Retaining Control
(Page of 3)

This is board 30 from the Common Game of Sunday afternoon, September 30th (rotated).  Nobody is vulnerable, it's match point scoring, and everyone at the table is playing 2/1 with a strong no-trump.  Your LHO opens the bidding with 1, partner passes, RHO bids 1, and you have a pretty nice hand:

East
84
KJ653
Q8
AK102
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
?

You're pleased to be able to bid hearts on the one level:  1.  LHO continues with 1, partner raises to 2, and RHO raises to 2.  It could be right to bid further -- you'd hate to let the opponents play a 2-level part score in a 4-4 fit -- but holding only five hearts and with clubs having been bid on your left, you decide to let partner compete further if appropriate:  Pass.

LHO surprises you with a 4 bid and nobody else has anything to say.  Partner's opening lead is the 5 and a pretty good dummy appears:

West
North
K1097
Q9
K1095
Q93
East
84
KJ653
Q8
AK102
South
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
1
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
1

West
North
K1097
Q9
K1095
Q93
East
84
KJ653
Q8
AK102
South
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
1
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
1

You can see 23 high card points between your hand and dummy, so partner, declarer or both are bidding on some distribution.  Given declarer's jump to game, you suspect that partner might be quite light.

How do you read the 5 lead?  The 2 and 3 are visible, but the 4 is still missing.  Could partner hold it?

Almost surely not.  With a viable alternative in your bid-and-raised heart suit, he'd be very reluctant to lead declarer's second suit holding a worthless doubleton.

So if partner has led his club singleton, is it time to take your ace and king of clubs, give partner a ruff, and then sit back and hope to take a trick in the red suits?

West
North
K1097
Q9
K1095
Q93
East
84
KJ653
Q8
AK102
South
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
1
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
1

If partner has a singleton club, declarer has a 5-card club suit.  If you take two clubs and give partner a ruff, declarer will still hold two winning clubs.  Unless partner holds an ace, declarer will be able to pitch dummy's hearts on her remaining clubs after drawing trumps.    So you'll need to develop a red-suit winner while still retaining control over the club suit.  And looking at that dummy, it certainly seems that hearts are a better bet than diamonds to develop a fourth defensive trick.

So win the first trick with the K as declarer drops the 6 (still no 4, but you're not fooled).  Play the 10 as suit preference for the higher ranking side suit, in this case hearts.  Sure enough, partner ruffs the second club with the 3 and after a momentary pause returns the 2.  Declarer tries the Q from dummy, covered by the K and A.  Declarer then draws two rounds of trumps, everybody following, before playing a third club.  You win your A, cash your J, but declarer claims the rest.  The full hand:

West
632
10742
J7432
5
North
K1097
Q9
K1095
Q93
East
84
KJ653
Q8
AK102
South
AQJ5
A8
A6
J8764
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
1
1
2
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
3
K
6
2
0
1
10
4
3
9
0
0
2
2
Q
K
A
3
1
2
A
2
7
4
3
2
2
5
6
K
8
1
3
2
Q
A
7
4
2
3
3
J
8
7
9
2
3
4
7

So partner found the best lead, the best shift after his ruff, and most importantly he held the J so declarer couldn't develop the diamond suit and negate all your hard work.  If he could only hold one high card point, the J was the one you needed him to hold.

Perhaps a more interesting question is what would have happened if north had bypassed her diamond suit in the auction to bid 1.  Now four spades would be played by north instead of south.  In theory the defense could proceed exactly as above, but now partner's 5 on the first trick is much harder to read.  If north plays the 9 to the first trick, west's 5 might be a singleton or from a 5-3 or 5-Q doubleton.  If you play the K at trick 2 to clarify, or even if you switch to an apparently safe 5 (expecting partner to hold the Q), you've just blown the defense.  At our club, 4 was generally making when declared by north but failing by a trick when declared by south.