Todays deal decided the outcome of a local team match. At one table North became declarer in four hearts, and the defense led two rounds of spades to make South ruff. This left declarer with an insoluble transportation problem he could not get to his hand. Declarer next led the ace and queen of diamonds, but West ruffed and ended any hopes by returning a third spade. Forced to ruff with the heart king, declarer was eventually set two tricks.
At the other table, West began with a weak two-bid. This was passed around to South, whose hand was a bit strong to bid just three diamonds. A takeout double was unattractive with only two cards in the unbid major. Notrump prospects, however, looked good if North had some help in spades or diamonds; and since there was no way to discover this with any certainty, South gambled on the most likely contract.
The three-notrump bid may startle some players, but it was sound, practical bidding. The risk is not as great as it appears. Souths singleton king is almost as good king-doubleton, because if West leads spades, he would not lead the ace; and if West leads some other suit, declarer may be able to scamper home with nine tricks aided by the diamond suit. Further, there is the chance that North also has a spade honor.
What would you lead against three notrump? Unless your name is Clark Kent, your honest answer would not be the spade ace. In the great majority of cases you must retain the ace as an entry.
After winning the spade king, declarer realized he needed the diamond king onside. Even a three-three heart break would yield only eight tricks without the diamond finesse. Therefore, he used his heart entries carefully to cater to the likely three-one diamond break. The heart five was led to the queen to take one finesse, then declarer overtook the heart king with the ace to finesse again. This produced 11 tricks and a miserable West player.
© 1988 Richard Pavlicek