The Spring Fours -- Part One
by Nick Smith

This year's exercise in ritual humiliation and sleep deprivation took place, as ever, in sunny Stratford. A couple of hundred middle aged blokes in glasses squinted at their cards and slugged it out for every overtrick. I partnered Alan Wilson, playing our newish two-way Club system (still mostly Precision) while our team-mates were the unpractised partnership of Rob Procter and John Slater.

These are some of the deals that gave us the most trouble. I fear my analysis will be more than a little biased, but here goes...

Our first round match was against Scottish international regulars, Coyle and Mathieson, Silverstone, Hoffman and Teltscher. This was the exhausting third board of the day...

Dealer S
EW Vuln
S6 2
HK 10 9 8 6 5
DA J 2
CK 2
HQ 7
DQ 10 7 6 4 3
CJ 7 5 4 3
HandSQ 9 8 4 3
HA J 4
DK 5
CQ 10 9
SA K J 10 7 5
H3 2
D9 8
CA 8 6

You bid unopposed to four spades and West leads the six of diamonds. Your line? (If you play low, East will win with the king and play a trump back. Now what?)

Say you elect to win trick one with the ace and play three rounds of clubs, ruffing. Then you try a trump to the jack and West pitches the diamond four. Next comes the eight of diamonds to the ten, two and king. East (Willie Coyle) goes into the tank for a full five minutes and finally returns the nine of spades. Your line from here?

I felt there was a choice of two lines at this point. You could play West for the ace of hearts and try a heart to the king. Or you could play trumps from the top, forcing East to win the fifth round and hope he is forced to lead a heart away from the ace. The latter line works. I went for the former and went off. The question, I guess, is why East has felt it necessary to sacrifice the possibility of a second trump trick? Maybe it is because he has no more diamonds and clubs and doesn't want to lead away from the heart ace? Is that clear? It looks a bit clearer in retrospect, although not exactly easy.

Despite this failure, we all played really tight bridge for 24 boards and built up an 18 IMP lead. I felt we also played pretty solid bridge on the final eight but one or two tight games didn't make. There were many boards around midnight which made the difference between winning and losing including #47, where Alan and I bid a vulnerable four spades which was almost exactly 50% on the position of the diamond king. It was wrong, and the Scots made a part-score at the other table to win the match by two IMPs. Indeed, they had mis-scored and thought they'd lost, so we had to put them right.

This meant we had to play the Gipson team on Saturday morning. Both sides made very few mistakes over the 32 boards but this time we found ourselves 12 down going into the last set. Only two boards offered much swing-potential and on the first of these our opponents stopped in four hearts with the vulnerable slam odds on to make and indeed almost certainly making as the cards lay. So we were quietly hopeful of 13 in on that. Then there was this one:

Dealer S
NS Vuln
SK J 10
HQ 3 2
DA 2
CK 9 5 3 2
S8 5 3 2
H10 8
D6 5
CA 8 7 6 4
HA 9 7 5 4
DK Q J 9 3
CJ 10
SA Q 7 6 4
HK J 6
D10 8 7 4

You get to four spades again (1S -- 2C -- 2S -- 4S) and West leads the ten of hearts which goes to the two, seven and king. Your line?

The lead looks worryingly like it might be a shortage, although you can't see the nine so it may be from ten-nine. The winning line, as the cards lie, is to draw all the trumps and lead the club queen. West can't hurt you and East's jack-ten doubleton in clubs comes tumbling down to give you the nine of clubs as your tenth trick.

But I don't think there is any reason to anticipate that layout, is there? I felt I would need a diamond ruff in dummy and also to establish the club king while I still had an entry. The defence had no trouble finding its heart ruff so it was one off. Should I have done better? Perhaps not this time.

At the other table, West led his other red doubleton and the contract rolled in. So that was 12 out. And on the preceding slam hand, our teammates had unluckily stopped in a part-score to lose another 10 IMPs. The other six boards were 7-0 to us but we'd lost again.

Typical, you play solid, hard bridge for 64 boards and then you go out at the first possible opportunity.

So we were down among the Dead Men and into a Punch Bowl group of eight twice-defeated teams, only one of whom would survive a round robin to go into the Punch Bowl KO stages. Our first match was against Porter/Clark, Youngs/Stockdale, arguably the best team in the league. After the President's Cup Final [Oxfordshire's Knockout Teams Trophy --Ed] the previous weekend, Bryony in particular must hate the sight of us and this proved to be a set which she may not want to review closely as the luck all went our way. On #3 an optimistic view of a big hand led to a jump to six spades which we were able to double and take for 500 -- 16 IMPs to us. On #6 I opened a two-way one club, LHO found a red-against-green overcall of one spade with a 5233 11-count and SQ7432 and we judged to double and play there. Dummy went down with a trump void and that was 800 and another 9 IMPs to us. But we were seriously lucky on #8...

Dealer W
None Vuln
H7 6 2
DQ 10 9 8 5 2
CK J 10
S9 3 2
DJ 7 4
CA Q 9 7 4
HandSK J 8 7 6 4
HK 9
C8 5 3 2
SQ 10 5
HJ 10 8 5 4 3
DA K 3
PassPassDblAll Pass

Ah, the joys of Ghestem! Alan's two diamonds was alerted and explained confidently as both majors -- Alan is not in the habit of getting this wrong! Dummy is not quite optimal as a major two-suiter, but better than it might be. You've decided to lead the ace of clubs which goes to the ten, two (discouraging) and six. You try the seven of diamonds which goes to the eight, six and (pause) ace.

