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In a semi-final match in the Senior Trials for USA2, you have to decide what to do with a very strong hand opposite a bust.

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

South
AJ7
K4
6
AKQ7532
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
P
2
?

1: Strong, artificial

Pass: 0-4 HCP or a trap

3 would be assumed to show a big 2-suiter

Your call?

 

South
AJ7
K4
6
AKQ7532
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
P
2
?

Assuming a decent club split, you have 8 tricks for notrump. But partner is near broke, and there is no reason to think he has a diamond stopper. All you can do is bid 3. If partner does have a diamond stopper, he might try 3NT himself hoping you have a hand like this.

You bid 3, ending the auction.

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

West leads the 9. Standard leads and carding.

North
106532
9832
J94
J
South
AJ7
K4
6
AKQ7532
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
P
2
3
P
P
P

You win in dummy with the jack, East playing the 4. What do you play?

 

North
106532
9832
J94
South
AJ7
K4
6
AKQ753
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
P
2
3
P
P
P

This is your one and only time in dummy. You may need to make the most of it.

The obvious play is to play a heart to the king. If you ace is onside, you make. If the ace is offside, you will pretty much need a stiff king or KQ doubleton of spades to make. Your opponents aren't likely to make a mistake from here.

The alternative is to lead a spade. This works if East has KQ of spades or honor-doubleton. There are other chances after your jack loses to the queen or king. If the opponent with the other honor also has the ace of hearts, he may be under pressure on the run of the clubs and you might have him in a squeeze-endplay. This is particularly true if West doesn't lead back a diamond, since you will have a diamond with which to exit.

What is going on in the diamond suit? If West had a sequence in diamonds, he certainly would have led a diamond rather than a club, since the club lead might have given you a finesse you could not have otherwise taken. It is quite likely that West has AQ of diamonds. If he has only a 5-card suit, he will still be wary of leading a diamond.

It is a difficult decision. If there were no end-play potential, the heart finesse would be the percentage play. However, the end-play potential is probably enough to swing the odds towards the spade play.

You choose to lead a heart. It goes 5, king, ace. West leads the jack of hearts, East playing the 7. West plays the 6 to East's queen and you ruff. What now?

North
106532
9
J94
South
AJ7
6
AKQ75
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
P
2
3
P
P
P

Whatever else you are planning, it has to be right to run all your trumps but one and then take stock. Maybe an opponent will make a foolish discard. You might as well discard 3 spades from dummy, as this may convince an opponent that you don't have much in spades.

You run all your trumps but one, discarding 3 spades and a diamond. West started with 2 clubs, East with 3. West discards 3 diamonds, East discards 2 diamonds. The ace, king, queen, and 10 of diamonds are still outstanding.

What do you try next?

North
106
9
J9
South
AJ7
6
5
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
P
2
3
P
P
P

What do you know about the opponent's hands from their defense? West must have the missing 10, since if he had AJx there is no way he would have continued hearts. Also, the diamonds must be 5-4. If West had 6 diamonds he would have known it was safe to cash his ace of diamonds, and he would have played ace and a diamond. West's shape must be 2-4-5-2 with AJ10x of hearts and AQxxx of diamonds. You don't have any clue about the spade honors.

If it were possible that somebody has a singleton spade honor, you would lay down the ace of spades. You have worked out that the spades are not 4-1, so this would be a concession.

Your only legitimate chance is that West started with KQ doubleton of spades. You cannot afford to exit with a diamond now. The opponents will force you, and you will lose your legitimate chance. All you can do is lead a small spade and hope that West has KQ doubleton or that somebody makes a mistake.

You lead the 7. West plays the 9. You cover with the 10, and East wins the queen. East returns the 4. What do you play?

 

North
6
9
J9
South
AJ
6
5
W
N
E
S
P