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Difficult Opening Lead
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In a quarter-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you have a difficult opening lead to make.

E-W vul, South deals. As West, you hold

West
Q1053
3
J752
KQ85
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

Your lead. Attitude leads. Honor leads are ace from AK, and Rusinow from 4 or more. King is your power lead, asking for unblock or standard count.

West
Q1053
3
J752
KQ85
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

You would like to lead a 5-card suit, but you don't have one. The second choice is partner's likely 5-card suit, which is hearts. However, since you have only a singleton heart a heart lead is more likely to help declarer than to help the defense.

When the opponents don't bid a major, it is often right to lead a major against notrump. That might not be the case here. Partner can be assumed to have some heart length. If he also had spade length, he might have been more inclined to balance with both majors. A lead from Q10xx will often cost a trick when partner doesn't have the jack.

A club lead looks safer. It will be fine if partner has the jack or the ace, and might survive even if partner has neither. Partner has just as much chance to have some club length as any of the suits other than hearts.

If you do lead a club, you should definitely lead the queen. It would be disastrous to lose to a doubleton jack. There is little downside to leading an honor unless declarer has everything in the suit, and if that is the case the club lead will probably have blown any chance to defeat the contract anyway.

You choose to lead the 3.

West
Q1053
3
J752
KQ85
North
K98
10954
Q1043
92
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

Dummy's 8 wins, partner playing the 7 and declarer the 2. Partner's trick 1 play vs. NT is defined as standard count if he can't beat dummy.

After trick 1, your carding is UDCA, regular Smith.

At trick 2, declarer leads a diamond to 6, 8, and your jack.

If you shift to a spot card, your shift is defined as attitude. If you shift to an honor, the king asks for count while the ace or queen asks for attitude.

What do you lead?

West
Q105
3
752
KQ85
North
K9
10954
Q104
92
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

The carding in spades indicates that declarer started with AJxx. As for the diamonds, declarer must have K98. There is no other layout where his play makes any sense. 

Declarer definitely has 3 spade tricks and 2 diamond tricks. You need to find a way to get 7 tricks before declarer can set up two more tricks. Your best chance is in the club suit.

Partner is likely to have at least 4 clubs, maybe 5. It has to be right to shift to a club honor. The question is which one: do you want an attitude signal or a count signal?

If you shift to the queen of clubs, you will get an attitude signal. This might not be of too much value. In fact, if partner has 10xxx he might encourage, thinking you have QJ.

It looks better to get the count by shifting to the king of clubs. This will let you know your potential in the club suit, which may be the key to your defense.

You shift to the king of clubs. It holds the trick, declarer playing the 6.

What will you do if partner plays the 3?

West
Q105
3
752
Q85
North
K9
10954
Q104
9
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

Partner's 3 indicates an even number of clubs, which must be four. This means that even if partner has Jxxx of clubs, all the defense can take is 3 club tricks along with the 2 diamond tricks. You will also need to take 2 heart tricks with declarer getting no heart tricks. That means that partner needs AK. If partner has that, shifting to a heart will be fine, since partner can win and return a club. You would be playing declarer for something like AJxx Qxx K98 AJx. That is consistent with what has happened.

In fact, partner plays the 7. How do you continue?

West
Q105
3
752
Q85
North
K9
10954
Q104
9
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

Partner appears to have an odd number of clubs, which could well be 5 clubs. If so, continuing clubs is clear, and will defeat the contract if partner has the A or KQ.

In case partner has 3 clubs, you should lead a small club. This will be necessary if partner has J7x, declarer having A10xx. If partner started with 5 clubs he has J107xx, and you will be able to unblock the suit so he can win the fourth round.

You lead a small club. Declarer wins the jack, knocks out partner's ace of diamonds, and claims 8 tricks. The full hand is

West
Q1053
3
J752
KQ85
North
K98
10954
Q1043
92
East
764
KQJ7
A6
10743
South
AJ2
A862
K98
AJ6
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
8
7
2
1
1
0
3
6
8
J
0
1
1
K
2
7
6
0
1
2
5
9
10
J
3
2
2
K
2
4
A
2
2
3
5

What do you think of East's defense?

West
Q1053
3
J752
KQ85
North
K98
10954
Q1043
92
East
764
KQJ7
A6
10743
South
AJ2
A862
K98
AJ6
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
8
7
2
1
1
0
3
6
8
J
0
1
1
K
2
7
6
0
1
2
5
9
10
J
3
2
2
K
2
4
A
2
2
3
5

East gave two inaccurate signals. Apparently he either forgot the agreements or was thinking something else. He should have played the 4, showing an odd number of spades, and the 3, showing an even number of clubs. Had he done so, West would not have continued clubs. It only cost an overtrick this time.

How was declarer's line of play?

West
Q1053
3
J752
KQ85
North
K98
10954
Q1043
92
East
764
KQJ7
A6
10743
South
AJ2
A862
K98
AJ6
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
8
7
2
1
1
0
3
6
8
J
0
1
1
K
2
7
6
0
1
2
5
9
10
J
3
2
2
K
2
4
A
2
2
3
5

The contract is cold, and declarer has to guess the jack of diamonds for an overtrick. With West apparently having long spades, it seems intuitively right to play East for the jack of diamonds, but that is not right here. The reason is that if East started with 4 diamonds to the jack declarer doesn't have the entries to get 3 diamond tricks, while if West has 4 diamonds to the jack declarer can pick up the diamond suit. Therefore, declarer should play West for the jack of diamonds.

At the other table the first two tricks were the same, but West continued spades. When East got it with the ace of diamonds, he shifted to the king of hearts, ducked. He went back to spades, so declarer was able to set up a heart trick for 8 tricks and a push.

It isn't so important what your carding agreements are. Any agreements will work well sometimes and badly other times. What is important is that you stick to those agreements. Doing something else can cause partner to do the wrong thing.

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