Declarer (me) plays the five of spades to the two, ace and seven, then the king of clubs, pitching the ten of spades, then the ten of clubs ruffing with the three of hearts, queen of spades ruffing (East plays the four) and a trump off the table to the nine, jack and queen. Now what?

Perhaps a bit shell-shocked, West did not find the diamond switch for partner to ruff, but led ace of hearts instead. So that was another 590 to the oldsters and more than enough for a 20-0 win to start the competition. East's double was perhaps a little misleading, and West suspected that even if she could ruff diamonds, it would be with a master trump trick. Probably our luckiest board of the weekend -- you don't usually get Ghestem wrong and emerge with a plus.

There was only one more match on Saturday and yet another Scot on my right. The first two boards of this match brought us down to earth with a massive bump...

Dealer W
Both Vuln
HJ 10 8 2
D10 5 4
CA Q J 5 4
SA K J 8 7 2
D9 8 3
CK 10 8 3
HandSQ 9 6 4
HK 6
DK Q J 6 2
C7 2
S10 3
HA Q 9 7 5 4 3
DA 7
C9 6
All Pass

For a change, a five heart contract and dummy is a joy to behold. West leads the ace of spades (five, six, three) and then the nine of diamonds which goes to the four, jack and ace.

Now you try the spade ten, ruffed in dummy -- West following with the jack and East with the queen. You try the heart jack from dummy, East plays low, and...?

Say you decide to finesse ... hooray, it works! How do you play it from here?

With West marked with the ace, king and jack of spades, the odds on the club finesse working appeared minimal. No matter, the strip squeeze can hardly fail, can it? I played out the trump suit, with East pitching a spade, a club, and most of his diamonds. After trick ten, the six remaining unseen cards were SJx, DK and CKxx. So I confidently exited with my last diamond to the king and ... East cashed a spade for one off! Aaaaaaaaaargh! It goes without saying that, if you are in six hearts, you have no choice but to take the club finesse and so the slam has to make. Yet I was one off in five!

West has stitched me up a kipper with that vulnerable three spade opening on a six-card suit and a hefty 11-count. I don't think there's any way I am getting this one right on that auction. So we picked up the second board of the match (polarity reversed)...

Dealer E
NS Vuln
SK J 8
HK J 2
D8 6 2
CA Q 10 9
SA 5 4
HQ 8 6 5
DK Q J 5
CK 3
HandS9 7 6 2
H9 7
D10 7 4 3
C8 5 2
SQ 10 3
HA 10 4 3
DA 9
CJ 7 6 4
DblAll Pass
1. 16+ or 11-13 balanced
2. 0-7 or a stronger balanced hand
3. could be 11-13 with 4 hearts or 16-19, natural
4. which is it?
5. 11-13 balanced
6. in tempo

West leads the king of diamonds to two, four (I think) and ... your line?

It looks as though West must have most, if not all, of the missing points for that double of one no trump. The diamonds may well be blocked, in which case you can just knock out the ace of spades and take nine tricks without worrying about the heart position. But Alan opted for what I think is the better chance of bringing in four heart tricks. He successfully finessed the jack of hearts, cashed the king of hearts and came back to the ace of hearts -- no luck there! He took his four club tricks, but West discarded spades. Eventually Alan had to play a spade, but West had the ace of spades, the queen of hearts and DQJx -- one off doubled.

While there may have been some indication that East was showing an even number of diamonds, this still looks like the right line to me. For the second hand in a row, we had been stitched up by the opposition bidding or, if that's putting it too strongly, the alacrity with which East bid two diamonds on 10xxx. At the other table, they stopped short of game so this was nine more IMPs out. The fourth board of the set was not much fun either...

Dealer S
Both Vuln
SK 7
HK 7 6 5
DA K 9 8 2
C7 2
SJ 10 8 4
HQ 4 3
DJ 3
CA K 9 4
HandSQ 6 5 3
DQ 5 4
CQ 8 6 5 3
SA 9 2
HA J 10 9 8
D10 7 6
CJ 10

You bid to four hearts unopposed and West starts by cashing the ace and king of clubs (three and five from East) and switches to the jack of spades. Your line?

Clearly, it would help to find the queen of hearts. Without other inferences, you'd play for 2-2, but here West has shown up with eight points and yet did not bid, thereby increasing the chances that East has the queen of hearts. OK, you're going to finesse through East, can you improve your chances by stripping the hand down? You can ruff out the spades and cash the ace and king of diamonds and then if West proves to be 2-2 in the reds with the queen of hearts, she will have to concede a ruff and discard. This is all very pretty, but I don't think it is justifiable to play for this -- the risk of diamonds being 4-1 is just too great.

Without the points inference, the best "technical" line is probably to eliminate the spades, cash the ace of hearts and run the jack. If this loses to a doubleton queen on the right, he may well have to open up diamonds with Qx or Jx.

A fourth possibility is to play the ace and king of diamonds and a third diamond. Whoever wins this needs to be alert enough to see that a ruff and discard won't cost at this point. You may have a better idea of the shape as you now make your trump guess. But is that enough compensation for taking the risk that diamonds are 4-1?

But eventually I just led the jack of hearts to the ace and played a small trump off the table ... and East showed out. Another decent contract bites the dust -- 13 IMPs out.

The remaining boards were a little more successful and somehow we had only lost the match 4-16. But it had been the sort of final set to keep you tossing and turning through the night with might-have-beens. Still, the group was still winnable...

(to be continued in the next issue of Tournament Focus)

Nick Smith