This deal was submitted by a player I’ve known for 40 years. Ralph Katz was my teammate in 1980 when I won my first National Championship. Our team was the #27-seed in the Spingold—talk about a Cinderella. I was 22 at the time, and Ralph wasn’t much older. Here are the cards Ralph dealt out:
After 3 passes, South has a normal 2NT opening. The most common range these days is 20-21. North transfers to spades (by bidding 3). South bids 3 and North bids 3NT. This sequence offers South a choice of games. With 3 or more spades, the 2NT opener would usually correct from 3NT back into the known spade fit by bidding 4. Here, with only a doubleton spade, South passes and 3NT is the final (and quite normal) contract.
The Opening Lead:
Against notrump, it is usually advisable to lead your longest suit. Here, that would be a diamond (even though it is a weak suit). From all low cards, it is best not to lead the 4th highest. With an honor (and the 10 would be considered an honor for this purpose), it would be normal to lead a low card (the 4th highest in the suit). But, to avoid misleading partner into thinking that you actually have a good suit, it is best to lead a highish card from all small ones. Some partnerships lead “top” and others lead “2nd highest.” Accordingly, West should lead either the 9 or 8.
In notrump, declarer should count winners. He has 1 spade, 4 hearts and 2 diamonds for 7 sure tricks. It would be easy to set up an 8th trick in clubs. At trick one, declarer plays low from dummy for two reasons: 1) To maintain an entry to dummy (there are plenty of entries to declarer’s hand) and 2) To keep the 10 in play (winning with dummy’s king would make it easier for the defense). East plays the J (always play cheapest of touching honors when playing 3rd to the trick; the Q would deny the J). Declarer wins the ace and has to decide if he should work on clubs or spades.
It’s not an easy decision, but spades seems best. If West has the K, the Q will become a trick. If East has the K, he can’t profitably continue the diamond attack (since the 10 will come into play). Furthermore, if spades behave, declarer might take 4 tricks in the suit (he can never get that many from the club suit). After the A and another spade, declarer tries dummy’s queen, but it loses to the king. East knows he can’t lead away from his Q. Now you can see why it was good for West to lead a high diamond at trick one. Had he led a low one, East would expect the 10 and would continue the suit, costing a trick.
Upon winning his K, it is likely East would shift to a club. It is usually safe to lead a suit through declarer where dummy has nothing. In this case, a heart would be survivable, but it would be very costly if declarer had, say, AJ8x in hearts.
On East’s club play, declarer plays an honor and West wins the ace. West’s best play now would be another diamond (though he wouldn’t know if he should continue clubs or not). On a diamond return, it becomes a big guessing game. Should declarer win the king in dummy? Should he then try to set up his 9th trick in clubs or in spades? Likely, declarer would do something to emerge with 9 tricks, but it is far from clear. This is one of those “Real Deals” where there is no obvious right or wrong for declarer or the defenders.
1) A Jacoby transfer followed by 3NT offers a “Choice of Games”
2) Against notrump, lead high (or second highest) from a bunch of low cards
3) As declarer, count winners in notrump
4) When playing 3rd to a trick on defense, play the cheapest of touching honors