Dealt by … Don Freeland, instrumental in the development of the Duncan Bridge Center in Palm Desert.
I want to thank Don for the headache this deal gave me. The play in 4 is so complicated.
First of all, how would we get there (and would we even want to be there)?
North opens 1 and South responds 1. North should not repeat the 5-card club suit. With his balanced (5-3-3-2 is balanced) hand, his correct rebid is 1NT (12-14 HCP). A few teachers say it is okay to occasionally make this 1NT rebid with a singleton in partner’s suit, but I don’t like that style. I prefer that a 1NT rebid guarantees a balanced hand. No singletons. That way, responder can be sure I have at least 2-card support for his suit. In this case, South knows there is a 6-2 spade fit (at least; it could even be 6-3). He should insist on playing in the known 8+ card major-suit fit. He can bid 2 (a big underbid), 3 invitational, or 4 (a slight overbid). It is okay to add 2 points for a 6-card suit when you know you are facing at least some support (at least a doubleton in this case). That gets South up to 12 points. Let’s go with the auction (aggressive on South’s part) shown.
The Opening Lead
West would never lead a club (dummy’s suit, and also it is bad to lead or underlead aces against suit contracts). The choice is between an attacking (and dangerous/aggressive) red-suit lead away from a queen, and a safer trump lead. If West does choose to lead from a queen, it really helps declarer. On a heart lead, dummy should play low (the jack can’t work because the opening leader won’t be underleading the king-queen) and this traps East’s HK. Declarer will lose only one heart trick. Similarly, on a diamond lead, declarer should play low from dummy and he instantly has a diamond trick. On a safer trump lead, nothing is given away. What should West lead? Honestly, it is just a guess. The poor club holding (West can envision declarer might be able to work on clubs and set up some club tricks in dummy) argues for attacking in a red suit. Still, if you asked an expert what to lead, you would get votes for all 3 suits (anything but clubs).
The Play in 4
After any lead, declarer will at some point lead his singleton club. West’s correct play is to duck. It is rarely right to take the ace in this situation. Even if you knew declarer had a singleton, it is usually wrong to grab the ace “on air.” It immediately sets up two good clubs in dummy. West is sacrificing one trick now so as to not give up two later. Playing low gives declarer the king (or queen) in dummy, but that is only one trick. Is it ever right to grab an ace in this situation? Rarely. If it is the setting trick, it is a rational play. Or, if you think you’ll never get it later (maybe dummy has a source of tricks in some other suit), it is okay to grab the ace. If West does win his ace, declarer has 9 top tricks (6 spades, 2 clubs and the A). If the opening lead cost a red-suit trick, declarer has 10 tricks. Even if the lead was a trump, declarer can win in hand and lead the club. If West takes the ace, declarer can later go to dummy’s A and throw 2 hearts on the KQ. Eventually, he can play a diamond from his hand and force a 10th trick (low to the 9 if West plays low, otherwise cover West’s 10 or Q). What if West correctly ducks his A? That is where the headache comes. Declarer can win in dummy and trump a club. He can go back to the A and trump another club. Then he can draw trump and the position is way too complicated for this article. Bottom line: 4 can always be made on any lead. Score one up for aggressive bidding!
1. Decide if your partnership can rebid 1NT with a singleton (I recommend avoiding it).
2. Opener should not rebid a 5-card minor.
3. After opener’s 1NT rebid, responder’s jump is invitational.
4. Leading or underleading an ace against a suit contract is a no-no.
5. Leading from a queen (as opposed to 109x of trump) is aggressive (but could work well).
6. On defense, it is almost always right to play second-hand low when holding an ace.