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In a round-robin match in the Open Trials, you face a difficult defensive problem at trick 2.

E-W vul, South deals

East
KQ7
AK7
J82
10532
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

1NT: 15-17

North
J1092
1064
1064
K84
East
KQ7
AK7
J82
10532
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

The 9 is played from dummy. What do you play?

North
J1092
1064
1064
K84
East
KQ7
AK7
J82
10532
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

The normal play is the queen. If partner holds the ace, this will tell him where the king is when declarer doesn't win the trick. Playing the king denies the queen.

There are several reasons why you might wish to break convention and play the king of spades. They are:

Say declarer has Ax and partner has led from 8xxx. If you play the king of spades, declarer will think partner has the queen. He will be confident that he can play a spade to dummy safely. You can then surprise him by winning and leading another spade, establishing partner's 8. This doesn't seem likely. Partner probably wouldn't have led his smallest spade from 8xxx. Partner figures to have the ace of spades.

You might have some suit you badly need partner to shift to. Playing the king, denying the queen, may make it more attractive for partner to find that shift when he gets in.

If your plan is to continue with another high spade, the order of your spade plays might signify something. Perhaps suit-preference. Perhaps showing KQ doubleton.

None of these conditions exist here. The normal play of the queen of spades is right.

You play the queen of spades. It holds, declarer playing the 5. What do you lead at trick 2?

North
J102
1064
1064
K84
East
K7
AK7
J82
10532
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

This is not easy. You would like to find a safe shift, but nothing is clearly safe. You can cash a second spade, but you will still have the same problem. You can't afford to play a third round of spades while the king of clubs is in dummy. Leading a spade to partner won't help, since he will not have an easy shift either.

Partner probably has 4 spades. It isn't likely he would choose to lead from Axx. That gives declarer a doubleton spade. Declarer could have 4 cards in any of the other suits, and he is likely to be 4-4-3-2.

A club shift can be ruled out. That would be a major disaster if declarer has AJ9x of clubs and partner has queen-doubleton. Either red suit figures to be safer.

A diamond shift will be fine if partner has the queen of diamonds or nothing in diamonds. If he has the king it will probably cost a trick, particularly if he also has the 9.

A small heart shift is fine if partner has the queen of hearts. If he has nothing in hearts this shift doesn't cost a trick, but you will be thrown back in and have to break a minor suit. If partner has the jack of hearts and declarer the queen, things get interesting. At first glance it seems that a small heart shift will cause declarer to go wrong and play small, allowing partner to score his jack, but this is not so clear. Would you be shifting to a heart from AJxx or KJxx looking at that dummy? It would be pretty risky. More likely you would shift to a diamond. In addition, if declarer doesn't have the heart spots, he might wonder why you didn't shift to the jack from KJ9x or even KJ8x, a standard surround play. If declarer reasons along these lines, he might well go up queen of hearts.

You could avoid any end-play problems by cashing the king of spades and then playing AK and a heart. However, this loses the chance of scoring partner's jack of hearts. It would also be a major disaster if declarer has Jxxxx of hearts.

The conclusion is that the diamond shift appears to be safer.

You choose to lead a small heart. Declarer plays the 5, and partner wins the jack. Partner returns the 3 to your king, declarer playing the 8. What do you play now?

North
J102
10
1064
K84
East
K7
A
J82
10532
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

The 2 is missing, and it looks like partner has it. The only other possibility is that declarer is concealing that card. Partner would be returning his highest heart from a remaining doubleton, but his smallest heart from a remaining tripleton. That would leave partner with QJ93 of hearts, and he surely would have led a heart rather than a spade. You can assume that partner started with J32 of hearts, and declarer with Q98x.

You are going to be shifting to a diamond at some point. Now you won't mind if partner has the king of diamonds, as that will be the setting trick. The question is whether or not you should cash one or both of your major-suit winners first.

The answer is that you should make your diamond shift before cashing the ace of hearts. Declarer will win, and knock out your ace of hearts. You now lead another diamond. If partner's queen comes tumbling down, you will know to discard a club on the thirteenth heart. Otherwise, you will know that a diamond discard is safe.

You choose to cash the ace of hearts. As expected, partner plays the 2 and declarer the 9. What do you do now?

North
J102
1064
K84
East
K7
J82
10532
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

You are going to shift to a diamond, of course. Before you do, it is best to cash the king of spades. This removes declarer's spade exit. Also, this gives partner a chance to make a suit-preference signal with his choice of spade spot, and that signal may be the key to your upcoming discard on the thirteenth heart.

You choose to lead a diamond without cashing the spade. Declarer plays small, and partner wins the queen. Partner leads the 4 to dummy's 10 and your king. What do you play?

North
J2
106
K84
East
7
J8
10532
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P

The setting trick is the setting trick. You no longer care about setting up dummy's long spade.

You lead a spade to partner's ace. Declarer has the rest. The full hand is:

West
A843
J32
Q75
J97
North
J1092
1064
1064
K84
East
KQ7
AK7
J82
10532
South
65
Q985
AK93
AQ6
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
9
Q
5
2
0
1
7
5
J
4
0
0
2
3
6
K
8
2
0
3
A
9
2
10
2
0
4
2
3
Q
4
0
0
5
4
10
K
6
2
0
6
7
7

How was West's defense?

West
A843
J32
Q75
J97
North
J1092
1064
1064
K84
East
KQ7
AK7
J82
10532
South
65
Q985
AK93
AQ6
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
9
Q
5
2
0
1
7
5
J
4
0
0
2
3
6
K
8
2
0
3
A
9
2
10
2
0
4
2
3
Q
4
0
0
5
4
10
K
6
2
0
6
7
7

It was fine. The opening lead from A8xx isn't a happy choice, but everything else is worse. The heart return is normal, as from West's point of view his partner might have had 4 hearts. At the end, cashing the spade tricks was vital.

How about declarer's line of play?

West
A843
J32
Q75
J97
North
J1092
1064
1064
K84
East
KQ7
AK7
J82
10532
South
65
Q985
AK93
AQ6
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
3
9
Q
5
2
0
1
7
5
J
4
0
0
2
3
6
K
8
2
0
3
A
9
2
10
2
0
4
2
3
Q
4
0
0
5
4
10
K
6
2
0
6
7
7

The big question is whether declarer should have gotten the hearts right. Going up queen is anti-percentage on the face of it, but when one considers East's heart shift the odds change considerably. East would have an easy heart shift from AKxx, and a reasonable shift from AKx. From AJxx or KJxx, a low heart shift would look very unappealing, particularly since declarer might have both missing honors and let the shift ride around to the 10. While a diamond shift might not be appealing either, it would have to look more attractive than a heart shift away from the jack. If declarer had thought of this, he would have gone right.

Ducking the diamond at the end was not realistic. There is no way East would ever be underleading the QJ of diamonds. However, it is possible that West started with AKxxx of spades. If this is the case, winning the ace of diamonds and leading a spade cuts the enemy communications and forces West to either cash the high spade, setting up the seventh trick, or not get it. When instead West shifts to a club, declarer wins the king and leads a small diamond from dummy. The plan is to go up ace if East follows small, which will make if West started with honor doubleton or Jxx, since the diamond trick gets established without letting West get on lead. If East plays the queen of diamonds, declarer ducks, making if the diamonds are 3-3.

It is vital to put yourself in your opponent's shoes in order to maximize your chances. Both East and declarer had opportunities to do so on this hand.