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Okay, Sports fans, here's a deal (rotated) that occurred at a recent Club Championship game. You, playing West, hold the following hand.

Dealer: East
Vulnerable: East-West

S: J 10 6
H: A Q J 7 3 2
D: 9 4
C: Q 10

The auction:

North East South West
Pass 2NT Pass
3NT Pass Pass Pass

Choose your lead, then go to the first reply for the full deal and the results.

Queen of Hearts (top of inside run)
Seven of Hearts (fourth best)
Ace of Hearts
Other (Please Explain in Reply)

Click here to see results so far.

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Here's the full deal.

Dealer: East
Vulnerable: East-West

S: A K 2
H: 4
D: K 7 6 3 2
C: 8 5 4 2

West East
S: J 10 6 S: 9 8 4
H: A Q J 7 3 2 H: 10 9 8 6
D: 9 4 D: J 10 8
C: Q 10 C: 7 6 3

S: Q 7 5 3
H: K 5
D: A Q 5
C: A K J 9

Auction at my table (repeated for convenience):

North East South West
Pass 2NT Pass
3NT Pass Pass Pass

The West at my table, who is a very capable player, chose to lead the queen of hearts, won by the king, and that was pretty much the end of the story. Declarer, who could not take the risk that East-West might run their hearts, cashed the ace and king of clubs, then, seeing the queen fall on the king, cashed the jack and the nine. Next came the queen, ace, and king of diamonds, followed by the seven and the six on which declarer sluffed the five of hearts and the three of spades when the diamond suit split 3-2. The ace, king, and queen of spades reeled in the last three tricks, making seven.

As the east-west cards lie, the only lead that should produce a different outcome is the ace of hearts, holding the haul to six tricks, but that most assuredly is not a textbook lead. If West leads any other suit, declarer sluffs both hearts on the six and seven of diamonds. The seven of spades then becomes the South's thirteenth trick since the spades split.

In spite of that, here are the actual results.

No. of Contract & Result Score Matchpoints
Tables Declarer N-S E-W

2 3NT South +4 520 5.5 0.5
2 2NT South +3 490 3.5 2.5
1 4S South +1 450 2.0 4.0
1 3NT South +1 430 1.0 5.0
1 5D North Making 400 0.0 6.0

It's easy to see how a different auction would have produced a different contract. If South opens a textbook 1D, West naturally overcalls -- but is the overcall 1H or 2H? Over 1H, North likely bids 2D handing South the choice between 3NT and 5D. Over 2H, North more likely doubles, East raises to 4H on the Law of Total Tricks, and North most likely guesses to bid 4S.

It's interesting that 3NT declared by North would be a disaster. East's indicated lead is the ten of hearts on just about any auction. If covered with the king, West overtakes. Supposing West continues with the queen, east knows to unblock the suit by playing either the 8 or the 9 when North shows out -- and if East fails to do so, South also knows to play small and to overtake the return. If the South hand does not cover the 10, west follows low, overtakes the king on the second round, and proceeds to run the suit. Either way, East-West take the first six tricks, setting the contract two tricks for 100 points and a top.

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Sigh! The time to think about the lead is before you are on lead. Passing 2NT leaves you with an abominable lead choice for almost any contract by South. Bidding 3H and expecting partner to lead a Heart through if he gains the lead is scary--but nowhere near as scary as having to lead against 6NT, or for that matter against a spade contract played by South. A Spade contract by North (not on these cards) is made more likely by the 3H bid.*

So what happens here? 5DN is not unlikely, and a top. 4SS is possible. (In Diamonds, the QC is a likely winner as the 10C is almost a mandatory false card from 10x.)

What about slams? Six Spades should wrap. Diamonds comes down to that nasty Club suit. And 6NT? In 3NT, of course dropping the QC and making seven should be normal, in 6NT the finesse is the better line. :-( There is even a chance to end up in 6C. If so are you going to infer that West has the QC from his failure to lead a Club? Really tough. Of course, if you play 6CN, East might lead a Club. Just one more reason for West to stick the 3H bid in. Since any Heart is unthinkable. It is really nice to get that 3H bid in.

Oh, I chose to lead the JS against 3NT.

* Well people who play stolen bids can transfer, but that is a very poor use of the double here. With negative doubles partner here would bid 3S with four or five, and correct to 4S over 3NT. But 3NT is pretty scary now for North, so he might raise to 4S or bid 5D. (4D puts way too much pressure on South.)

Also North should avoid the temptation to bid 4H as a cue bid, even if it has the right meaning. You will end up in some 4-3 Spade fits, and even if 4NT by South is to play, it will occasionally be a trick too far.
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