This Real Deal was dealt by Vanessa McKernan.
In the old days, a stopper in all 4 suits was required for a 1NT opening. That is no longer the case. If South doesn’t open 1NT, he will never be able to show his hand. After South’s 1NT, West should Pass. He has opening-bid values, but that doesn’t mean he should come into the auction. With a flat hand (no 6-card suit and not a 2-suited hand) it is advisable to pass against a strong notrump.
Transfer to the minors?
Should North show clubs? Many pairs have methods to show clubs or diamonds when their partner opens 1NT. Some use transfers; others have to start with Stayman. However, this North hand has nothing that indicates playing in clubs. If the hand were very weak (maybe KJ9xxx of clubs and no other points), North would want to play in a club partscore. If North had clubs with slam interest, or with a 4-card major, he would get descriptive. With this hand, North has enough for game, but doesn’t want to contract for 11 tricks (in 5) when he can simply raise to the notrump game. He can “show” the clubs when he puts them down in the dummy.
The Opening Lead
In general, I prefer to lead majors (over minors) against notrump. Your opponent’s bidding is geared toward showing major suits when they have them. After 1N-3N, you know dummy won’t have a long major. In fact, even a 4-card major is unlikely (no Stayman). On the other hand, dummy could easily have a long minor. Look no further than the actual Real Deal. Why wouldn’t North show a minor? That has been explained above.
So, would I lead the J (J10x) instead of my good 5-card club suit? Surely, if I could see all 4 hands I would. But, in real life, I confess that the club suit is too attractive to pass up. Maybe if it were between Jxxx in a minor or J10x in a major, I’d lead the major. With the actual AJ1052 I am leading a club—but which one?
The general rule against notrump is “4th best.” But, with a sequence (such a J109 or QJ10), you lead the top of it. Even if that sequence is “interior” such as AJ109 or AQJ10, you would lead the “top of the interior sequence.” So, you would lead the Jack from AJ109 or the Queen from AQJ10. Here, you don’t have an interior “sequence.” A sequence is typically thought of as at least 3 in a row. Instead of AJ109x, you have only AJ10xx. Accordingly, we are back to the plain old “4th-best,” so I would lead the 5.
The subsequent Play
Declarer has only 4 top tricks (A and AKQ). He can knock out the A to set up 2 more. This club lead will provide added help. What card should be played from dummy? The “Rule of 11” tells declarer how many cards above the card led are in the other 3 hands. Take the card led (the 5) and subtract from 11. That is 11-5=6. So, there are 6 cards higher than the 5 in North, East and South. Since declarer sees all 6 of them (KQ987 in dummy and the 6 in hand), he knows that East has no club higher than the 5. Accordingly, he can make the impressive play of low from dummy! Sure enough, East can’t beat the 5. He discards a diamond and declarer wins in hand with the 6. He plays another club and now West has to use some logic.
West knows the entire club layout. If he takes the ace, that gives dummy 2 fast club winners (KQ). If West plays low, declarer will insert dummy’s 8 to win the trick and then play a high one to set up another trick. So, West can deduce to insert the 10 at trick 2. The king wins in dummy and that for the time being, is the last club trick for declarer.
Declarer now abandons clubs. He probably can’t set them up and reach them. Next move is to knock out the A. That will bring the total to 2 diamonds, 2 clubs and the aforementioned 4 major-suit tricks. Once the A is dislodged, declarer can turn to spades for his 9th trick.
The best way to play the spade combination is to lead low towards the queen. If LHO has the king, that produces an extra trick. Even if the queen loses to the king, the 10 can later be finessed. This play in the spade suit will fail only when East has the K and West has the J.
As the cards lie, the spade play produces the 9th trick. In all, declarer takes 2 spades, 3 hearts, 2 diamonds and 2 clubs. In fact, East will have so much trouble discarding, that declarer could even emerge with an overtrick!
1. You don’t need all 4 suits stopped to open 1NT.
2. Don’t interfere against NT with 5-3-3-2 shape.
3. Don’t show clubs in responding to 1NT unless there is a good reason.
4. Consider leading a major against notrump.
5. Lead the top of an interior sequence (but 2 in a row is not a sequence).
6. The Rule of 11 tells players how many cards in the other 3 hands are higher than the card led.