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MICHAEL’S MISTIMED

Here’s a little play problem for you. No catches…and no help from the defence, either. It’s quite a reasonable 28 hcp slam. West leads Diamond-smallJ which wins the first trick. West continues with Diamond-small2.

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

 

Your hand is too strong for a Weak 2 opening but after opening at the 1 level, you tried to bid it down, trying to sign off in 4Heart-small. Partner had other ideas and after you showed 2 key cards (Heart-smallK, Club-smallA) and the Heart-smallQ, you were committed to slam.

So, what’s your plan? Ruff the second round of diamonds (that will be a big relief to partner!), draw trumps and test the spades. If they break worse than 4-2, you will have to fall back on the club finesse. Your chances of success must be pretty high.

Yet, the bidding above was not quite what happened at the table.

                   West          North         East            South

                                                                              1Heart-small

                   Pass            1Spade-small               2NT            3Heart-small

                   Pass            4Club-small               Pass           4Diamond-small

                   Pass            4NT            Pass            5Spade-small

                   Pass            6Heart-small              All Pass

2NT was a Michael’s Cue-Bid showing at least 5 cards in each minor suit. 4Club-small and 4Diamond-small were control showing cue-bids (ace, king, or in the case of 4Diamond-small a singleton in the suit bid) with 5Spade-small once more showing two key cards and that Heart-smallQ.

If you were given that bidding sequence, would it affect how you would play your slam? Same lead…same continuation.

The only thing that might be different is the result! With no interference, I am afraid to tell you that your reasonable slam failed. With the interference as indicated, you had a good chance of making your slam. Did you?

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

 

Spades behaved well enough but you were already down because of the bad heart break. With that interference, there was a much stronger possibility that not only did West hold the Heart-smallJ but that they held a 4-card suit. To make this slam, you had to win the lead at trick 2, lay the Heart-small10 on the table and if West played low, shut your eyes and call for dummy’s low heart…and open them hoping you have won the trick! No guarantees, of course, as East could hold singleton or doubleton or even tripleton jack but the odds favour the finesse because East should be much shorter in hearts than their partner.

If you are right, you will have a very good feeling inside.

What, though, of East’s call? Even if you are a fan of the weaker variety of Michael’s Cue-bid, (and I admit I am not) then this East hand is not the one to use such a bid.

Michael’s is a great convention for getting two suits across to partner in just one bid. Unfortunately, the opposition are allowed to listen as well and draw any conclusion they wish…like making 6Heart-small above.

It is a poor convention when the opposition end as the declaring side. It is true that it gives the opposition the chance to go wrong when East did hold Heart-smallJx. Indeed, on the above deal, East was odds on to hold the Club-smallQ, had declarer needed the club finesse. They did not.

The best message East could have given their partner was to lead a diamond rather than offer their poor club suit as a possible contract. Indeed, East was lucky that West did not lead the Club-smallQ at trick 1,after which 6Heart-small would make even with a trump loser (three rounds of hearts followed by three rounds of spades discarding South’s diamond).

The other danger of this 2NT bid is that you could incur a large penalty. 3Diamond-smallx should not go here for less than -800 which is not too bad if game is bid at the other table (a loss, say, of 4 or 5 imps) but is an awful result when slam fails at the other table…or if you are playing Pairs where most pairs are in the safety of 4Heart-small.

Michael’s Cue Bids should be reserved for when there is a reasonable chance your side can be declarer…or at least when your suits have a run of honour cards (e.g. QJT9) where bad results from being declarer are less likely.

With no interference, you are unlikely to make your slam. With the above East hand bidding 2NT, North-South are much less likely to get a bad result, no matter where they decide to play.

Richard Solomon

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