In a semi-final match in the Senior Trials for USA2, you have to decide what to do with a very strong hand opposite a bust.
E-W vul, North deals. As South, you hold:
1♣: Strong, artificial
Pass: 0-4 HCP or a trap
3♦ would be assumed to show a big 2-suiter
Assuming a decent club split, you have 8 tricks for notrump. But partner is near broke, and there is no reason to think he has a diamond stopper. All you can do is bid 3♣. If partner does have a diamond stopper, he might try 3NT himself hoping you have a hand like this.
You bid 3♣, ending the auction.
West leads the ♣9. Standard leads and carding.
You win in dummy with the jack, East playing the ♣4. What do you play?
This is your one and only time in dummy. You may need to make the most of it.
The obvious play is to play a heart to the king. If you ace is onside, you make. If the ace is offside, you will pretty much need a stiff king or KQ doubleton of spades to make. Your opponents aren't likely to make a mistake from here.
The alternative is to lead a spade. This works if East has KQ of spades or honor-doubleton. There are other chances after your jack loses to the queen or king. If the opponent with the other honor also has the ace of hearts, he may be under pressure on the run of the clubs and you might have him in a squeeze-endplay. This is particularly true if West doesn't lead back a diamond, since you will have a diamond with which to exit.
What is going on in the diamond suit? If West had a sequence in diamonds, he certainly would have led a diamond rather than a club, since the club lead might have given you a finesse you could not have otherwise taken. It is quite likely that West has AQ of diamonds. If he has only a 5-card suit, he will still be wary of leading a diamond.
It is a difficult decision. If there were no end-play potential, the heart finesse would be the percentage play. However, the end-play potential is probably enough to swing the odds towards the spade play.
You choose to lead a heart. It goes ♥5, king, ace. West leads the jack of hearts, East playing the ♥7. West plays the ♥6 to East's queen and you ruff. What now?
Whatever else you are planning, it has to be right to run all your trumps but one and then take stock. Maybe an opponent will make a foolish discard. You might as well discard 3 spades from dummy, as this may convince an opponent that you don't have much in spades.
You run all your trumps but one, discarding 3 spades and a diamond. West started with 2 clubs, East with 3. West discards 3 diamonds, East discards 2 diamonds. The ace, king, queen, and 10 of diamonds are still outstanding.
What do you try next?
What do you know about the opponent's hands from their defense? West must have the missing ♥10, since if he had AJx there is no way he would have continued hearts. Also, the diamonds must be 5-4. If West had 6 diamonds he would have known it was safe to cash his ace of diamonds, and he would have played ace and a diamond. West's shape must be 2-4-5-2 with AJ10x of hearts and AQxxx of diamonds. You don't have any clue about the spade honors.
If it were possible that somebody has a singleton spade honor, you would lay down the ace of spades. You have worked out that the spades are not 4-1, so this would be a concession.
Your only legitimate chance is that West started with KQ doubleton of spades. You cannot afford to exit with a diamond now. The opponents will force you, and you will lose your legitimate chance. All you can do is lead a small spade and hope that West has KQ doubleton or that somebody makes a mistake.
You lead the ♠7. West plays the ♠9. You cover with the ♠10, and East wins the queen. East returns the ♠4. What do you play?
What is going on? If somehow your count is wrong and West overcalled on a 4-card diamond suit, it won't matter what you do. You have to assume that it does matter. If so, one of your opponents has made a blunder. Who goofed?
Would West really have played small from K9 doubleton? Obviously he shouldn't. But it is a conceivable mistake if he has miscounted the hand and thinks he needs to fool you by playing small here.
Would East really have led back a spade if he holds the king? Even if your count of the hand is wrong and the diamonds are 6-3, East has a diamond left to return. It is inconceivable that any player would lead away from the king of spades in this position when a diamond return is 100% safe and will definitely defeat the contract. Even if you believe that West is a considerably superior player to East, you must assume that it was West who goofed.
You wrongly play the jack of spades. West wins the king and you are down 1. The full hand is:
How was the defense?
West had a guess on the opening lead, as any suit he leads could blow a trick. His choice of a trump was quite reasonable, as that costs only when his partner has a finessable honor and declarer can't get to dummy.
West's continuation of the jack of hearts had to be right. If declarer had 4 hearts, his partner would be ruffing which would be fine. Otherwise, the play couldn't cost, since even if dummy's ♥9 gets established declarer can't get to dummy to use it.
At the end, West just lost the thread. If declarer has AQx of spades the hand can't be defeated by playing small, since declarer will have no sensible choice but to drop West's now bare king. Since West has the ♥10 to lead, he doesn't have to worry about being end-played. The actual layout is a live possibility.
East did well to return a spade. He could see that if he didn't return a spade, declarer would have no choice but to go right. East was rewarded.
Do you agree with the E-W bidding?
West's overcall is clear. It is vital to get into the auction if possible against a strong and artificial club. Some players will pass and bid later in order to show a strong hand. I don't think that is a good idea. It is very unlikely that you have a game when an opponent opens a strong club. Just get in there if you can.
East's 2♦ call may look routine. However, he should bid 3♦ even at adverse vulnerability and even though he is 4-3-3-3. It is almost impossible for the opponents to double even if that is their correct action. East knows his side has 9 trumps, so it can't be all that bad to compete to the 3-level. This preemptive bid may make life very difficult for the strong 1♣ opener who has yet to show his suit. The actual hand is a good example. What is South supposed to do over 3♦? Any action he takes will generate a minus score, and if he bids too much West can double. And if South passes, 3♦ makes in comfort.
Having bid only 2♦ the first time, East is correct to sell out. The preemptive value of 3♦ is gone, and the opponents will probably do the right thing. East just has to hope that 3♣ isn't where N-S belong.
At the other table, South also opened a strong 1♣. West made a CRASH double, showing the red suits or the black suits, North passed, and East bid 1♥, pass or correct. South had high hopes of getting a heart lead and taking the first 9 tricks, so he gambled 3NT. It was not a success. West naturally led a diamond, and on the run of the diamond suit South had to guard his king of hearts so he was forced into discarding a couple of club winners. West accurately shifted to a spade, and that was down 3.
Sherlock Holmes said: Eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth. This hand was a good illustration of this principle. If declarer had correctly concluded that it was impossible that East had led away from the king of spades, he would have played for the improbable and succeeded.
Plus... it's free!