Hand of the Week #11

Today's Hand of the Week features an opening lead decision that the South players faced at the Friday 30 May club championship. Your opponents, vulnerable against not, are declaring notrump, and you hold:

S T 9 8 7
D T 3 2
C K J 8 5 3

Your RHO opened a strong 2C. Some tables (including mine) were in 6NT. Others settled in 3NT after investigating slam. Either way, you know that your partner doesn't have very much in the way of high cards to offer.

If you were going all-out to try to defeat 3NT, and you had reason to believe your partner had a few useful face cards, your normal lead would be a small club, hoping to establish the suit, then cash 4 club tricks when partner comes in with his winner in some other suit. (Or, if you're very lucky, take the first 5 tricks, if partner has the CA, declarer the CQ, and the other clubs are 3-3-2 around the table.)

But, before you blindly follow "fourth down from your longest and strongest," remember two things: your opponents have shown considerably more than 26 HCP in the bidding -- which means you're very unlikely to find partner with the CA, or with CQ plus a side suit winner -- and duplicate bridge is scored by matchpoints. Leading away from the king-jack of clubs into a declarer who opened a strong 2C is going to give away a trick much more often than it is going to gain. The safe lead at matchpoints is the top of your spade sequence, waiting for declarer to eventually give you a club trick later.

This deal contains an interesting declarer play problem too. E-W wind up with either 10, 11, or 12 tricks, depending whether you make the right lead and your opponent finds the right line of play:

Dealer East
EW vul
S J 6
H Q T 9 6 4
D 8 6 4
C 9 7 6
S Q 4 3 2
H 8 7 5 3
D K 7 5
C A 4
[table marker] S A K 5
H A K 2
D A Q J 9
C Q 7 2
S T 9 8 7
D T 3 2
C K J 8 5 3

If you lead a spade, declarer has 10 top tricks. In order to score an 11th trick, he would have to cash his red-suit winners, and throw you back into the lead with the fourth round of spades, to force you to break clubs. (A risky play, since if North had the CK, he'd risk making only 3, losing the CK and three hearts.)

If you lead a club, you immediately offer declarer his 11th trick -- and if he takes his tricks in the right order, you are going to be squeezed in spades and clubs and allow him to make six.

At the table, one declarer took 12 tricks, three took 11 tricks, two took ten, and one pair tried the 4-3 spade fit, also taking 10 tricks.

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This page last updated 18.06.08
©2008 Gordon Bower