I remember not too long ago a pro saying that expert matchpoints used to be the most creative and challenging bridge available. However, he said, many pros play with clients now even in national events such as the Life Masters Pairs, and true expert matchpoints doesn't exist anymore. As I looked back at the hands from this past Tuesday's MIT game, I noticed this hand and the missed opportunity I had to possibly duplicate the thought process of an expert matchpoint player in striving for the overtrick.
I held the West hand, and my first problem was what to bid. There is a lot to be said for preempting with this hand, especially with the doubletons in both majors, but I consider this hand to be too strong to open a weak 2 first seat non-vul with in some of my partnerships. Most of my partners assume I have the K less than this actual hand.
So I guess I have to pass? Well, I would be more comfortable with passing if I could bid a natural 2 or even an invitational 3 jump shift opposite my partner's third seat opener. But we were playing 2-way reverse drury, fit-showing jumps, and a semi-forcing 1NT response over 3rd seat openers. The thought of playing 1NT making 1 for plus 90 versus 3 making 3 did not appeal to me. Therefore, I chose to open this hand 1!
North passed and partner responded 1, giving South quite a problem. They did not have a natural notrump bid available (although I wouldn't want to bid it even if I did have one, as I have no tricks to set up) and double might lead to all sorts of disasters. So South reasonably passed and I rebid my diamonds with 2. This was followed by two passes and South was faced with the same problem. Looking at practically 5 tricks in his own hand and not sure the opponents have a fit, he decided passing was his best chance for a plus score and so 2 became the final contract.
North led the Q and I was very happy with my contract. I have 5 diamonds, 1 heart, and 2 clubs so it seems likely that I'll make my contract, while N-S have more than half the deck in high card points and a 9 card heart fit, with at most one loser in each suit.
South thought for a while and then took the first trick with his ace, then drew trumps by playing ace and another. I drew the last trump, and played two rounds of clubs, hoping the ace was doubleton on my right. South held up on both rounds, and this is where I missed my opportunity. I played out the third club, and hoped that the spade ace was onside for my ninth trick, not thinking that it would matter much anyway. I ended up with 8 tricks for +90.
Let's go back to the point where I just played two rounds of clubs and try to construct all the hands at the table. North followed with the 6 and then the 5, while South followed with the 8 and the 9. The opponents were playing standard signals so it seems that North has 2-2 in the minors. How about the heart distribution? There are two clues that North is long in hearts. First, North discarded a heart on the third trump, and second, South's play of drawing trumps seems to be an effort to prevent you from ruffing hearts. He might not do that if he himself held long hearts. Can North have 6 hearts? Although it's quite possible that North would make a jump overcall if he held 6 hearts, it's also very likely that South would balance if he held 4 hearts. Another inference is that South is more likely to have the A, as North might well have overcalled with the A and 5 or 6 hearts to the QJ.
So now declarer should continue with two more rounds of trumps, discarding clubs from dummy. Notice that South is already in trouble. South must discard two spades and keep two hearts, for the heart is his exit card. Now if declarer can figure out the position, the last trump will finish the job. South cannot discard the A, and if he discards the Q, then declarer can just duck a spade to the now bare ace. Therefore South must discard a heart, but that is not good enough. Declarer cashes the K, and then exits in clubs and South is endplayed. It is interesting that West must have control in hearts for the end play to work. In the actual comparison, +110 would have been a top, while +90 was worth 5 out of 7 matchpoints.