Real Deal #18

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 08/28/2019
Level: Intermediate

Dir: South
♠ A64
♥ AQ1073
♦ Q97
♣ Q8
♠ 1092
♥ K52
♦ K32
♣ K1095
  ♠ K875
♥ J96
♦ 84
♣ 7632
  ♠ QJ3
♥ 84
♦ AJ1065
♣ AJ4

South has a normal 1♠ opening and North a normal 1♠ response. South’s proper rebid is 1NT. This shows 12-14 balanced (with 15-17 balanced, South would have opened 1NT). The 5-3-3-2 shape is considered to be balanced (along with 4-3-3-3 or 4-4-3-2). Do not rebid the 5-card suit (many inexperienced players would rebid 2♠ instead of 1NT—to tell their partners that they have more than 4 diamonds. But, rebidding the diamonds should show at least a 6-card suit).

After the 1NT rebid, North immediately knows that this is a game (not a slam) hand. North has 14 HCP and his partner has shown 12-14. That means 26-28, surely in the game (not partscore, not slam) range.

Which game?  North thinks of only 2 possibilities: 3NT or 4♠ – nothing else is in the picture. North could simply jump to 3NT, but that would be premature. The partnership could easily have an 8-card major suit fit in hearts. Opener could (though not in this actual deal) have been dealt 3 hearts.  How does North investigate?


He can’t bid 2♠ (that wouldn’t be forcing—it could end the auction). He shouldn’t bid 3♠ (that would be invitational and would typically show at least 6 hearts). He can’t bid 4♠—that would be too committal and take the partnership past 3NT. I’m not a big “convention fan,” but this deal illustrates the need for “New Minor Forcing.”  This animal came up in a previous deal in this series. The gist of it is that a 2♠ bid here ("new minor") functions like Stayman, but looking for a 3-card, not a 4-card major. So, North would bid 2♠ (the new minor) to look for a 5-3 heart fit. South would bid 2♠ if he had 3 of them, but here, he bids 2♠ to deny 3 hearts. North now knows there is no 5-3 fit, so he signs off in 3NT.


With diamonds and hearts bid by the opponents, West will likely consider leading a spade or a club. Against notrump, one usually leads their longest and strongest suit—in this case clubs. The alternative, spades, is also quite attractive. The opponents would have bid spades if they had them, so East is marked with at least some spade length. The 10 from 109x is usually a safe lead, and that is a possible choice. We’ll see later how a spade lead would have done, but let’s go with West’s best suit, a club. Which club?

One possibility is the 5 (4th best). Another possibility is the 10 (the top of the interior sequence). On the actual deal, it doesn’t make much difference. After a club lead, how should declarer play?

If the ♠K is with East, trick one won’t matter. Putting up the queen would result in East covering and declarer would get his ace-jack. Playing low from dummy would mean declarer scores his jack. Later, the defense would use the ♠K to cover dummy’s ♠Q, and declarer would get his ace. Best is for declarer to play the ♠Q at trick one. In the actual layout (where the opening leader has the ♠K), this gives declarer a nice gain. The queen wins the trick and declarer still remains with the AJ.  So, if West ever gets in, he can’t safely continue the club attack.

After the ♠Q holds, declarer will surely go after his long diamond suit. He leads the ♠Q from dummy, intending to finesse. East plays low, and the finesse loses to West’s ♠K.

Should West continue clubs? If he does, it goes into declarer’s AJ—giving him an extra club trick. West needs to have observed East’s signal at trick one. When dummy’s ♠Q won the first trick, East should have played the ♠2. A low card as a signal to partner’s lead says: “Partner—I don’t like the suit you led—try something else.”

West should get the message and shift. With the opponents owning both red suits, West will try the ♠10. Declarer has nothing better to do than try the finesse. He plays low from dummy and East wins the ♠K. Now East is in, and likely will go back to his partner’s first-led suit, clubs. The lead goes through the AJ and declarer can take his ace now, or put in the jack (losing) and get his ace later.

In either case, let’s take stock. Declarer won the ♠Q at trick one and  lost to the ♠K at trick 2. He lost to the ♠K and then clubs came through. When in with his ♠A, he can count the following winners: Spades: 2  Hearts : 1  Diamonds : 4 clubs: 2.  That adds up to 9 tricks.  Declarer can choose to cash out those 9 tricks to make his game. But, at matchpoint scoring, where overtricks are crucial, he faces a common dilemma. He can try the heart finesse (low to the queen) and if it wins (the ♠K is onside) he will have a 10th trick. But, if it loses, he risks defeat (the defense will have taken all 4 kings, and likely will now have long clubs to take).

Should declarer take the risk? On this deal (I’m brilliant when I can see all 52 cards), yes.  But, move the ♠K to East and the answer is no.  It’s just a guess.

What if the opening lead were a spade? East would win the ♠K and return the suit. Declarer could win in dummy and take the losing diamond finesse. Another spade would clear the suit. Later, declarer would have finesses to take in either hearts or clubs. This hand is a finesser’s delight! It turns out that 3 of the 4 kings are offside and one is onside.  It would be fun to follow this deal at many tables and watch to see how many of the finesses declarer takes. It is also possible to play a heart to the 10 in some variations.

Likely, 3NT would be a very common contract and my guess is 9 or 10 tricks would be the result.


>Don’t rebid a 5-card minor if balanced

>The new-minor after a 1NT rebids asks for 3-card major suit support

>Against 3NT, try to lead an unbid suit

>From a holding such as K109x or Q109x, instead of leading 4th best, lead the top of the interior sequence (the 10).

> A low card as a signal to partner’s lead says: “Partner—I don’t like the suit you led.”