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Slow Tricks
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In a semi-final match in the Senior trials for USA2, you must decide whether or not to act over an enemy 1NT opener.

E-W vul, East deals. As West, you hold:

West
AJ762
7
QJ953
QJ
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
?

1NT: 15-17

Your methods over strong NT are:

DBL: 4-card major, longer minor

2: Both majors

2: One major

2M: 5-card M, 4 or 5-card minor

Your call?

West
AJ762
7
QJ953
QJ
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
?

The hand is tailor-made for these methods. 2 describes the hand perfectly. Partner will pass if he has at least 2 spades. If he has a singleton spade, he will know to get to your minor. The question is whether or not it is worth bidding anything.

Partner is a passed hand, so game is pretty much out of the question even if you find a good fit. Bidding could easily win a part-score swing, either by making or by forcing the opponents to a higher contract which can be defeated.

There are two potential downsides for bidding. One is that you might go for a number. The other is that bidding might help the opponents if they declare. Since you have only slightly above average strength while South is definitely stronger than partner, the odds are that the opponents hold the balance of power.

Vulnerability is a key factor. The danger and cost of going for a number is greater than at any other vulnerability. Since you almost certainly don't have a game, the most you figure to win by bidding is 5 or 6 IMPs. The 2 call isn't likely to do much damage to the enemy auction if they have game-going strength. Thus, when the 2 call goes badly the cost could be in double figures, while the gain when it goes well won't be as much. This argues for passing.

You choose to bid 2. The bidding concludes:

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

2: 5 spades and a minor

DBL: Negative

Your lead. Attitude leads vs. NT. Rusinow from 4-card or longer suits.

 

West
AJ762
7
QJ953
QJ
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
X
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

If you knew nothing about the enemy hands you would probably choose to lead a diamond. However, South's 3 call warns you off that lead.

A spade lead could be the quickest route to success. On the other hand, leading from an AJ holding is probably the most dangerous holding to lead from as far as giving up a trick in the suit goes. If that trick is #9, you will not be happy with the spade lead.

A club lead is about as safe as can be. It definitely won't cost if partner has the king or the 10, and probably won't give up anything that declarer couldn't do for himself although declarer might get it wrong. If partner has some strength in clubs, the club lead could be productive, but the main argument for the club lead is safety.

There are a few factors which argue against the spade lead.

One is partner's pass over the negative double. If he had a spade honor, he might have redoubled in order to get a spade lead. This is not without risk since 2 redoubled might get passed out, but it is possible.

A second factor is North's 3NT call. If North didn't have anything in spades, he might have tried bidding 3 instead of 3NT in order to avoid 3NT off the entire spade suit.  North figures to have something in spades for the 3NT call. This makes the spade lead more likely to cost a trick and less likely to establish the necessary tricks to defeat the contract.

A third factor is your diamond holding. South is known to have a diamond suit, and you know that suit isn't going to produce anything more than top tricks. The key is that your diamond tricks are slow tricks. If your diamonds were something like Axxxx, the spade lead would be much more attractive. The game plan would be to establish the spade suit in one lead (maybe hitting partner's queen), get in with the ace of diamonds, and cash the setting tricks. With your actual diamond holding, that isn't going to happen. Declarer might have 9 top tricks after the spade lead, and he isn't going to be letting you in with a diamond.

The slow tricks in diamonds look to be the decisive factor. This hand calls for a passive lead of the queen of clubs.

You choose to lead the 2.

West
AJ762
7
QJ953
QJ
North
K93
AK103
107
8765
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
X
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Small from dummy, and partner's 10 loses to declarer's queen. At trick 2, declarer leads the 4. How do you defend?

 

West
AJ76
7
QJ953
QJ
North
K9
AK103
107
8765
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
X
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

This doesn't look good. Declarer is willing to let you set up your spade suit, so it appears that the second spade trick will be his ninth trick. Since there is no danger of an end-play, you might as well duck in case partner has 3 spades and it is important to keep communication with him.

You choose to win the ace of spades. Partner follows with the 5. Now what?

 

West
J76
7
QJ953
QJ
North
K
AK103
107
8765
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
X
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You might as well play another spade and establish your spade tricks. Partner can't have enough strength for a shift to accomplish anything.

You lead another spade. Declarer claims 9 tricks. The full hand is:

West
AJ762
7
QJ953
QJ
North
K93
AK103
107
8765
East
105
98642
82
K1093
South
Q84
QJ5
AK64
A42
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
X
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
3
10
Q
3
1
0
4
A
9
5
0
1
1
6
3

A club lead would have been better, but declarer could still make. He could duck a club, win the second club, lead a spade to the king, and run the hearts. West would be squeeze-endplayed. This would be a fairly easy line of play to find on the auction. If West hadn't bid and avoided the spade lead, declarer would have to judge very well to make.

Do you agree with the N-S bidding?

 

West
AJ762
7
QJ953
QJ
North
K93
AK103
107
8765
East
105
98642
82
K1093
South
Q84
QJ5
AK64
A42
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
2
X
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
3
10
Q
3
1
0
4
A
9
5
0
1
1
6
3

North's sequence of negative double followed by 3NT looks clear. South's choice of 3 rather than 2NT seems a bit strange with a 4-3-3-3 shape and a spade stopper. Of course the winning action would have been to double 2, but this is difficult to do on the actual hands. If N-S weren't playing negative doubles, North might have taken a shot at 2.

At the other table, West entered with 2 showing diamonds and a major. South doubled, giving N-S a chance to collect a big number if North had passed. But North chose to bid 2NT, and reached 3NT. The jack of diamonds was led and ducked, and West continued with the queen of diamonds to the king. This established the A6 as a tenace. Declarer played queen of hearts, heart to ace, and then did well to duck a club. He won the club continuation, crossed to the jack of hearts, and led a spade up. West could see the end-play danger, so he played the jack of spades. Declarer won and cashed the last heart. The desired position was reached, but declarer fell from grace and carelessly led a small spade from dummy. This permitted West to stick him back in dummy, and the contract failed. Had declarer led the 9, he would have made.

Many players are afraid to make a short-suit lead against 3NT, falling back on routinely leading from their long suit even when the lead is likely to cost a trick and unlikely to produce enough tricks to defeat the contract. Careful attention to the bidding will often give the necessary clue as to whether an aggressive or passive lead is called for.

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