This Real Deal was dealt by Drew Cannell
South opens 1NT showing 15-17 balanced (this doesn’t promise all 4 suits stopped). West has a 2-suited hand, but would need a little more strength to come into the auction vulnerable. North has only one mission—to place the contract in 4. He has more than enough for game, but not really enough for slam. In the old days, North could just say 4, but these days, everyone uses transfers.
If playing “Texas Transfers,” North would immediately respond 4 to transfer to 4. This is a very dangerous thing to try if you aren’t 100% sure your partner is on the same page. You wouldn’t want to end up in 4 if partner thinks it is natural.
If you aren’t playing Texas Transfers, you could use a Jacoby Transfer. North bids 2 and South says 2. North could then bid 4. (Note: If you are playing Texas Transfers, South’s auction of Jacoby and then 4 actually would show slam interest—since he could have bid a direct 4 to play in 4).
So, one way or the other, let’s hope your partnership can reach 4—presumably played by South (the strong notrump hand).
The Opening Lead
West has an easy choice—the top of the heart sequence. Notice how poorly a lead away from the K would work out (it would run to declarer’s queen).
In a suit contract, declarer should think about what tricks will be lost. Let’s count from the point-of-view of North (dummy). Losers should always be counted from the long-trump hand. In the trump suit, there is “maybe one” loser. In hearts there are no losers. In diamonds, we can count on winning the A, but we have two low diamonds to lose. In clubs, we have the ace, but have to count on losing the 7. Two of those minor-suit losers can be discarded on the AK. That leaves only one trick to lose outside of the trump suit.
The only real issues after winning the Q are if trumps should be drawn at once and how. If there is no reason not to draw trumps, then draw them. Can you see a reason not to? I can’t. So, at trick two, you will lead a spade from dummy. Which one? With 10 cards missing the king, the odds favor (strongly) finessing. Don’t play to drop an unlikely singleton king offside. The old maxim “8 ever 9 never” is for queens – not kings! Since you plan to finesse, the correct card to lead is the jack. Why?
If you lead a low spade to the queen and they are 2-1 with the king onside, you won’t lose a spade trick. But, they might be 3-0 onside. That is why leading the jack is best. If it isn’t covered, you will let the jack run and see if the finesse wins. The big gain comes when RHO has K10x. If he doesn’t cover the jack, then when the jack wins, you can next play to the queen and take the ace—losing no spade tricks. If he does cover the jack with the king, you will win the ace and LHO will show out. You then have a “marked” finesse by leading the 9 next time you are in dummy. If you lead low to the queen and RHO started with K10x, you can no longer pick up the suit.
On the actual layout, they are 2-1, so failure to lead the jack won’t cost. Maybe next time Drew deals out the cards we can get him to produce a 3-0 spade break so that the correct play of the J will pay off.
Once the spades come in, there are 12 easy tricks. However, don’t lament playing only in game. There is no reason to bid a slam on a finesse. Half the time you would fail in the slam. Just because it happens to make on this layout doesn’t mean you should bid it.
1) A Texas Transfer is an immediate 4 or 4 response to 1NT to transfer to the next suit.
2) If not playing Texas Transfers, you can use a Jacoby Transfer and then raise to game.
3) The top of a 3-card or longer sequence is a desirable opening lead.
4) With 10 cards missing the king, the odds favor to finesse.
5) With J98 opposite AQx and 10 cards, start by leading the jack (not a low one).
6) Just because a slam happens to make (on a fortunate layout of the cards), doesn’t mean you should bid it.