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Play and Defend Better: for improving players

Helping Partner: The Doubleton Lead in No Trumps!

What? Had you forgotten that it is no trumps and not a suit contract? “Certainly not” as the defender found a lead to test the declarer on the following board. What would be your choice of opening lead from the following:

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

 

1NT was 12-14 and you had not much. You are playing Teams and thus want to beat the contract. What’s the best opening lead? If your partner, who must have several high card points (or else why are they not in slam?), has length and strength in diamonds, then that would be the suit to attack. Your club holding offers interesting defensive possibilities if partner can co-operate in that suit. Yet, we are pretty sure that North has a 4+ card minor and showed no interest in the majors.

We also know that that kind of bidding suggests we look for declarer’s “Achilles Heel” and partner’s long suit by trying a major suit lead. So, which one? Your partner would need to have a lot of high cards in spades for that to be the aggressive correct lead. So, what about hearts?

The lead of the Heart-smallK could leave us with plenty of egg on our face if declarer has the ace and dummy the QJ, or some such variant… but partner could here have a goodish four/five card suit to make this lead worth a shot. Were this match point Pairs where you aim to restrict overtricks, then you might just look elsewhere..but in Teams? Well, partner’s hearts were not that robust suit for which you hoped…and dummy had no four card minor...but look what happened…

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

 

At least the Heart-smallA was in dummy! However, surprise number 1 was that dummy had no 4-card minor though for North to raise to 3NT is fine on such a flat hand, even with a 4-card major.

The Play

The Heart-smallA took the first trick with partner playing an encouraging low heart (Heart-small3). That would make West feel good. However, West’s elation became a little more muted when after declarer played a diamond to their ace and Spade-smallJ went to the East's queen, East’s low heart was won by South’s Heart-smallQ.

South continued with a spade to the Spade-small10 and East’s ace… and further disappointment for West as East’s Heart-small6 lost to South’s Heart-smallJ. “I thought you liked my opening lead, partner.” West mused.

However, West was soon to be rewarded because after declarer cashed two winning spade tricks, they led a low club off dummy. East rose with their ace and cashed two heart tricks to defeat the contract (Spade-smallAQ,Club-smallA and two heart tricks).

The post mortem

“Great lead” remarked partner and indeed it was though should it have defeated the contract? The answer is “not neccessarily”. South was guilty of the common sin of a declarer not counting their tricks. They had three tricks in each red suit and eventually two spade tricks. The ninth trick had to come from clubs. South’s error was one of timing.

It was possible that spades could produce three tricks for declarer..in which case no club trick was needed. Thus, playing a diamond to hand was fine. However, when the Spade-smallQ took the first round of the suit, this was not the case. South needed a club trick.

When the Heart-smallQ won the second round of the suit, South had to guess which defender might have a five-card heart suit, for if hearts broke 4-3, then declarer was safe. Could South envisage West had really led from a doubleton? If they could, they would then need to cross to dummy with a diamond to the king, to play a low club, in case the hand with the five-card heart suit had both black aces. That is hard for South to do but was required here.

Note that East cannot rise with the Club-smallA if a club is led from North before their two heart tricks are established as that gives South three club tricks and nine tricks in total. So, when Club-smallQ scores, declarer reverts to spades and will now have 9 tricks before the defence has five.

That’s tough declarer play to find. The actual result of down 1 was probably just reward for a very good opening lead by West. “No ruff obtained”, but nevertheless a very good result for the defence.

Richard Solomon

 

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