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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players

Damned if you do: Damned if you don’t.

It’s that old problem: leading to 3NT when you and your partner have a bid a suit. Do you lead your suit or do you not? It’s time for you to decide. Here are two lead problems:

West Deals
N-S Vul
   
A 10 8 2
8 4
K 9 8 3
8 6 4
 
N
W   E
S
   
West North East South
Pass 1  1  3 NT
All pass      

 

You never got the chance to support spades but you should have a 9 card fit. Is it to be 4th highest of your longest and strongest? If not, what then?

North Deals
N-S Vul
   
A J 8 7 4
10 9 4
J 6 4
Q 10
 
N
W   E
S
   
West North East South
  Pass Pass 1 NT
Pass 2  Dbl 2 NT
3  Pass Pass 3 NT
All pass      

 

1NT was 15-17 and 2Spade-small a transfer to clubs, either weak to play in clubs or with a game-going club hand, but not invitational values. East’s double showed spades. 2NT systemically showed a liking for clubs and perhaps then or with their next bid, a hold in spades. So, once again we are awaiting your lead.

Common links

What have the two problems in common? In both, the defence has a spade fit either confirmed in the bidding or in the first case, known to the player on lead. In both cases, the player on lead (West) has an excellent spade holding headed by the ace. Despite all this, South has elected to try 3NT.

What happened?

At the table, in the first example, the player on lead elected not to lead a spade but the Heart-small8. In the second case, they led a spade. In both cases, they were wrong! We can discount the situation where a playful declarer has bid 3NT with a singleton king and where you have to lay down the ace. It has happened before and will no doubt do so again, results from such cheek ranging from a complete top to several down. You can dine out on such a successful action and hopefully have an understanding partner when the king falls under the ace (which is not always held by the player on lead!).

Let’s look at the four hands in the first case.

West Deals
N-S Vul
6
A 10 7 6
A 7 6 4 2
K Q J
A 10 8 2
8 4
K 9 8 3
8 6 4
 
N
W   E
S
 
K J 7 5 4
J 9 3 2
10
10 7 5
 
Q 9 3
K Q 5
Q J 5
A 9 3 2
West North East South
Pass 1  1  3 NT
All pass      

 

South gambled that Q93 would be an adequate hold with spades bid on their right. While DealMaster Pro tells us that you can make 4Heart-small, 3NT looks rather a better option from South’s point of view, before dummy appears. West’s spades seemed almost too good, too good to lead, hence Heart-small8.

With 4 clubs, 3 certain hearts and Diamond-smallA, declarer needs just one more trick, either from a 3-3 heart break or a successful diamond finesse. The Heart-small8 would even give South the opportunity to finesse East for the Heart-small9 if the first round went 8,10, J, Q. That was a successful option as was the simpler diamond finesse with 9 tricks being the result. We can all see what would have happened on a low spade lead.

Was West wrong or unlucky? Swap the Spade-smallK and Spade-smallQ and West could have been right though had South held Spade-smallQJx, then an early spade lead would have been required for the defence to have had any chance (assuming declarer had to lose the lead). With probably few high card points, East might argue that their purpose in bidding was lead directional. So, keep partner sweet by leading one and apologize for one’s lack of imagination when it did not work out.

What about the second case?

North Deals
N-S Vul
3 2
J 7 2
3 2
A 9 7 5 4 3
A J 8 7 4
10 9 4
J 6 4
Q 10
 
N
W   E
S
 
Q 10 9 5
A K 8 3
10 8 7
J 8
 
K 6
Q 6 5
A K Q 9 5
K 6 2
West North East South
  Pass Pass 1 NT
Pass 2  Dbl 2 NT
3  Pass Pass 3 NT
All pass      

 

Could this have been a case for the singleton Spade-smallK in declarer's hand? Maybe, but South seemed to be taking a big gamble opposite a partner who appeared to just want to play in 3Club-small. How good would a top heart (10) have  been this time….three down vulnerable as compared with the table result of three overtricks.

Your, West’s, club holding looked very good for the declarer. You needed to do something right very quickly. Maybe leading your suit was just what South wanted? Therefore, it was perhaps time for a red suit. Hopefully, you chose the right one.

Reflection

We all know that leads are a guessing game and you can guess wrong! Although there was a lot similar in the spade holdings of the two hands, the first sequuence did suggest that partner could handle a spade lead while despite the lead directional double, the second deal indicated that South could handle it more. Indeed, with Heart-smallAK83 on the side, why did East double 2Spade-small at all? We will never know where the bidding would have finished without the double. Ask North. I suspect 3NT was not on their mind.

Richard Solomon

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