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In a round-robin match in the Open Trials, you have to find the best approach opposite partner's weak notrump opening.

E-W vul, South deals. As North, you hold:

North
AJ6
AQJ5
K1073
106
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
?

1NT: 10-12

You play 2-way Stayman. 2 would ask for a major, presumably at most invitational. 2 would be game-forcing Stayman, after which you can get partner's exact distribution (or close) if you so desire. Other suit bids are to play.

Your call?

North
AJ6
AQJ5
K1073
106
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
?

You are strong enough to drive to game, but not strong enough to be thinking about slam. The question is what is the best game. Clearly your best start is 2, game-forcing Stayman. Your follow-up will depend upon partner's rebid.

You bid 2. The bidding continues:

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P

2: Game-forcing Stayman

3: 5 clubs, no 4-card major

Your call?

North
AJ6
AQJ5
K1073
106
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
?

If partner were short in clubs, it might be right to play in 5 or in a 4-3 major-suit fit. With clubs taken care of, 3NT is clearly where you belong.

You bid 3NT, ending the auction.

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Over you go to try and make 3NT.

West leads the 9. Standard leads.

North
AJ6
AQJ5
K1073
106
South
KQ5
986
Q8
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

What do you do at trick 1?

North
AJ6
AQJ5
K1073
106
South
KQ5
986
Q8
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Clubs is your longest suit. The problem is that in order to establish the long club you will have to lose at least 2 club tricks, probably 3 club tricks. In the meantime the opponents will be setting up a spade trick. You would need to find the clubs 3-3 with the ace onside for this approach to have a chance, and even that might not be good enough.

The red suits provide an easier source of tricks. With some luck you could get 3 heart tricks and 2 diamond tricks or 4 heart tricks and 1 diamond trick, in which case if the ace of clubs is onside you will make.

Your best start looks to be to take the heart finesse. East might annoy you by ducking the first round of hearts, but there is nothing you can do about that.

It isn't likely to matter, but you should win the opening lead with the king of spades, not the queen. This may leave West in doubt as to the location of the queen of spades. If you win with the queen West will know where the king is, since if East had the king of spades he would have won the trick.

You win the king of spades. What next?

North
AJ
AQJ5
K1073
106
South
Q5
986
Q8
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

It is clear to use the entry to take a heart finesse. There is no possible gain from leading the 9, since with the AQJx in dummy West isn't going to cover with the 10 from any holding as he knows you won't let the 9 ride. The advantage of retaining the 9 is that you keep the option of finessing for the 10 next round. This isn't as far-fetched as it might appear. If East has Kxx of hearts, he will probably duck the first heart in order to make you waste an entry to repeat the heart finesse. Thus, if he wins the king that is a clue that he might have king-doubleton. Of course he could duck with king-doubleton also, but players are nervous about making such a play unless they can see a definite need to do so.

You lead the 6. West plays the 10, and dummy's queen holds the trick. What next?

North
AJ
AJ5
K1073
106
South
Q5
98
Q8
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Unless West has played the 10 from K10x, there is no need to repeat the heart finesse. Either the king is coming down, or East is holding up on his king of hearts. Granted, falsecarding with the 10 from K10x is perfectly safe, but it is the sort of play that most players don't even consider.

You are going to have to work on the diamond suit in any event, so you might as well lead a diamond to the queen now. If it holds, you can then take some red-suit finesse. If West wins the ace your entries will be more limited.

You lead a diamond to the queen. It holds, East playing the 2 and West the 4. Now what?

North
AJ
AJ5
K107
106
South
Q5
98
8
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

It must be right to take another heart finesse. If it wins, you are in pretty good shape. If it loses, you will have a heart re-entry to your hand.

The best play with the heart suit is to lead the 8, planning on putting in the jack. This will make it difficult for East to duck, since he might not be sure who has the 9.

You lead the 8. West plays the king, and you win dummy's ace. What do you do next?

North
AJ
J5
K107
106
South
Q5
9
8
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

That was fortunate. Not only do you have 8 tricks in the bag, but you have a convenient heart entry to your hand which you can use if you so choose. That is clearly what you should do. You want to play a diamond torward dummy in hopes of establishing your ninth trick. The clubs can wait.

