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In a quarter-final match in the senior trials for USA2, you have to decide whether or not your hand is worth an upgrade.

None vul, East deals. As South, you hold

South
KJ10
J962
K2
A1064
W
N
E
S
P
?

Your opening 1NT range is 10-12. Opening 1 followed by 1NT (over 1) or 2 (over 1) would show 13-15.

Your call?

South
KJ10
J962
K2
A1064
W
N
E
S
P
?

You are 4-4-3-2, which is better than 4-3-3-3. You have two 10's, one along with a jack and another in your 4-card suit. These are definite plusses.

Other than that, there is nothing special about this hand. You have only one ace, and that is counter-balanced by holding two jacks. While close, this hand just isn't worth the upgrade.

You open 1NT, ending the auction.

South
KJ10
J962
K2
A1064
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P

West leads the 8. Fourth best leads. UDCA.

North
74
K53
J53
KJ732
South
KJ10
J962
K2
A1064
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P

How do you handle this trick?

North
74
K53
J53
KJ732
South
KJ10
J962
K2
A1064
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P

The opening lead is probably from a 5-card suit. This means that the opponents have 4 diamond tricks and 2 major-suit aces. You can't afford to lose anything else, so you will have to get the clubs right. In addition, you need to get a trick out of one of the majors.

If the opening lead is fourth-best, East has one diamond higher than the 8. It can't be the ace or the queen, since that would give West a sequence of A1098 or Q1098, and he would have led top of the sequence rather than the 8. This means that if you go up jack, it will win the trick. Granted your king will drop next, but West won't know that.

Suppose you do win the jack of diamonds. You might try a spade at trick 2. East might fear that you are trying to steal your seventh trick, which looks like a real possibility since he will be looking at that 5-card club suit in dummy. He may go up ace of spades when he doesn't have the queen, sparing you that guess. If he doesn't go up ace, there is an inference that he doesn't have it, arguing for putting in the jack. Even if this loses to the queen of spades, West won't know to lay down the ace of diamonds, and he may do something like safely playing ace and exiting with a spade, giving you another chance. This looks like your best approach.

You choose to play small from dummy. East plays the 10, and you win your king. What do you try now?

North
74
K53
J5
KJ732
South
KJ10
J962
2
A1064
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P

Assuming you can run the clubs, this will get some discards from the opponents. The problem is that once the opponents know you have 5 club tricks they will know what they are up against. They can count your 6 top tricks, so they will both know their partner holds any major-suit ace they aren't looking at. They will know you must have the king of spades, since if their partner has it they have 7 top tricks. They will also be able to deduce that you don't have either major-suit queen, both from your opening bid and because if you do you will just attack that suit and either make or go down depending whether the other major-suit finesse is on or off. Thus, they will be able to call your hand.

Is there a way you can do something else? Perhaps you might lead back a diamond. West will run his diamonds. You would have to find some discards, which might cause you to go down extra tricks. On the plus side West won't know what the hand is about, and might do something favorable for you when he is through running his diamonds. It is certainly a possible approach.

Suppose you decide against this and choose to go after the clubs. How do you play the suit?

North
74
K53
J5
KJ732
South
KJ10
J962
2
A1064
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P

West is likely to have 5 diamonds, and East 3 diamonds. Offhand that appears to put more clubs in the East hand, arguing for playing a club to the king first and then hopefully guessing right on the second round if only small cards appear.

Suppose West has a singleton club. That means he has 5 diamonds and a 4-card major, along with some strength. Most pairs have methods to enter over a 1NT opening bid with a 5-card minor and a 4-card major. There was no competition. That indicates that West doesn't have a stiff club, making it right to play the ace first and hope to guess right.

You lead the ace of clubs, both following. When you play the 10, West produces the queen. You win, and East follows. What next?

North
74
K53
J5
J73
South
KJ10
J962
2
64
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P

There is something to be said for making your spade guess right now. If you guess right and the opponents win the ace and run the diamonds, you can discard a spade and a heart from dummy, a spade, a heart, and a club from your hand, and you won't be in jeopardy of going down more than 1 trick if you get the hearts wrong. The danger with running the clubs is what next? When the opponents get in they will run the diamonds, and both your hand and dummy will be under some pressure.

