This interesting hand came up in club play recently and illustrates very well the problems that pre-emptive bidding can create. When the east player starts the auction at the level of three spades, the opponents have some guessing to do even though they hold the balance of power. South can take no action in direct position with such a balanced hand, and when north makes the takeout double in balancing position, south still has a big problem of how to bid her 11 high card points. The possession of an almost-certain spade trick led Charlene's partner to pass the double and collect 100 points for setting the contract by one trick. Other north-south pairs collected only 50, indicating that north did not double at those tables. The defensive potential looks better, but down one is the best the defense can do. The best scores north-south were made by those who bid four hearts and made 5 for a score of 450, although as you can see, if west manages to lead a club, the contract can be held to four. (Club lead and ruff, heart ace, another club ruff.)
For the south player to find a heart call on this holding would require a lot of faith in north's double, but looking for the major suit game is usually better than venturing into the five level of a minor suit game. My inclination with the south holding and the spade queen-10 would be to bid three notrump. This game bid has the advantage of the lowest number of tricks required and makes fullest use of the minor suit assets. West should lead the spade three against that contract, and best defense by east is to put in the jack. This forces declarer to take his queen immediately or see the contract go down at once. Now he dares not lead hearts because the defender with the ace will take it and run spades for a total of seven tricks, or down three. Luckily for declarer, the club king is onside and the clubs will be good for four tricks; the diamond suit splits for four more tricks and a total of nine without touching hearts.
The Unit game on the first of July will honor June Horsley's attainment of life master rank, and you could not find a more pleasant life master.
Next month we will begin qualifying games for the North American Open Pairs competition. This is a grassroots affair, with multiple qualifying games and flights for all levels of experience, and the district level winners will play off in a North American Championship next year.