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In a round-robin match in the Open Trials, you face a competitive decision.

N-S vul, North deals. As West, you hold:

West
AQJ
A10965
Q6
1042
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
?

Your call?

West
AQJ
A10965
Q6
1042
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
?

With 5-3 in the majors, it is almost always right to overcall rather than make a takeout double. Partner will assume that you don't have 4 in the other major since you didn't double, so if he bids the other major he will be bidding a 5-card suit and you can raise with your 3-card support. If you don't overcall a 5-3 fit may be missed, and partner won't know how high to compete if he does have 4 hearts.

You bid 1. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
?

Your call?

West
AQJ
A10965
Q6
1042
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
?

You can assume that your partner has only 3 hearts, since with 4 hearts he might have bid an immediate 3 or will compete to 3 over 3. You can also assume that your partner has at least 2 diamonds, since with a singleton diamond he will probably compete to 3 over 3 even if he has only 3 hearts. This means that if partner is willing to sell out to 3 the trump total is at most 17 (8 hearts for your side, 9 diamonds for the opponents), and it might be less if they don't have a 9-card fit. Competing to 3 gains only when both sides can make 9 tricks, and the Law of Total Tricks indicates that this is unlikely since there are fewer than 18 total trumps. In addition, your hand is a flat 5-3-3-2, you don't have intermediates in hearts, and you have the queen of diamonds which is more likely to be a trick on defense than on offense. Everything points to passing.

You pass, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P

Your lead. Third and fifth leads.

West
AQJ
A10965
Q6
1042
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P

Even though partner raised your hearts, that is no reason to lead a heart. He was showing support, not making a lead-directing call. Leading a heart is too likely to give up a trick. There is nothing in the auction which indicates that a cashout is necessary.

A spade lead and a diamond lead are both clearly too risky. That leaves clubs.

The "book" lead is the 2. However, you are supposed to think, not lead by rote. Declarer isn't likely to have 4 clubs on the auction since he bid 3, not 3, but dummy could easily have 4 clubs. It is quite easy to see the clubs being distributed 3-4-4-2 around the table. If this is the case, it may be important to lead the 10 in order to protect partner's holding. For example, consider dummy with K9xx, partner with AJ8x, and declarer with Qx. If you lead small partner will play the jack since he doesn't know that you don't have the queen, and declarer will be able to establish a second club trick. If you lead the 10, declarer will be held to 1 club trick. There are several such layouts if this is the club distribution. True, partner may be misled into thinking you have a doubleton club, but he should be aware that you might be leading the 10 from 10xx on this auction.

You lead the 10:

West
AQJ
A10965
Q6
1042
North
9863
KJ7
973
Q93
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P

Dummy's queen wins, partner playing the 6 and declarer the 8. Your agreements at trick 1 are suit-preference vs. suit contracts. 2, 3, 4 are (by priority) suit-preference low. 10, 9, 8 are (by priority) suit-preference high. 6, 5, 7 are (by priority) encouraging. If partner doesn't have a card in the category he wishes to signal, he plays what he considers the least damaging card. If partner has 2 or more cards in the category he is signaling, the higher priority card says this is the signal he wants to give while the lower priority card says he wants to give a different signal but is unable to do so.

At trick 2, declarer leads the 3 from dummy. Partner plays the 5, declarer the jack, and you win your queen. What do you return?

West
AQJ
A10965
6
42
North
9863
KJ7
97
93
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P

First of all, what is going on in the club suit? Partner has only middle club spots, but he had a choice of which middle spot to play. He played the 6, which is his strongest encouraging signal. This indicates that he doesn't have the king of spades, since if he had that card he wouldn't be encouraging clubs. He could conceivably have the ace of clubs and ducked in order to retain communication to his hand in case you have a doubleton club.

Secondly, what is going on in the diamond suit? Declarer clearly has 6 diamonds for his 3 call. Equally clearly partner has the ace or king of diamonds, since with AK of diamonds declarer wouldn't be squandering a dummy entry to take a first round diamond finesse.

Thirdly, what is going on in the heart suit? The indications are that partner has only 3 hearts, both from his failure to compete to 3 and declarer's failure to win the opening lead in his hand and lead a heart towards dummy. Still, these inferences aren't 100%. You will need to know what to do when declarer leads a heart up to dummy. Declarer will probably guess right anyway if he has 2 small hearts since if you didn't have the ace of hearts you probably would have led a heart. Declarer might misguess, so you would like to be able to duck if you can afford to do so. However, you don't want to risk ducking the setting trick if declarer does happen to have a singleton heart.

You want to get the count on the hand, both the distribution and the number of tricks available to the defense. Your best play is to return a diamond. Since partner's king is falling if he has it this doesn't give declarer anything he can't do himself. The key is to determine whether or not your side has a second diamond trick. If partner has the ace of diamonds he will return a spade, and you will find out how many spade tricks you can take. This will tell you whether or not the ace of hearts is the setting trick. If declarer has the ace of diamonds, you will know that ducking the heart is your only chance, since if you go up ace you can count 5 diamonds, 3 clubs, and 1 heart for declarer.

You lead back the 6. Partner wins the ace.

Partner returns the 7 (attitude shifts in the middle of the hand). Declarer plays the king, and you win your ace. What next?

West
QJ
A10965
42
North
986
KJ7
9
93
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P

Clearly you cash (or try to cash) the queen of spades. If it doesn't cash, you know you need 2 heart tricks so you will duck the heart. If it does cash, partner's spot card will be illuminating and you can go from there.

