Mike's Advice


Careful Play at Trick One

I have talked a lot about the advantages of not bidding Stayman when you have a balanced hand. This card combination was sent to me by Dave Hudson. (I regret that I do not know his hometown.) It is a very cute theme. In case someone remembers the actual hand, I admit to have taken a few liberties in creating this one.
Sitting South, the dealer, you have this ordinary sixteen-count with both sides vulnerable.
♠ A 10
Q 9 8 4 3
K Q 9
♣K Q 10
Having balanced shape and having all the suits stopped, the player holding this hand opened 1NT. This seems like a decent idea. I am adverse to opening 1NT with five spades, but with five hearts and notrump values and all suits stopped, 1NT was the choice. There are some obvious reasons for this, and one less-than-obvious reason. The ♠10 is potentially a good card. If partner has as little as J-x-x, we have two stoppers if West leads the suit. Also, if this hand starts with 1, it has no good bid after a 1♠ response.
The bidding went 1NT – P – 3NT and it stayed there.
West led the 5. Surprised? Here is the layout.

♠ 7 6 3
A J 6 2
J 10 3
♣ A J 3
♠ A 10
Q 9 8 4 3
K Q 9
♣ K Q 10

I rather like North’s 3NT bid. He has no shape and he has enough points that game is likely. West’s 5 lead is unexpected. How do you play? If you are still thinking about the bidding and wondering why you are not in a cold 4, that is normal but not constructive. Spend your energy trying to make your 3NT contract.
Here is a hint. West has led from the  K, as expected, given the lead. This means you can finesse at trick one successfully.
This is an excellent hand for planning at trick one. What is your plan? Do not read further until you decide. We will take a short pause here while you do that.
OK. Here is the entire hand.

Dlr: South ♠ 7 6 3
Vul: All A J 6 2
J 10 3
♣ A J 3
♠ Q 8 4 ♠ K J 9 5 2
K 10 7 5
8 6 4 A 7 5 2
♣ 9 7 2 ♣ 8 6 5 4
♠ A 10
Q 9 8 4 3
K Q 9
♣ K Q 10

Here is what our declarer did. He played low from dummy. East showed out and South won the first heart with the 8. West still had a heart stopper with his remaining K-10-7.
South could have taken nine tricks now by playing on diamonds. That would give him a spade, three hearts, two diamonds and three clubs. But South noted there were heart tricks to be had so he led a second heart and finessed the jack. Next he played the ace and conceded a heart to West.
West, by now, had gotten the message that spades was a good suit and he led one, setting up the suit for East. East later got in with the A, and that was worth down one.
Since most players were in 4 making four, making 3NT would have been a poor score. That was the excuse South used when it was pointed out that he had been cold for 3NT. Someone else then pointed out that an original spade lead would have set 3NT, given that West is able to stop the heart suit. South was not sure who to believe at this point.
He was lucky that no one had pointed out that he was cold for 5NT; game plus two overtricks.
How do you make 5NT on these cards given that you get a heart lead and not a devastating spade lead?
Look at the hand diagram carefully. There is a way to get 11 tricks. Ready?
At trick one, play the 6 from dummy. If West has all four hearts, the 6 will win. Now South can take four more heart tricks because he still has the 9 and 8 to use as ‘finessers’ against West. South’s careless play at trick one cost him a valuable spot card by making him use the 8 sooner than necessary.

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