Playing in a Regional Swiss teams event against strong competition, IMPs scoring, I pick up the following hand:
I am in 4th seat, and we are non-vul vs. vul. Dealer passes, as does my partner, and RHO opens 2♠. I hate to make a takeout
double with flat shape and so many of my points in the opponent's suit, and this hand is too good to pass, so I decide to borrow a
point or two and overcall 2NT. LHO passes, and my partner raises to 3NT. The auction has been:
LHO tables the queen of hearts, and when dummy appears, I see that partner has also been stretching her values:
To make this ambitious contract, I am going to have to develop the club suit for four tricks. Unfortunately, the defense has
found my weak spot with a heart lead. To begin with, I check the opponents' lead agreements to verify that the queen is a Standard,
and not a Rusinow, honor lead. So how should I plan the play?
My first thought, almost a reflex, is to duck (or to state more accurately, to hold up) dummy's ace. The intent of this play would
be to exhaust RHO of his hearts, so that while I am attempting to set up the clubs and that hand gets on lead, he would not have a
heart to return to his partner. If I were to place the ace of clubs with RHO, I would likely play the clubs somewhat unusually by
leading from dummy and going up with the king, playing West for either Q-x or singleton queen.
But that doesn't feel right. Opening 2♠ with six spades to the QJ, the king of hearts, and the ace of clubs feels rich and more like a
1♠ call with that hand, even vulnerable. Furthermore, LHO would not insult his partner by not leading spades unless he thought he had a
good prospect of setting the hand by leading his own suit. And would he do so by leading a heart from QJ98x without a side entry, which
has to be the ace of clubs? That seems highly unlikely, so I am inclined to almost certainly place that critical card on my left. I can
now appreciate the importance of the 10 of hearts in my hand: if RHO holds K-x of hearts, and LHO has the ace of clubs, my best
chance is to go up with the ace of hearts at first play. If RHO does hold K-x and plays low, the hearts will be blocked, and if he
unblocks the king, LHO then holding J9xx will not be able to continue hearts effectively from his side.
When I call for dummy's ace, East thinks for a long time and eventually unblocks the king. I lead the 10 of clubs from dummy and
pass it, underplaying the 8. Inwardly, I heave a sigh of relief as West wins the ace, and the defense has no counter. He tries to get to
his partner's hand with a spade, which I win, and then I lead a diamond to dummy to repeat the club finesse. The queen appears,
and I claim nine tricks, the full deal being:
As the reader can see, West could have avoided the problem for the defense if he had led a small heart instead of an honor.
At IMPs, where the primary objective for the defense is to set the contract, he probably should have led small, for once having
decided to embark on the heart suit instead of spades, the defense would probably not have the time to set up the hearts quickly
enough to beat the hand unless his partner held a heart honor.