Playing at matchpoints, with nobody vulnerable, I pick up:
This is a nice 16-point hand; the honors are working together, and there's a singleton. The spots are poor, but you can't have everything. East passes, and I open 1. My partner is Chuck Adelman, a jetsetter and businessman from New Jersey. Chuck responds in my short suit--1. I rebid 1, Chuck bids 2. Now what?
I'm interested in game, but 3NT would be a slight overbid, since Chuck might have just 6 or 7 points and long s. 2NT is the right bid. It shows extras, so Chuckie should go to 3NT if he has something. And he does bid 3NT, which ends the auction. As West contemplates his lead, I'm dreaming of a lead into my A-Q.
The 4 is led, and dummy comes down:
|KQJ102      Contract: 3NT|
East follows low as my J holds. How should I play it?
I have eight top tricks: 2 s, 1 and 5 s. Where might I get some more? I don't have the entries to set up s: I can knock out one top now, but I only have one entry back to dummy (the A), so I would be unable to establish and run s. The finesse is probably wrong, since East didn't seem to have a problem playing low on trick 1. Is there no hope for a ninth trick?
There is hope. I can play for a 3-3 split, in which case a little might be my ninth trick. The way to do that is to duck two tricks and then lay down the A. I shouldn't release the A first, in case the split is bad and the opponents run s on me!
At trick 2, I play the A (to unblock the suit), and then at trick 3 I lead the 4 off dummy. East follows with the 7, I insert the 8, and West wins with the J. This sequence has the advantage that West cannot lead s without giving me my ninth trick. West does lead s, and I win the Q. The position is now:
Nine tricks are in the bag, but nothing bad can happen if I continue to work on s. Playing the s first would be a mistake, since it would give the opponents time to exchange signals about their top s. So, I duck another , which East wins. East returns a to my A. I now run s, in case a defender has two s left and is kind enough to part with one. As it turns out, s split 3-3, so my hand is good aside from that little . At trick 13, the defenders' A and K come down together. Making 4, for +430 and probably a top board.
This was the full layout:
It was fun declaring this hand, but the real lesson to be learned has to do with the defense. Declarer should have made 8 tricks, not 10. It is true that East should play the 9 on trick 3, either forcing out declarer's A or else allowing himself to be on lead and play back a . However, this is a hard play. The real villain was West. Put yourself in his shoes. You hold:
You hear your RHO open 1 and rebid 1; your LHO bids s twice, and the opponents end up in 3NT. Since spades is the unbid suit, you make the normal lead of the 4. Dummy comes down with:
At trick 1, dummy's J holds, suggesting to you that declarer has both the A and Q. Next declarer plays the A and a small , playing the 8 as you win with the J. What do you think is happening?
The hand is almost an open book now. You know that declarer has no intention of using dummy's s--after all, he has already removed his entry to dummy (the A) and has not tried to knock out your K. So, partner probably holds the A. (The alternative is that declarer has the singleton A.) From the auction, you know that declarer holds exactly 4 s (he opened a minor, then rebid 1). Declarer's mysterious play means that he is trying to set up a long and has Axxx. Since he voluntarily played the A, and since he opened 1, you know that it is he who has good s, not partner. And you know from trick 1 that declarer has the AQ, so you want partner to lead through that holding.
The defense is clear: at trick 4, West leads a to his partner's A. (If declarer has the stiff A, this is still a good play, since it sets up West's K and clarifies the position.) Partner then leads a back. Declarer will try the finesse (it doesn't matter whether he does); West wins the K and clears s. Sooner or later West will gets in with his K and cash a long and the K for down 1. The defense succeeds by setting up a long before declarer sets up a long .
West's disastrous play on trick 4 would have been more forgivable if I had played better as declarer. On the first trick, I lose nothing by overtaking the J with my Q. This creates the impression that I began with the AQ doubleton, and so West might think that a small on trick 4 will pick up my now-stiff A. (Don't they always say that the worst mistakes are made on trick 1?) Once West persists with a , however, East played reasonably to lead a when he got in. From East's point of view, it looked as if his partner began with Axxx and was ready to cash some tricks.
Usually, a long suit in dummy is a thing to be feared. Sometimes, however, the long suit functions as a decoy. A good rule of thumb is this: if declarer does not attack his long suit right away, then either his suit is solid and he's fishing around for another trick, or else he has other plans. In this case, West knew that declarer had other plans, since he knew looking at his K that the suit wasn't solid.
In practice, West couldn't think through the hand, even though he's undoubtedly one of the better players in the Birmingham Bridge Club. If you can do better, you'll make a killing in Alabama.