You cash the queen of spades. Partner plays the 2 (standard remainder count), and declarer the 5. What next?

West
J
A10965
42
North
98
KJ7
9
93
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P

You now have a sure set with your ace of hearts. Still, you would like to go after a 2-trick set by ducking the first round of hearts if you can safely do so. You know from partner's 2 of spades (standard remainder count) that a third round of spades isn't cashing. Declarer's shape is either 2-2-6-3 or 2-1-6-4, with the evidence leaning towards 2-2-6-3. But you want to be sure before you risk ducking the setting trick.

Your best play is to return a club. Partner's spot card on the club return should get you the final count you need on the hand.

You lead the 4. Dummy plays small, partner the 5, and declarer wins the king.

Now declarer leads a heart up. Quick! Do you duck or not?

West
J
A10965
2
North
98
KJ7
9
9
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P

Partner's 5 was the final clue. If partner started with 765 tripleton, he would have played the 7, the proper remainder count. If you are counting carefully you know declarer's shape must be the expected 2-2-6-3, so you can confidently play small without a problem.

You play small. Declarer goes up king, and the contract is down 1. The full hand is:

West
AQJ
A10965
Q6
1042
North
9863
KJ7
973
Q93
East
10742
Q32
A5
J765
South
K5
84
KJ10842
AK8
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
Q
6
8
1
1
0
3
5
J
Q
0
1
1
6
7
A
2
2
1
2
7
K
A
3
0
1
3
Q
6
2
5
0
1
4
4
3
5
K
3
2
4
4
5
K
7

How was East's defense?

West
AQJ
A10965
Q6
1042
North
9863
KJ7
973
Q93
East
10742
Q32
A5
J765
South
K5
84
KJ10842
AK8
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
Q
6
8
1
1
0
3
5
J
Q
0
1
1
6
7
A
2
2
1
2
7
K
A
3
0
1
3
Q
6
2
5
0
1
4
4
3
5
K
3
2
4
4
5
K
7

East's defense looks perfect. East gave the right signal at trick 1, since he didn't want to imply interest in a spade shift. Ducking the ace of diamonds was clear. The spade shift was obvious, and leading the 7 to deny anything in the suit looks right. And then East gave the right count in both black suits.

Should declarer have done better?

West
AQJ
A10965
Q6
1042
North
9863
KJ7
973
Q93
East
10742
Q32
A5
J765
South
K5
84
KJ10842
AK8
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
Q
6
8
1
1
0
3
5
J
Q
0
1
1
6
7
A
2
2
1
2
7
K
A
3
0
1
3
Q
6
2
5
0
1
4
4
3
5
K
3
2
4
4
5
K
7

Taking the diamond suit in isolation, declarer is correct to play the diamonds by playing East for the queen. This gains when East has AQx or Qxx, while playing low to the king gains only when East has Axx. On the 2-2 splits, the plays are equal.

Looking at the whole hand, it is another picture. Can West have a singleton diamond? The hearts are known to be 5-3. Even if West has led the 10 of clubs from 10xx, as he did, that would give him 4-5-1-3 shape, and with that distribution he would have preferred a takeout double. If West has 3 diamonds, nothing matters. So declarer should assume the diamonds are 2-2, and work out which way the honors are likely to be divided.

Declarer can assume that he will guess the hearts right. He will play West for the ace of hearts, since if West didn't hold the ace of hearts West likely would have led a heart rather than a club.

Declarer can also assume that West has the ace of spades. The reason is that if East has the ace of spades the contract will be making with 4 diamond tricks, 1 heart trick, 3 club tricks, and 1 spade trick.

Since West is assumed to have both major-suit aces, he would have his overcall whether he had Ax or Qx of diamonds. What about East? Declarer doesn't know about the queen of hearts or the minor spade honors, but if East doesn't have some of these cards he wouldn't have his raise to 2H unless he had the ace of diamonds. That makes it percentage to play East for the ace.

This hand is a good illustration of not blindly playing the hand which has shown the most strength in the bidding for a high honor. It is important to see if that honor would have affected his actions. If he would have bid the same with or without that honor, then there is no reason to play him for it on the bidding.

At the end, it was clear for declarer to get the hearts right for the reasons discussed.

Was East correct to sell to 3?

West
AQJ
A10965
Q6
1042
North
9863
KJ7
973
Q93
East
10742
Q32
A5
J765
South
K5
84
KJ10842
AK8
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
2
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
10
Q
6
8
1
1
0
3
5
J
Q
0
1
1
6
7
A
2
2
1
2
7
K
A
3
0
1
3
Q
6
2
5
0
1
4
4
3
5
K
3
2
4
4
5
K
7

East can follow the same trick-total logic that West followed. If West had 6 hearts or a singleton diamond, West probably would have competed to 3 himself. That means E-W have 8 hearts and N-S have at most 9 diamonds, making the trump total at most 17. East has the wrong distribution, with basically 4-small in both black suits. It is quite clear for East to sell. On the actual layout 3 has no chance, while as seen 3 might be defeated.

The lead of an honor from 10xx (or Jxx or Qxx) when dummy is more likely to hold length in the suit than declarer is a little-known weapon in the arsenal of good opening leaders. In addition to protecting partner's holding in the suit, it can also create some effective deceptive situations. For example, imagine dummy with A109x and declarer with Kx. If a small card is led from Qxx, declarer will do very well in the suit. However, after the queen lead, it is easy to see declarer winning the king and later taking a finesse, possibly with disastrous results.

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