A Qualified Success

by Chris Jagger

As usual you can deduce from the presence of this article that the County qualified for the Tolle final - fortunately this happens more often than not, as otherwise the December newsletter would have died long ago from lack of material! This year had several novel features, the first being the withdrawal of Giles/Julian through illness.

We were also welcoming two new debutants, the Artful Roger, partnering Kends (an endearing partnership that refers to each other as `my cretin'), and Rodo, partnering Acejackem (already getting a reputation for bidding making slams off two aces). We also had a new Tolle team partnership in the form of Frisky and Cath `I'm a grandmother now.' Our last pair - JY and I - that regular pair that play together about twice a year - and for those of you who think we waste the time we spend waiting to score up with the rest of the team, I can assure you this article was written during those waits!

First set and the Artful Roger had a tough problem:

S Q10842
H K9
D 1064
C Q96
S 97
H QJ762
D J3
C AJ72
W         E
S K5
H 1054
D KQ9752
C 103
S AJ63
H A83
D A8
C K854

Everybody played 4s, making ten tricks, except the AR who was one down. `Basically my cretin didn't take a finesse.' On the face of it, it would seem that most players would have made this one! However, the AR had a weak 2d opened against him. He ducked the dJ lead, and correctly judged that East held a 2362 shape. Thus having cashed the second diamond, he played three rounds of hearts, before ace and another spade. If West had had the sK he would have been endplayed, leaving declarer to lose only one club trick. In fact East had it, and he was one down.

Good card reading for a game swing away. However, there was a better line. Cash the ace of spades first, then ruff out the hearts, and ruff the third diamond with the jack of spades. Now either hand can hold Kx of spades and be endplayed.

Next hand of interest was a lead problem against a grand slam:

S AQ732
H 1084
D -
C KQ932
S KJ86
H 76
D J9432
C 87
W         E
S 105
H J2
D KQ86
C J10654
S 94
H AKQ953
D A1075

Mostly uncontested, our auction was accurate but too revealing: 1s-2h-4h-5c-5d-(X)-XX-5s-7h. Oppo led a diamond and thirteen tricks were wrapped up rapidly. Leading against slams is largely a matter of belief in the opponents, and I confess I might well lead a diamond here - the easiest way to defeat a grand is to cash partner's ace. If you believe the auction, declarer has solid hearts (since no grand slam force), and aces in both minors, whilst dummy has short diamonds (think why you know this). A diamond lead won't cause a problem, whilst either a spade or a trump could. Try playing this hand on a spade lead! Or try xx AKQxxx Axx Ax opposite AQxxx xxx x KQxx on a trump lead.

Next was what looked like an easy slam:

S KQ43
H KJ10
D KQ532
C 9
W         E
S 1096
H AQ863
D A107

Both Cambridge pairs made heavy weather of it, starting 1h-2d-2NT-3s-3NT-4h. This beautiful auction, completely describing responder's shape, was perhaps misguided. Bidding 3h over 2NT would have simplified things (and the spade fit could still have been found later if partner was 4-4 in the majors), and since all you are interested in is the four aces and queen of hearts, this patterning out is far less necessary than at other times. Cath bid 5c over this and they progressed to slam. Rodo thought they were playin' Blackwood, and was left to play in Blackwood.

The team view was that 4NT clearly ought to show a 3433 shape and want to play there. I agree with the view but also have sympathy for Rodo. Sequences such as 1s-2d-2h-3c-3s-4NT clearly ought to be invitational too (else how do you bid a big hand without a fit, and if you want to Blackwood you could easily cue 4c first). Yet I know that some of the team would play this latter sequence as Blackwood. I think that Rodo and I are at least consistent - he plays them both as Blackwood, whilst I play them both as natural. If you don't have an agreement to the contrary I don't see why the first is clearly natural whilst the second is Blackwood.

One hand that was too tough for our opponents, Chris Dixon and Pat Davies:

S 86
D A86
W         E
S K973
H K86
D J7
C 8643

At unfavourable the auction proceeded 1c-(2d)-P-(P), X-(P)-2s-(P), 3c. For me the culprit is West. There was little point reopening with a double, as partner was unlikely to be passing, whilst 2NT would have shown the hand nicely.

Scoring up with Kends is an experience in the language department, amongst others. He talks of `monkeys' and `sticks and stones' - that is, 500 and 1100 respectively. The term for 1700 is `you won't like this one!' His aggressive style means that most nine counts are being opened. However, Acejackem was not to be outdone, making strong jump shifts on nine counts! To be fair, it was s - hAK10642 d76 cQ8753 opposite a 1c opening. My advice for many different situations is that if you describe distributional hands with low point count via strong bids, your partner will drive you too high. This time 6c, missing two aces. Still, +1370 was a fine score as the rest of the pairs were going off in 4h!

Going into the last set everything was finely balanced, and it was far from clear we were going to qualify. We decided to rotate partnerships to avoid anybody having to play with their cretin, and stormed through the last twelve boards notching up a couple of hundred imps (on the cross imp), and a convincing first place in our group.

As usual, the real reason we won was our captain, The Impeccable Scorer, who never gets frustrated when JY and I ask for the sixteenth time where we should be sitting.