You cross to the 9, West discarding the 4. You lead the 8, West playing the 5. What do you play from dummy?

North
AJ
J
K107
106
South
Q5
8
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You have no reason to think West ducked the ace of diamonds, so you aren't playing the king. As far as the diamond suit by itself goes, it is a complete guess between playing the 10 and playing the 7. If West has the 9, you can generate a second diamond trick by playing small, and since you have 2 spade entries to dummy you will be able to eventually set up that trick and cash it. If West has the jack of diamonds, you can generate a second diamond trick by playing the 10. However, playing the 10 is clear. The problem with playing small is that if East has the jack of diamonds you might not be making anyway, since the opponents might be able to take 3 club tricks and 2 diamond tricks. Therefore it is right to play the 10. If that forces the ace, you are home.

You play the 10. East wins the ace, and returns the 3. What do you play?

North
AJ
J
K7
106
South
Q5
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

You have 9 tricks in. You aren't going to risk playing the king and losing 4 club tricks at this point, regardless of how unlikely this is. Playing small guarantees the contract.

You play small. West wins the jack, and leads the jack of diamonds. You cash your winners, and West gets the last two tricks with the ace of clubs and the 9. The full hand is:

West
9874
K10
J954
AJ2
North
AJ6
AQJ5
K1073
106
East
1032
7432
A62
Q93
South
KQ5
986
Q8
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
6
2
K
3
1
0
6
10
Q
2
1
2
0
3
2
Q
4
3
3
0
8
K
A
3
1
4
0
5
4
9
4
3
5
0
8
5
10
A
2
5
1
3
4
J
6
0
5
2
J
8

Do you agree with West's opening lead?

West
9874
K10
J954
AJ2
North
AJ6
AQJ5
K1073
106
East
1032
7432
A62
Q93
South
KQ5
986
Q8
K8754
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
9
6
2
K
3
1
0
6
10
Q
2
1
2
0
3
2
Q
4
3
3
0
8
K
A
3
1
4
0
5
4
9
4
3
5
0
8
5
10
A
2
5
1
3
4
J
6
0
5
2
J
8

East could have 5 hearts, but even if he does West would need to find him with sufficient entries to establish and run the suit. West has enough strength so that isn't likely to happen. If West didn't have the ace of clubs, the king of hearts lead would be a lot more attractive.

Declarer is assumed to be 5-3-3-2 in some order, although 2-2-4-5 is possible. North has shown interest in at least one of the majors with his 2 call, and he may be 4-4 in the majors. Between spades and diamonds, It looks like the more likely 5-card suit for East to hold is diamonds. That argues for the diamond lead, even though it is riskier than the spade lead. Also, since West has J9xx of diamonds, East will need less in diamonds to establish tricks there.

On the other hand, West has the clubs pretty well bottled up with his AJx. That argues for the more passive lead, since if the diamond lead is the winner there may still be time to shift to a diamond. If West's clubs were Axx instead of AJx, that would make the diamond lead more attractive.

2-way Stayman is more effective than most players realize. As with 2-way checkback, having a game force established at the 2 level when partner is known to be balanced gives you a lot of room to find the right contract. When playing weak notrumps, there is even more value to 2-way Stayman, since on game-going hands responder has more strength and is better equipped to make a delicate choice of games decision. By contrast, when playing strong notrumps opener has more strength, so it is better for responder to describe (with transfers or even with 2 puppet Stayman) and let opener make the decisions.

The actual North hand is a good example. It didn't matter here. But suppose South had, say, shown 4 spades and 5 diamonds. North would have reason to be concerned about the club problem, and might opt to play a 4-3 spade fit instead of 3NT. Or suppose South had bid 3, showing 5 diamonds. Again North would be worried about clubs, and he might try 3. This would presumably be a 5-card heart suit, but if South has 3 hearts there is close to a 50-50 chance that he has a doubleton club, and if that is the case 4 figures to be better than 3NT.

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