By Barbara Seagram
Courtesy of BarbaraSeagram.com
In notrump, your opponents, who have no sense of humor, usually lead their strongest suit. This, invariably, is your weakest suit.
In the absence of a sequence (always our favorite lead), West led the ♥6, fourth best from his longest and strongest. As declarer, you count your sure winners. Only count the for-sure, fast ones that are carved in stone, not the possible ones, and not the slow ones.
You count six winners: 1 spade, 2 hearts, 1 diamond and 2 club winners. The club suit is the obvious suit that you decide will be your “project suit”. The problem is that you have very few entries to the dummy where your long club suit is located. You have one fewer entry after your LHO led a heart.
Let’s do some math. There are six clubs in dummy and three clubs in your hand; the missing four cards rate to divide 3-1 most of the time. (Missing an even number of cards, they divide badly, missing an odd number of cards they divide favorably, most often.) It looks as though you will have to be prepared to lose a club. If you play ♣A, then the ♣K and then give away a club, your club suit will now be high in dummy but it will be stranded and you will have no access to these winners.
Since you are prepared to give up a club, give it up first. Lead the ♣2 at Trick 2 and duck it, allowing East to win it with the ♣10. East should lead back a heart, since returning partner’s suit is what we were trained to do at mother’s knee. Declarer can win the ♥A and now take five club tricks, the ♦A, two heart tricks and a spade trick for a total of nine tricks.
On this hand, we had to give away a club trick and we could afford to do so since we started with a double stopper in the suit the opponents led. It doesn’t come easily to any of us to give anything away, we prefer to take, take, take! But in order to receive, one must often give.
Now let’s have a look at another deal.
West, once again, led his fourth best ♥7. This time you only have one heart stopper. There is no point holding up your stopper in hearts as the enemy have nine cards between them in this suit. Since your heart stopper is gone and you only count seven sure winners, you must try to score six tricks in the club suit without the opponents winning a club trick. If they get in, you’ll be toast!
Win the ♥A and lead the ♣A at Trick 2. Now lead a club to dummy’s king. But hold it! If you lead the ♣2 towards dummy, there will be good news and bad news. The good news is that the clubs break 2-2. This is wonderful. But you will still have the ♣9 in your hand, now the top card in the suit. So back you go to the ♣9, only to be forever divorced from dummy’s good club suit. Where did it all go wrong?
The pesky ♣9 got in the way. At Trick 3, having played the ♣A, it was imperative to play the ♣9 towards the ♣K in dummy. When the suit breaks magically 2-2, you can now play your high clubs from dummy and your little ♣2 from your hand disappears nicely under the little spots in dummy. One spade trick, 1 heart trick, 3 diamond tricks and 6 club tricks. It pays to live right!
Count your winners, make a plan and take your time at Trick 1 to decide on your strategy. If you only make your plan later in the hand, it may all be too late. Every card matters: take your time.