It would be nice if we always located the ever-desirable, eight-card “magic” trump fit with partner. Unfortunately, eight-card fits don’t appear in every deal.  There will be times when we settle for less: either a 5-2 or 4-3 fit. As the auction proceeds, responder may face a choice between them. Which is better?

At first glance, 4-3 looks superior, because there’s an extra trump in dummy, providing ruffing power if there’s shortness in a side suit.  However, this apparent advantage is more than offset by the problem of trump length in the closed hand. Trump rate to split 4-2, providing a defender with as many trump as declarer. This in turn might cause declarer to lose control of the trump suit. Not so with a 5-2 fit. Barring a freak 5-1 split, declarer’s fifth trump ensures suit control when playing five opposite two — an issue far more important than enhanced potential for a ruff in dummy.

Let’s say you’re dealt the following hand:

          ♠️ A K 8 6 2
          ♥️ 6 4
          ♦️ 7 5 3
          ♣️  Q 7 2

Partner opens 1♥️. You respond 1♠️. Partner rebids 2♦️ to show a minimum of five hearts and four diamonds. What now?  2♥️ is by far the best choice. The bid shows suit preference rather than true support. You’d love to hold three hearts, but the alternatives are far worse:

• Passing 2♦️would end the bidding. With only four diamonds in hand, declarer may lose control of the trump suit unless diamonds split 3-3. There’s another consideration. You actually prefer diamonds, but the 2♥️ “false preference” call gives partner another bid with extra values. Although partner has denied the values for a jump shift to 3♦️, the 2♦️ bid could exist with as many as 16-17 high-card points. Passing 2♦️ denies partner the opportunity for a third bid with the appropriate values.

Your choices are few:

• 2♠️ would guarantee six cards as the opener rates to be short in spades.
• 2NT doesn’t fit because you lack the 10-12 high-card points necessary for the bid.

So you bid 2♥️. Your modest hand is the key component of the deal featured in this column. Your decision after partner’s 2♦️ rebid is of utmost importance.
If you pass, partner would be playing in 2♦️, a decidedly inferior contract. Your decision to return the opener to his original suit makes all the difference in the world. Not only would declarer have better trump control if playing in hearts; by keeping the auction alive, you give partner the opportunity for a third bid to show extra values. As you will soon see, opener’s third bid will give you the opportunity for a third bid of your own. 

And what’s more, your third bid will place the final contract exactly where it belongs. What I’m suggesting is that there will be times when simple suit preference (or even false preference) can lead to a contract that is truly sublime. 

The hands, with South dealing and no one vulnerable:

                                                        NORTH  (You)
                                                         ♠️  A K 8 6 2
                                                        ♥️  6 4
                                                        ♦️ 7 5 3
                                                        ♣️  Q 7 2

             WEST                                                                                  EAST
            ♠️  10 7 4 3                                                                        ♠️  J 9 5
            ♥️  J 2                                                                                ♥️  Q 10 9 8
            ♦️  K  J                                                                              ♦️  Q 9 8 6
            ♣️ A 10 9 5 3                                                                     ♣️  8 6

                                                         SOUTH (Partner)
                                                         ♠️  Q
                                                        ♥️  A K 7 5 3
                                                        ♦️  A 10 4 2
                                                        ♣️  K J 4

The bidding proceeds as follows:

          South                         West                      North                       East
          1♥️                             Pass                       1♠️                         Pass
          2♦️•                           Pass                       2♥️••                       Pass
         2NT•••                         Pass                      3NT••••                    All pass

Opening lead:  ♣️10

• Lacking the values necessary for a jump shift, South rebids 2♦️ (not 3♦️).

•• North actually prefers diamonds. But a 2♦️ contract rates to be dangerous because declarer may lose control of the trump suit with only four diamonds in hand. Knowing that diamonds aren’t likely to split 3-3, North opts for a “false preference” bid of 2♥️.  Returning partner to the five-card major enables declarer to maintain better control of trump. What’s more, 2♥️ gives the opener another bid if one is available.

••• With 17 high-card points and a solid second-bracket hand, South certainly has the wherewithal for a third bid.  2NT is clearly invitational to game.

•••• Now fully aware of partner’s extra values, North’s 9 high-card points merit a raise to game.

Declarer’s line of play is as elegant as the auction. West leads ♣️10, which declarer runs to his ♣️K.  He unblocks the ♠️Q, then leads the ♥️3.  East wins with the  ♥️8 and returns the ♣️8, West winning ♣️A and leading the ♣️3 to the ♣️Q. In dummy for the one and only time, declarer cashes the ♠️ A-K. Then he crosses to the ♥️A-K, West discarding to reveal the 4-2 split, and gives East the ♥️Q. East switches to the ♦️6, but declarer rises with the ♦️A and cashes the ♥️7. 

Nine tricks and game made, via three spades, three hearts, a diamond and two clubs.