO thinks for a while and continues diamonds. That's good—he clearly has the S:K, so as long as he wins all the trump losers (and I don't have four of them!), I should be OK. I win the diamond and cash the H:A. No jack or nine appears, but they both follow. I have no entry to dummy, but LHO doesn't know that, so I continue with a small club. LHO pauses, but not long, and discards an encouraging spade on the club. I win the C:7 in dummy and play a trump. Both follow, so I claim 11 tricks to lose one IMP. Phew.

It turned out that LHO had the H:J, so he was in a pickle. If he ruffed the club, I could just play another club to dummy to draw RHO's trump. I don't think I've ever seen that play before when the entry possibly ruffed was a seven.

Copyright © 2014 Jeff Goldsmith