Puzzle 7F10   Main

# Fourth Best

by Richard Pavlicek

Against an enemy notrump contract, the usual strategy is to lead the fourth best card from your longest suit. Or, as it often paraphrased, “Fourth from your longest and strongest.” While generally sound, there are many exceptions and extenuating circumstances, so choosing the lead is not so clear-cut. On almost any given hand, even experts will disagree as to the best choice.

But what if we took away the mystery? Anyone should be able to choose the best lead looking at all four hands. Right? Well, maybe. Test yourself on this deal, where the object is to defeat 6 NT — and to teach South a lesson for overbidding.

 6 NT South A 9 8 7 K Q 8 K 2 6 5 4 3 WestPassPass North3 6 NT EastPassAll Pass SOUTH2 NT?3 Q J 10 J 10 9 Q 10 8 6 10 9 8 4 3 2 A 7 6 5 4 9 7 5 4 2 Lead: ? K 6 5 3 2 A J 3 A K Q J 7

Which suit should West lead? And how should East plan the defense to defeat 6 NT?

## Solution

Before solving the defensive problem, let’s see how declarer is able to make the contract if West makes a neutral lead, such as the Q. Declarer wins in hand and leads to the Q, which East ducks (best), then four rounds of clubs.

 6 NT South A 9 8 7 K Q 8 K 2 6 5 4 3 Trick1 W2 S3 N4 S5 S6 S Lead Q? 2 3 K Q J 2nd792910 6 3rd2QA456 4thK48 5 6 3 W-LW1W2W3W4W5W6 Q J 10 J 10 9 Q 10 8 6 10 9 8 4 3 2 A 7 6 5 4 9 7 5 4 2 Lead: Q K 6 5 3 2 A J 3 A K Q J 7

This leaves the following ending:

 NT win 6Success A 9 8 K 8 K 2 — Trick7 S8 S9 N10 N11 S Lead 7 5 K 2 J 2nd 81057? 3rd 8A3A 4th 4 410Q W-LW1W2W3W4 J 10 J 10 Q 10 8 — 4 A 7 9 7 5 4 — South leads 6 5 3 A J 3 7 West squeezed, lose 1

When the last club is led, West must abandon something, and he does best to unguard diamonds, as dummy and East part with a spade. Declarer next leads a spade to the ace, and East must give up his long diamond (else declarer can duck a heart). Next comes three rounds of diamonds, and West is caught in a vice squeeze. He must keep his high spade, so when he throws a heart, declarer exits with a heart to the king-ace, and dummy’s 8 wins the last trick.

So how can the defense stop this?

### Did I mention fourth best?

As the title says, lead fourth best (or any diamond). This immediate sacrifice of a trick curiously prevents declarer from gaining any more with accurate defense. If declarer accepts the diamond finesse, he loses communication in that suit, and East only needs to keep his long diamond to beat the contract.

Suppose declarer refuses the finesse, winning the K and Q (ducked) followed by five rounds of clubs to reach:

 NT win 5Failure A 9 8 K 8 2 — Trick8 S9 S Lead K 5 2nd10J 3rd8A 4th4 7! W-LW1W2 Q J 10 J 10 Q — 4 A 7 9 7 5 — South leads K 6 5 3 A J —

Note that West correctly abandoned his diamond stopper. If declarer next cashes two spades trying to make East part with a diamond, it won’t work. East simply pitches the 7, since the threat of establishing the K is gone with dummy now dead.

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