Coming up trumps

Today’s hand has points of interest in bidding, declarer play and defence. It was submitted by Geoff Dunsford, who played it in a duplicate at Trumps.

Dealer West, EW vul.

          S Q98642
          H AT975
          D 83
          C —
WEST              EAST         
S AJT7            S K53      
H KQ8             H 32  
D K7              D QJT94
C AK76            C 852
          S —
          H J64
          D A652
          C QJT953

Depending on their notrump ranges, most West players opened either 1C or 2NT.

Let us say that West opens 1C. What should North do? A weak jump overcall to 2S is pretty good, indicating the 6-card suit and a weak hand, but wouldn’t it be better if there was a way for the overcaller to show both majors?

There is a way, called a Michaels Cue Bid. The immediate bid of the enemy suit is used to show a weak hand with 5-5 including any unbid major (not to show game points as in many other situations). Therefore if an opponent opens a minor, a bid of that minor shows 5-5 in the majors. If an opponent instead opens a major, a bid of that major shows five cards in the other major and a 5-card minor.

The strength for a Michaels Cue Bid is typically around 7-11 HCP, but this is a guideline only. The North hand shown, with 6-5 in the majors and two good suits, is ideal despite having only 6 HCP – and the favourable vulnerability should seal any doubts.

Most East-West pairs finished in 3NT. If West is declarer, North is likely to lead the fourth highest spade, the S6, which declarer wins in hand with the S7 before leading the DK which drives out South’s DA. South switches to the CQ. Declarer wins this and, given that South showed out of spades on the first trick, a marked finesse can be taken against North’s SQ. After cashing dummy’s diamonds (discarding two clubs and a heart from hand), the HA can then be driven out and 11 tricks made.

One benefit of the Michaels Cue Bid on this hand is that it would elicit a heart bid from South, thereby allowing North to find the heart lead which can beat 3NT.

With the North-South cards, Geoff Dunsford and his partner were tempted by the vulnerability to “sacrifice” in 4H which, needless to say, was doubled. Despite the fact that East-West have 26 HCP and balanced shape, and North-South are only in a moderate 8-card fit, there is only one lead to beat 4H.

When your side is strong in all the suits, as East-West are here, opponents who bid high are probably doing so on the basis of shortage, hoping to make tricks by ruffing. A trump is the lead to beat 4H because it cuts down on these ruffs.

Imagine West instead leads a top club. Declarer ruffs this with the H5, then leads a spade and ruffs with dummy’s H4. Next a club is led from dummy, for a “ruffing finesse” – if West refuses to cover, declarer will discard the diamond loser from hand, while if West does cover, the diamond loser will be discarded later on the clubs.

With the missing trump honours favourably placed, a continuing cross-ruff sees ten tricks made, although there is a potential pitfall. On the third round of diamonds from the South hand, West with K-Q-8 of hearts ruffed high. The North hand had A-10 of hearts plus spade losers and Geoff as declarer realised that if he over-ruffed with the HA, West could later get the lead and draw his H10 to stop it from making.

Instead, Geoff discarded a spade loser and was then sitting over West’s K-x of hearts with his A-10, and was able to make them both, and the contract, 4H doubled for 590 points.

A top board perhaps? Not quite. At one other table, a bidding mix-up saw East-West play in 4H in their 3-2 fit! That went six down, vulnerable, so it was their opponents who scored the top on the board, with 600 points.