This hand was dealt by David Hopkins of Shelton, Washington.
Which minor should South open? With 3-3 in the minors, it is always 1. But with 4-4 in the minors, there is no right answer. Some teachers prefer 1, which leaves more room for responder. Others prefer 1 which pretty much announces a 4-card suit (whereas 1 is more ambiguous about length). Others like to open the better suit, so let’s go with 1 as shown.
North responds 1 and East, in spite of the poor suit, has enough strength to overcall 1. South has nothing to say (had East passed, South would have to bid again), so should Pass. Volunteering 1NT here would show a much better opening bid—more like 14 or a very good 13. West should support with support; the raise to 2 not only describes the hand to partner, but takes up valuable bidding space from the opponents.
What should North do? Selling out to 2 when the opponents have a fit is usually not winning action. North wants to do something, but shouldn’t repeat the 5-card suit and isn’t strong enough to introduce a new suit (clubs) on the 3-level (forcing). The solution is the ubiquitous double. No, it’s not another convention (there is no “ubiquitous” convention, yet, anyway), but all doubles (especially on low levels) when the opponents have bid and raised a suit, are not for penalty. Such doubles say: “I have some values and want to compete for the contract, but have no clear suit of my own to bid.”
South might choose 2NT, but is shown introducing the 4-card club suit with the 3 bid shown. Nobody has anything else to add, so we end in a partscore (no surprise with the HCP split 21-19).
Should you lead (or underlead) an ace when partner has shown the suit? Tough question. Against slam or game in a suit contract, probably you should lead the ace. Against notrump, you should usually underlead the ace (so partner can maybe win the king and lead through declarer’s honor). Against suit partscores, usually if you have something else to lead, that is a better idea. The ace lead will often cost a trick.
There is, however, no absolute rule. Here, leading the A is reasonable, but let’s go instead with a more passive trump lead. A trump from small cards is usually an okay lead against a partscore as it figures not to cost and may cut down on ruffs.
The trump lead is somewhat helpful for declarer as it resolves any guesses in the club suit. In a suit contact, declarer should focus on what has to be lost. Here, it looks like 2 spades, 1 heart and a trump trick for sure. If the K is with the overcaller, there won’t be any tricks to lose there. There are many paths to success. Simplest is to return a trump and eventually draw the third round. All the defense can get is their 3 sure black winners and eventually a heart trick. Making 3 for +110 should be a decent result for North-South.
The Other Tables:
A partscore battle deal like this likely will lead to many contracts. Our North-South pair reached a reasonable partscore and +110 is usually a good matchpoint score. Possibly some North-Souths will make 120 in notrump, which would be even better. At some tables, East-West will buy it in spades. They have at least a trick to lose in each suit, but many problems beyond that. Likely 8 tricks for them is a reasonable prediction.
The Other Lead?
Actually, there were two winning leads for the defense against 3. Both of them result in a defensive diamond ruff. Either a diamond, or an unlikely low spade to partner’s king for a diamond switch would set the contract. When East gets in with a trump, a diamond ruff can be obtained by crossing to West’s A. Later, the defense has a heart trick for down 1.
1) Even with a bad 5-card suit, you can overcall on the 1-level with a decent hand.
2) Opener should not make a free rebid with a dead minimum and nothing special to say.
3) Raise partner’s overcall if you have 3-card support and some values (typically at least 6 points in support).
4) Doubles of bid-and-raised suits are not for penalty.
5) Leading (or underleading) aces against partscores, even if partner bid the suit, is usually not a great idea.
6) As declarer, count losers and plan the play accordingly (deciding if you should draw trump right away or not).