Still, running the clubs forces the opponents to make some discards, and that may be of value to you. In particular West will have to hold all of his diamonds, which means he will have to come down to a singleton in one of the majors. It is probably your best bet.

You run your clubs, discarding the 6 on the fifth club. East discards 7, 7, 2. West discards 5, 3, 4. What next?

North
74
K53
J5
South
KJ10
J92
2
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P

West has held all of his diamonds. Presumably he has come down to either 1 spade and 2 hearts or 2 spades and 1 heart. If he has come down to a singleton heart it isn't likely to be the queen.

You could make your spade guess now. However, it looks better to play a diamond and let West run his diamonds. Everybody will have to come down to 3 cards. Dummy has no discard problems. You may have a problem on your final discard, but you will get to discard after East, and East's final discard may give you the clue you need.

If you do lead a diamond, it has to be best to lead the jack in order to cut down on the enemy options. Leading small allows the defense to choose who wins the trick.

You lead the jack of diamonds. West wins, and runs his diamonds. East's first two discards are the 6 and 8. Your first two discards are a spade and a heart. On the final diamond, East discards the queen of spades. What do you discard?

North
7
K53
South
KJ
J9
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P

If West remains with A9 of spades and a heart, you need to discard a heart. West's heart would have to be an honor, else you have no chance. West wouldn't have come down to a stiff queen of hearts, since from his point of view East might have AJ. If West is down to stiff ace of hearts, that means he started with A9 Axxx AQ98x Qx, and with that he certainly would have acted over your 10-12 NT opening.

The conclusion is that East started with AQxxx of spades, and is down to a stiff ace of spades. Both opponents have 1 spade and 2 hearts left. You can discard a spade, and when West leads a heart you will have to get it right.

You discard the king of spades. West shifts to the 8. Your play?

North
K53
South
J
J9
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P

There isn't much to go on in the bidding. If West has the ace of hearts his hand would be xxx Axx AQ9xx Qx, and he wouldn't have acted over 1NT. If East has the ace of hearts his hand is AQxxx A10x 10xx xx, not an opening bid and no reason to balance.

What about the defense? There is perhaps a clue. West chose to cash all of his diamonds before making the heart shift, which he knew would put pressure on his partner. If West had the ace of hearts, he might have underled his heart before cashing the diamonds, but with the queen of hearts he couldn't afford to do so since his partner might have AJ of hearts and a sure set.

You don't have a lock, but it looks right to play West for the queen of hearts and East the ace.

You play small. Right. East has to win the ace and you make. The full hand is:

West
853
Q84
AQ984
Q5
North
74
K53
J53
KJ732
East
AQ962
A107
1076
98
South
KJ10
J962
K2
A1064
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
3
10
K
3
1
0
A
5
2
8
3
2
0
10
Q
K
9
1
3
0
J
7
6
5
1
4
0
7
7
4
3
1
5
0
3
2
6
4
1
6
0
J
6
2
Q
0
6
1
9
5
6
10
0
6
2
A
4
9
2
0
6
3
4
7
Q
K
0
6
4
8
3
A
11

Could the defense have improved?

West
853
Q84
AQ984
Q5
North
74
K53
J53
KJ732
East
AQ962
A107
1076
98
South
KJ10
J962
K2
A1064
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
8
3
10
K
3
1
0
A
5
2
8
3
2
0
10
Q
K
9
1
3
0
J
7
6
5
1
4
0
7
7
4
3
1
5
0
3
2
6
4
1
6
0
J
6
2
Q
0
6
1
9
5
6
10
0
6
2
A
4
9
2
0
6
3
4
7
Q
K
0
6
4
8
3
A
11

East's diamond discard seems routine in order to clarify the position for his partner, but it wasn't best. East knew the whole hand, and didn't need his small spades. The problem with the diamond discard is that West was pretty much forced to run the diamonds, and when East showed up with AQ of spades declarer knew what to discard and whom to play for the ace of hearts. If East had held onto his diamonds West wouldn't have been forced to cash the diamonds, and it might have been more difficult for declarer.

At the other table after a natural 1 auction both sides found their fit. E-W misjudged and competed to 3 over a N-S 3 contract which would have gone down, and 3 failed by 2 tricks.

1NT contracts are often the most difficult to declare and defend. Declarer drew some good inferences from the actions and inactions taken by the defenders, and brought home a close contract.

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