This Real Deal was dealt by Dean MacDonald.
After East passes, what should South open? South has 16 HCP (and due to the great five-card diamond suit, the hand is worth more). Should South open 1NT to show 15-17 balanced? Good question—glad you asked.
Balanced normally means 5-3-3-2, 4-3-3-3 or 4-4-3-2. Hands with two doubletons (or worse, a singleton) are not considered balanced. However, never say never. This hand is close enough to be considered for 1NT. Both doubletons have honors/stoppers. It would be a different story if both were small doubletons. Also, this is a tough hand to describe if you start with 1. What would your rebid be if partner responded 1 or 1NT? A rebid of 2 is a reverse and it shows quite a strong hand. This hand might be worth it, but I try to avoid reverse auctions at all costs. For me the lessor of evils is to start with 1NT. Maybe nobody will notice you are 5-4-2-2. Or, you can just say you have a diamond in with your clubs (but it is more believable when they the suits are the same color).
Should West overcall? Coming in against a strong notrump is advisable whenever possible. It takes away the opponents’ ability to use Stayman and transfers. What are the requirements? Not much in the way of HCP. Only “shape” is required. A decent 6-card suit, or at least 5-4 distribution is a good reason to enter the auction. It also helps if you aren’t vulnerable (as is the case for West here). So, he overcalls 2.
North could bid the clubs, but I don’t see the point. With a decent 6-card suit (a potential trick source) and the 8 HCP, I’d guess to try 3NT with North’s hand. Without the interference, perhaps North would have had a way to show clubs and invite 3NT (by use of a transfer sequence), but that option was taken away by the 2 overcall.
The Opening Lead:
West should lead his best suit. Yes, the opponents likely have spades stopped, but the idea is to knock out the stopper. While a 4th-best lead is possible, that would work poorly if declarer had say, KQ9 of spades. It would give him two spade tricks when he deserves only one. Better is to lead the J, the top of the interior “sequence.” Ideally, West should have AJ109 for this, but I’d be afraid to lead a low spade for the aforementioned reason.
With the spade lead, South can likely envision 2 spade tricks (the king at trick one, and later dummy’s queen). He has very few other sure tricks (really just the ace-king in both minors). Typically, the best plan is to set up the long suit—in this case, clubs. Unfortunately, there are entry issues.
Declarer would like to go to dummy to finesse to the J. Unfortunately, his only entry is a 50-50 K (hoping the ace is onside). Best is to leave the K for later (hoping it is an entry) and play clubs from hand. There is a miracle holding (Q10 doubleton) which would allow declarer to run all 6 club tricks. While that miracle doesn’t exist, at least clubs are 3-2. So, declarer can play the ace, king and another club, establishing the suit.
West wins the Q and can see that dummy’s clubs are good. West won’t know if declarer has an entry or not. If declarer has the A, or a third spade, he can likely reach dummy. How does he know? On the third club, East discarded. That discard would be an attitude signal. What did East throw?
Probably an encouraging heart, but when signaling, you have to be careful. The 8 is high, but potentially a useful card. Maybe East throws the 5 and hopes partner can read it. Maybe East throws his other spade to let partner know he has it.
We can see that good defense from this point should prevail. For example, West can cash the A and then exit with a heart. Declarer never sees dummy and it is just a question of how many tricks he goes down. On the other hand, if West exits in diamonds, declarer might guess well (playing four round of diamonds to endplay East into giving dummy an entry) to make the contract. In real life, though, I expect declarer would try to reach dummy with the K and you can see what would happen.
Could declarer have legitimately made 3NT?
If you play in a duplicate game with hand records, the sheet will show you what “can” make. It looks at all 4 hands to make this determination. Actually, if declarer works on diamonds (not clubs), he can make 3NT. It is complicated. Don’t mix up “can” with “should.” Just give West the A, and 3NT would have made the way our declarer played.
1) A 1NT opening can occasionally be “offshape” if the best description
2) Come in against a strong notrump with shape (lots of HCP are not required)
3) From AJ10 or KJ10 (and similar) lead the top of the interior sequence
4) Be careful when signaling not to give away a trick.
5) Don’t read too much into the printouts that show what contract “can” make.