Everyone's favorite hand from Wednesday was Board 23, in which East held one of the most powerful hands I've seen at the table in a while:
If E-W had the auction to themselves, it would probably go something like this:
2C [strong, artificial, and forcing] - 2D [waiting; no good 5-card suit to show];
2H [natural and forcing] - 3C [cheapest minor showing a really awful hand];
3NT [offer to play] - Pass [yes, there's a heart fit, but with no ruffing value and no tricks, it's best to stay at a low level].
In modern bridge, one almost never has a hand this nice all to himself. Somebody will preempt, or open light, or overcall your 2C opening. As it happened, I held the North cards and opened 1S in third seat. [Incidentally, I think this hand is an opening one-bid in first or second seat also. A good main suit, great shape, and defensive tricks all add up to an opening. At favorable vulnerability, I would probably open 4S in third chair.] East had an easy double on the first round. South passed, and West showed her suit with 2C. I bid 2S [I still really like my hand!] and East had a tough call, but finally came out with 4H. We defended this well to set it two tricks.
Here's what I would be thinking with the East hand:
OK, my right-hand opponent has opened 1S in third chair. I have an easy double.
Now partner's shown a bad hand (surprise!) with some club length, and righty's bid his spades again.
4H seems like the automatic bid here, but could anything be better?
Well, pard seems to have length in my shortest suit. That's not so good. And on the auction, I doubt he has as many as 4 points. Bad things could happen in 4H as well - I don't have the ace of spades, and if my LHO is short there, they could get some ruffs in. So 4H may not be the right spot.
How many tricks would I have in notrump? Well, six hearts and two minor-suit aces are pretty sure. If South is a good partner and leads North's suit, I now have nine tricks with the king of spades as well. North probably has the queen of spades, too, so if he continues the suit I can take the jack of spades too! Looks like nine pretty sure tricks. What could go wrong? Well, if they knock out my ace of clubs and partner doesn't have a second club stopper, I might go down. But since partner's bid clubs and my RHO has bid spades, I think it's pretty likely that a spade will get led. It's not perfect, but I think this has the best shot. 3NT!
The important lesson here is: Try to mentally play out the hand during the auction. You'll be amazed at what you can come up with.
Next time you're in SW Florida, pop down to Boca Grande - it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and some of the friendliest bridge players I've ever met.