Maritha Pottenger

Hands were played at Soledad Club, October 22, 2018.

Hand #4

West (Dummy): 10962 43 Q4 AJ986

North: KJ8 10865 J973 K3

The auction went pass by West, pass by you in the North. East (RHO) opened 1 and partner bid 3. West and you passed again. East doubled. West bid 3, and East went to 4. [Once East doubles 3—showing a better-than-opening hand and shortness in hearts—West should just bid 4. 3 could have been bid on much less. East had a 4-loser hand, so went to game anyway with AQ753 AK862 Q42.

Partner (South) led the A which Declarer ruffed. If Declarer plays a low diamond to Dummy's Q which holds, and plays the 10 from Dummy, what do you do?

Normally, it is not correct to cover an honor in THEIR trump suit, but look at your spot cards. If you cover the 10 with your J, Declarer will be forced to play the Q. Then, if Declarer later plays the 9 from Dummy, you can cover with the K and promote your 8 to a winner!

Hand #14

Q108 10752 102 A1084

You hold the above hand as South. RHO (East) opens 1NT (15-17) and you pass. LHO (West) bids 2 (Stayman). Partner passes and Declarer bids 2, denying a major. West goes to 3NT.

What do you lead?

There are three reasons to lead a heart rather than a club. (1) Declarer has minors, not majors, so a club lead is likely to be going INTO Declarer's strength (finessing yourself, in effect). A heart lead is likely to be going THROUGH Dummy's strength, with the chance that partner has something useful BEHIND Dummy. (2) Leading away from four cards to an Ace in no trump often kicks a trick that does not come back. (3) Generally, when you have two four card suits to consider against NT, leading the one that does NOT have the Ace is superior. Your Ace in the other suit is a guaranteed ENTRY back to your hand.

The full hand was:

A club lead allows Declarer to score the K while squashing partner's Q. Declarer can afford to cash five diamonds, inflicting discarding pain on you and your partner, and then try the heart finesse. [If it loses into your hand, her Jx remains a second stopper.]

If you lead a heart, Declarer can take the heart finesse, but then has to GUESS who has the A and who has the Q. If you and your partner discard just right, she may guess incorrectly and take only nine tricks.

Matthew Kidd says: I highly recommend the book Winning Notrump Leads by David Bird and Taf Anthias. The authors evaluate the best lead for many common hand types against many common notrump auction, such as the one above, by simulating thousands of hands consistent with the auction, and make list of recommendations. Many matchpoints are won or lost by the opening lead against seemingly boring notrump contracts.

Hand #23

South: Q962 A9752 K94 5

LHO (West) opens 1. Partner passes. RHO (East) bids 1. LHO rebids 2 and RHO jumps to 3NT.

What do you lead?

You should definitely lead a major on this auction—the question is which one? LHO almost always has a singleton or void when he rebids his minor rather than rebidding 1NT. That singleton or void is most likely to be in hearts or spades. If it is in hearts, and partner has three or four good hearts with you, leading fourth best could pay off big time. However, your spots are pretty puny under the A. You would need at least two heart honors from partner.

It is true that you also need two spade honors from partner for the spade to work out. However, if LHO has a void in spades, partner could have five spades! Partner certainly does not have six decent spades or you would have heard some action over the 1 opening bid. On the other hand, given your 9 HCP, partner probably has about 3-6 HCP.

For me, one telling argument is again that leading away from an Ace, even in NT, often kicks a trick that does not come back. Your Ace is more useful as an entry. It is highly likely that Declarer will have to play hearts herself, and keeping your Ace behind her heart cards gives you a better chance to do some damage. The second argument is that you need partner to have the K and Q or the Q and J for that lead to be effective, but can do well with spades if partner has only the J and 10. [And if partner has the K and J, hallelujah!] So, the spade requires less from partner.

If I held A109xx, then I would be willing to try the heart lead. Incidentally, in this auction, if you had that heart holding, it is still correct to lead fourth best rather than the 10 (the conventional lead from A109xx). The logic is that you KNOW that RHO has at least four hearts, so partner will have shortness. You need partner to have at least one honor, so don't waste one of your honors playing over to partner's honor.

Spot cards, spot cards, spot cards.......