Join Bridge Winners
A Tricky 3NT Game
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I found this hand fascinating, and it produced major swings in many matches.

Take Grue's seat in the Finals:

West
North
10986
632
8
KQ1064
East
South
A42
AQJ8
A963
A5
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3N
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
8
J
1

 

You get the diamond two lead against your 3NT, fourth best, so it looks as though diamonds are 4-4.  Of course, your side has shown hearts, spades, and clubs, so this is the "unbid" suit, and the lead could easily be from only three diamonds.

Plan the play.

By the way, four world-class declarers faced this problem, Grue, Combescure in the Open Finals, Zia in the Transnationals, and Sontag in the Seniors.  They chose four different lines!

The contract is pretty thin, and it looks like we need the club suit to run.  In that case, we have eight top tricks, and can develop a ninth in hearts.  So, if diamonds really are 4-4, and clubs run, this is easy.

First tough question:  Do you win this trick, or not? 

The danger in ducking is that East might find a spade shift.  We'd have to grab the spade ace, and hope the suit was blocked, or 3-3, but, a clever East might do you in if the cards were like this:

West
75
K105
K1042
9732
North
10986
632
8
KQ1064
East
KQJ3
974
QJ75
J8
South
A42
AQJ8
A963
A5
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3N
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
8
J
3
2
0
1
3
2

That is a worry, but very unlikely, and I suspect that it is best to duck a diamond.  Combescure won the first diamond - everyone else ducked.

If you duck, East will return the 5, and you have another decision - win or duck again

West
North
10986
632
8
KQ1064
East
South
A42
AQJ8
A963
A5
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3N
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
8
J
6
2
0
1
5
2

The spade shift danger is much higher now, and, if you are certain that diamonds are 4-4, you have to win this one.  It looks as though West has led from K1042 or K102, while East started with QJ75 or QJ754 in diamonds.  Either way, it is safe to win the second diamond.  If the suit is 3-5, it is blocked. 

However, you can almost certainly protect against that spade shift if you drop the diamond six under the jack, and cover the five with the nine.  West will place partner with five diamonds, and continue the suit.  

Zia won the second diamond, while Grue and Sontag held up one more round, discarding a heart from the table.  

We'll stay at those two tables.  So, you win the third diamond and lay down the club ace, and get interesting news - West drops the jack:

West
North
10986
632
8
KQ1064
East
South
A42
AQJ8
A963
A5
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3N
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
8
J
6
2
0
1
5
9
10
2
0
0
2
K
6
7
A
3
1
2
A
J
4
2
3
2
2
4

Now what?

Fascinating.  So, we may end up with four club tricks, rather than three or five.   In that case, we will need to win three heart tricks.

Let's tentatively place East with QJxx in diamonds and five little clubs.  There are two obvious ways to go after three heart winners:

(1) Finesse, hoping for a singleton or doubleton king onside.

(2) Lead a heart honor from hand, and try for 3-3 hearts.

Once again, a big difference among our stars.  Sontag and Combescure finessed.  Zia led the heart queen from hand, Grue the heart jack.

Let's try counting cases.  If we place East with four diamonds and five clubs, then the finesse line works when East started with the singleton king of hearts and any three spades - 20 cases, or Kx in hearts and any two spades - another 75 cases.  95 winning possibilities for line (1).

East will hold three hearts (and one spade) 120 times.  This also works if East started with 109 doubleton in hearts and two spades, another 15 cases.  So, though it is close, line (2) is better.

There is another line to consider -

(3) leading the heart eight now.

That one is interesting.  It picks up the singleton or doubleton heart onside, and half the 3-3 splits - making the contract in 145 of the key cases.  Better than either line (1) or (2)!

However, that line is truly silly.  That line goes down when the heart king is off, and clubs were running.  Paying off to a trivial false-card from Jx or Jxx in clubs on a very normal lie of the cards would be quite stupid.

For that matter, line (2), though better, costs the contract when the club jack was a clever false-card, and East holds five diamonds along with the heart king.  That might be likely enough to offset the slight odds in favor of line (2).

Notice, though, that Zia, by winning the second diamond, and potentially blocking the suit, would still succeed in those cases.

I think Zia got this one right, and chose the best line.

The actual hand: 

West
KQ75
10975
K1042
J
North
10986
632
8
KQ1064
East
J3
K4
QJ75
98732
South
A42
AQJ8
A963
A5
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3N
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
8
J
1

So Zia won my praise, but Corbescure and Sontag won the IMPs.

Before leaving this, there is one more point to consider:  If hearts were 3-3, and the club jack legitimate, then West started with five spades.  I understand West not leading a spade when North has shown four spades.  However, at two of the tables, South started with a strong club (2NT was opened at the other two).  Wouldn't West have overcalled one spade on many of the hands where hearts were 3-3?  

I think Zia got this one right on his auction, but I prefer Sontag's choice after the big club start. 

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