This real deal was dealt by Drew McDougal, who has been instrumental in expanding the Lawn Tennis Bridge Club in Toronto. (West deals, E-W vul)
With a balanced 16, West opens 1NT. North has 12 points, but no suitable action other than Pass (overcalling after a 1NT opening with a flat 5-3-3-2 hand is not advisable). Should East use Stayman to look for a 4-4 spade fit? No! True, on this deal it would succeed because opener happens to have 4 spades. But what if opener didn’t? What would responder do after his 2 Stayman bid if opener answered, say with 2. Then what? Responder couldn’t pass, so he would have to correct to 2NT. Not only is that too high, but it happens to be invitational to 3NT. East doesn’t have nearly enough. To use Stayman, you must have either game interest, or a hand that can stand to pass any response (such as xxxx xxxx xxxxx -- - where you could bid 2 and pass anything your partner answers).
After 1NT-P-P, you’d think South should pass with only 7HCP. Not so. This is a unique situation. South is in “balancing seat.” Especially when it starts 1NT-Pass-Pass, it is attractive to balance with something other than a Pass. When the opponents have stopped in 1NT, you know that you and your partner have some reasonable combined assets (or else the opponents would be higher). Whatever HCP you lack, your partner will have. In other words, the opponents have at most 23-24 HCP (with more, they would have at least looked for game). Your side (subtracting from 40) has at least 16, likely more points. If you have only 7, your partner has at least 9. As long as you have decent shape (like 5-4 in two suits or 6 cards in one suit), you should enter the auction.
Here, South bids the 6-card heart suit. West passes (having already told his story). North has 12 points, but also passes. He knows that his partner is just balancing and might have already accounted for North having these points. East could guess to bid something (but has no 5-card suit and not much strength), but decides to pass as shown.
Leading (or worse, underleading aces) against a suit contract is not advisable. By default, West chooses an unfortunate low spade. In a suit contract, declarer should count losers. He has to lose no spades, probably 2 hearts, at least 1 diamond and at least 2 clubs. On a lucky day (West holding AQ doubleton or Qx in hearts), declarer might lose only 1 heart trick. As you can see, there is no heart miracle, so no matter how declarer plays the trump suit he will lose 2 tricks. Can he hold his side-suit losers to only the A and AK?
The diamond suit could involve a guess. When declarer leads diamonds from his hand, he might have to decide whether to play dummy’s jack or the king. We can see that he can’t go wrong. The club suit could have 3 losers if declarer plays the suit himself. For example, the 2 goes to the 6 and possibly the queen (the 9 would work better) and king. Now the A10 take 2 more tricks for the defense.
After the spade lead, declarer wins in hand with the jack. Good detective work (card placing) will yield some interesting conclusions.
Let’s start by counting the missing HCP. Declarer knows that West had 15-17. The first trick has located some cards. How? For one, West is marked with the Q. Why? East would have put up the queen (third-hand high) if he held it. Less obviously, we can conclude that East has the ace or king of clubs. How? West led away from the Q. Why? Not because he wanted to, but because he likely had no more attractive choice. If he had the AK, that would have been the suit led. Whenever you are missing an AK and it isn’t led against a suit contract, it is a good bet that the opening leader doesn’t have both those cards.
So, declarer knows East has a high club. Can West have Qx in hearts? No. That doesn’t compute. Only 2 points in hearts, 2 points in spades and at most 4 points in clubs (let’s assume the ace—we know it isn’t ace-king). That’s at most 8 points. He can have the AQ to get to 14, but that’s not enough. In other words, West needs the A for his 1NT opening (to get to 15-17). Accordingly, there is no need to lead the J (catering to Qx). Declarer should cash the A (so that he can later use dummy’s K) and lead a low heart at trick two, planning to put up dummy’s king. (If West happens to have AQ doubleton, that will be a nice bonus). On the low heart, West plays low and the king wins. Another heart goes to the seven, jack and ace. Only the Q is outstanding (and declarer doesn’t know who has it).
What can West do now? If he plays a spade, declarer can win in dummy and throw a club. Why a club? Because declarer knows where the A is (from the earlier reasoning). Once he throws a club on the K, he loses only 2 clubs, 2 spade tricks and 1 diamond. If West plays anything but a spade, declarer also loses only the obvious 5 top tricks. No matter what happens, declarer makes his contract. Plus 110 is a good result for N-S. East-West, had they been able to find their 4-4 spade fit, could have made that contract for 110 their way.
1) Don’t use Stayman unless you have either invitational-plus values, or a willingness to pass anything partner answers with.
2) Don’t overcall the opponent’s 1NT opening with flat 5-3-2-2 shape.
3) Do balance aggressively after 1NT-Pass-Pass if you have a 6+ card suit or at least 9 cards in 2 suits (HCP are not important).
4) When you are in a trump contract missing ace-king of a side suit, assume the opponents would have led that suit if they held both the ace and king. If they don’t play RHO for at least one of those missing cards.