At a local Florida duplicate game, the South players held:
♠7 ♥A Q 9 3 2 ♦K Q J 10 6 ♣4 3
They were vulnerable against not and saw a 1♠ opening on the right. What is your pleasure?
You could overcall in your major, but I think a Michaels bid of 2♠ to show hearts and a minor is a better description. Sure, the vulnerability is unfavorable, but your hand and suits are good enough. If you bid 2♠, West raises to 4♠, and your partner chimes in with 4NT.
What’s that? Surely not natural, and certainly not Blackwood. He wants you to choose your minor. You choose 5♦, of course, which is doubled by left-hand opponent. He leads a low spades and you see:
♠ 6 5 4
♥ 6 5 4
♦ A 9 8 4 3
♣ A 2
♥ A Q 9 3 2
♦ K Q J 10 6
♣ 4 3
First, you have to hope the opponents would have made their spade game. If your side could take a trick in each minor and two heart tricks, this sacrifice will be a phantom.
Also daunting is the vulnerability. Recall that you are vulnerable against not. If you go down 500, it won’t be much consolation if they could have made 420 their way.
How will you play after East wins the first spade and returns the ♣J?
There goes any chance of making your contract. Without this club return, you could have hoped to set up hearts and lose only a heart and a spade. Now, you are sure to lose a trick in each black suit and at least one heart. You will have to hope to hold it to down one. How?
Holding up in clubs won’t do you any good, so you win dummy’s ace. Eliminating spades in situations like this is a good idea. You ruff a spade, cross in trumps (both follow) and ruff the last spade and draw the last trump ending in dummy to reach:
♥ 6 5 4
♦ 9 8 4
♥ A Q 9 3 2
And now? If you think a heart to the 9 is a sure play for down one, think again (more on this later). You do have a sure way to avoid minus 500 in the above position. Exit with a club! Now what? If LHO wins, you are home free (he has to break hearts or give you a ruff‑sluff). If RHO wins, his only safe exit is a heart. You cover whatever he plays and West will be endplayed. Let’s review by looking at the Real Deal:
|Dlr: East||♠ 6 5 4|
|Vul: N-S||♥ 6 5 4|
|♦ A 9 8 4 3|
|♣ A 2|
|♠10 8 3 2||♠ -A K Q J 9|
|♥ K10 8||♥ J 7|
|♦ 2||♦ 7 5|
|♣ K Q 9 8 7||♣ J 10 6 5|
|♥ A Q 9 3 2|
|♦ K Q J 10 6|
|♣ 4 3|
As you can see, West has the hearts behind you. This is good news in that East–West were easily making their 420 in 4♠. But the news is good only if you can hold it to minus 200. After the spade lead and ♣J shift, you won the ace, stripped the spades and reached the previously shown position.
Notice what would have happened if you erroneously touched hearts yourself. West would win the first heart and exit safely in clubs for another fatal heart from East — down 500. But, by exiting in clubs, you assure yourself down only 200.
For down one you get an average board (not every East–West pair bid 4♠). For down two, I’ll let you guess what you get, but it starts with a Z.
Note: East could have achieved down two with a shift to the ♥J at trick two.
If you erroneously let the ♣J hold at trick two, East could set you two by next switching to the ♥J.