Originally published in BRIDGE Magazine. Reproduced here with permission of Chess & Bridge and Eddie Kantar.
IMP scoring. Dealer: North. Vulnerable: None
Even though South might have had a weak four card major, North opted to rebid 3NT on the strength of his secondary honour cards in his short suits, plus the desirability of having the opening lead come up to the South hand.
Opening lead: ♠3 (4th best leads). You play the ♠J from the dummy. Do you agree? In any case, East plays the ♠K which you duck and back comes the ♠2. Plan the play.
Given that West has led a known lowest spade showing a four card suit and East’s return of his lowest card also has shown four, it shouldn’t matter if you take or duck this trick. Let’s say you duck the trick and win the spade return, both following. Your follow up play of this hand should be based on the overwhelming likelihood that spades are 4-4. If so, the safest play for nine tricks is to knock out the ♦A and let them cash a total of three spades and one diamond. You now have nine tricks: Five clubs, two diamonds and two major suit aces, no heart finesse needed. Taking the heart finesse would be a needless risk. If it loses, they will take five tricks: three spades, a heart and a diamond.
If your spade stopper was something like ♠xxx facing ♠Ax, and you could tell from the carding or the bidding that spades were 5-3, then it would be foolhardy NOT to take the heart finesse to make your contract. You can’t afford to let them in with the ♦A as they will be race off four spades and a diamond.
- With ♠Jx in dummy facing the ♠A98 in your hand, the correct play from dummy is the jack when a low card is led. It is the only way you can take two tricks in the suit. Playing low can never be right. Even if a low card forces an honour from you RHO, you still only have one trick. However with ♠A10x in the closed hand facing ♠Jx in dummy, or ♠10x in dummy facing ♠AJx in the closed hand, play low from dummy to guarantee two tricks.
- As declarer, it is important to not only watch the opening lead like a hawk, but also the return of the suit by third hand. The normal way to return partner’s suit is to lead the higher of two remaining cards, the lowest of three.
- If you have to attack this heart combination, start by leading the nine, not the queen. If the nine holds, play the queen. If that holds, you remain in the closed hand to repeat the finesse a third time. If you start with the queen and that holds, and then lead low to the ten and that holds, you either have to lead the ace and hope the king falls or waste a perhaps needed entry to the closed entry to repeat the finesse. Let’s not even think about not having any return entry to the closed hand. Play the same with ♥J9x facing ♥AQ10x. Start with the nine.
The full deal: