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Tales of Akarana 3

The Lure of the Vulnerable Game.

It’s Teams. We’re vulnerable. We have enough high card points to make game a possibility. Should we therefore go for gold? It seems many of us tried at the wrong time on this evening.

So, a couple of bidding situations. Firstly, your partner blesses you with a pre-empt in your singleton suit. What to do?

Board 18.

West              North            East                South

                                                Pass                3Diamond-small

Pass                ?

The North hand is: Spade-small T95            Heart-small AKQ96      Diamond-small2                  Club-smallAK42

with just your side vulnerable.

Then, some competition for you:

Board 21.

West              North            East                South

                        1Spade-small                  2Heart-small                  2Spade-small

3Heart-small                  ?

and again, with just your side vulnerable, you hold:

                                    Spade-small QJT64        Heart-small 764            Diamond-small AK4            Club-small AJ

It grieves me to say that on the first hand above, the winning action was,probably, to pass 3Diamond-small. Let’s look:

Board 18
East Deals
N-S Vul
10 9 5
A K Q 9 6
A K 4 2
A 8 2
10 7 3
K J 10 7
10 6 3
W   E
K J 7 6
8 5 2
Q J 9 7 5
Q 4 3
J 4
A Q 9 8 5 4 3
West North East South
    Pass 3 
Pass 3  Pass 4 
All pass      


This was despite the fact that East had a very normal Club-smallQ lead against 4Heart-small. A declarer could win and try a diamond finesse or else could try to ruff both clubs in dummy, relying on the Heart-small10 to come down in three rounds.

In the first case, the finesse failed and there was no free pitch on the Diamond-smallA as North would suffer a ruff. The bad diamond break defeated 4Heart-small as well if declarer tried to ruff two clubs as the only way back to the North hand was via a diamond ruff.

Another option would be for South to bid 3NT after North’s Heart-small bid. The defence should succeed after either a club or heart lead.

A pre-empt can be a warning as in the above deal. Even a couple of most valuable major honours in the pre-emptor’s hand was not enough for either game to succeed legitimately. There must, though, come a point where you just have to bid after partner’s pre-empt. Give North a sixth heart here and it is surely mandatory. As nice as that North hand is, not only is one’s singleton in the wrong suit but also a likely game of 3NT requires the pre-emptor to have something reasonable in spades, making game pretty tenuous despite partner’s second in hand vulnerable against not opening.

What, though, of 3Diamond-small?

One would rather fail in the pursuit of game rather than in the pursuit of part-score. On the above lie of the cards, even 3Diamond-small is in danger, especially after a spade lead. Had the diamond finesse worked, 4Heart-small and even 3NT would start to look like fair contracts. Yet, pass still may be the winning choice. Of the 8 tables, four tried 4Heart-small , one 3NT and one 3Diamond-small. Only 4Heart-small was successful, twice. That surely brings in the human factor, that defence can be pretty tough. If you are not there, you cannot make it.

That last statement must ring true in the ears of 7 of the 8 North-South pairs in the second question given, Board 21. A reminder of the bidding thus far:

 West             North            East                South

                        1Spade-small                 2Heart-small                  2Spade-small

3Heart-small                  ?

and again, with just your side vulnerable, you hold:

                                    Spade-small QJT64        Heart-small 764            Diamond-small AK4            Club-small AJ

Your options are:

Pass.  Surely unthinkable with a handy 15 count?

3Spade-small.    Just competitive.

x        Game try in spades.

Your partner would surely have accepted your game try as they had a heart void:

Board 21
North Deals
N-S Vul
Q J 10 6 4
7 6 4
A K 4
A 7 3
A 10 5 3
Q 8 3
10 6 5
W   E
K 9
K Q J 9 8 2
7 2
Q 4 3
8 5 2
J 10 9 6 5
K 9 8 7 2
West North East South
  1  2  2 
3  3  4  4 
All pass      


With East on lead to 4Spade-small, the likely lead is a heart. Declarer can thus ruff all three hearts in dummy before taking the diamond finesse and drawing overtrick! Even the outstanding lead of the Spade-smallK followed by two more rounds of the suit does not bother North as long as they unblock to win the third round in the South hand, to be followed by a diamond finesse and two heart discards on the long diamonds.

It was rather handy that the Spade-small9 was doubleton or else declarer would be an entry short to dummy after the trump lead. Yet, that rather sums up the logic of bidding thin vulnerable games. You either need a bit of luck or perhaps a misdefence. The sizable reward makes the times you go minus worthwhile.

So, this time we can report that just one of the eight pairs reached 4Spade-small. Everyone else defended hearts at the 2,3 or 4 levels. Perhaps North opened a strong no-trump. So much then for spades being the boss suit. If they are rebiddable (and the above one is, just), then say you have 5 of them if you can.

I wonder if there is any coincidence that Michael Courtney was one of the declarers in the first example who bid and made 4Heart-small (with a little defensive help) and who was the only declarer in 4Spade-small in the second. He seemed to get more value, and imps, out of these two hands than any other North player.

Richard Solomon



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