4

Playing in Flight A-X of a sectional Open Pairs, both Vulnerable at MatchPoints in third seat you hold: (Flight A is 2000+ MPS; Flight X is 0 - 2000 MPS voluntarily playing up instead of at their own level - the up and comers.)

S:J9865
H:T9
D:53
C:AT94

and the auction proceeds:

P  1H  P  2D
P  2NT P  6NT all pass

The opponents are an unbalanced pair (possibly pro-client) with the stronger member on your right as declarer. (in other words, LHO maybe trained to get NT contracts into her partner's hand when possible/reasonable.) Their system is a fairly straightforward Two-Over-One card.

What is the best opening lead and why?

Additional considerations:

  • A blind lead from Jxxx is a well-known terrible lead, often killing your Jack. This is less true when holding a 5-card suit, but not irrelevant.

  • If partner doesn't hold at least the queen in one of the red suit opponents may be able to run 13 tricks once they are on lead - that would be a sure bottom if you haven't cashed the CA. Partner can hold a couple of Jacks and that still leaves opponents with a bare 33 HCP that runs 13 tricks once in.

Update:

  • RHO's 2NT rebid is likely showing any hand that might open a weak 1NT if playing that system; so in the range 12-14. It certainly is not showing any extra values overall, but may or may not be showing stoppers - sometimes it is best NOT to ask, because every question you ask also has the potential of guiding declarer's play.

  • RHO and I go back > 30 years, so there can be the possibility of a little personal rivalry in play - or not. He is a very good player with > 6,000 ACBL MPs, all earned and non bought, but LHO is likely weaker.

  • I want to know opponents agreements concerning 2N. Is it the default bid lacking a 6th heart, or does it show extras, or does it show stoppers in unbid suit but not necessarily extras? If extras, how much? – Alexander Woo Mar 20 '16 at 19:56
  • Also, I want to know how confident the 6N bid was. If I felt like being sleazy, I could try to probe this further by asking RHO if LHO had a 4N invitational option and seeing how LHO reacts. – Alexander Woo Mar 20 '16 at 20:04
  • @AlexanderWoo: I believe it is the default bid without lacking a 6th heart. It being my first tournament game after an eight year lay-off, I forgot to ask that question; but it is a common agreement in this area. – Forget I was ever here Mar 20 '16 at 21:22
  • @AlexanderWoo: I will constrain that a spade lead must be either the 9 (top of interior sequence) or the 6 (fourth best) for the sake of partnership harmony and confidence. Having a partner that trusts your signals is far more valuable than any possible result on this hand. Reasons why one prefers either the 9 or 6 in this situation might be of interest. I would like to see you post this comment as an answer since that is the point of a Q&A site. – Forget I was ever here Mar 20 '16 at 23:26
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    @PieterGeerkens: Yeah that was a tongue-in-cheek remark from me. Anything below 20% is a virtual bottom for me. – Aryabhata Mar 25 '16 at 21:45
3

I suspect you won't get a unanimous answer if you asked a number of top experts. What follows is my guess.

If 6N was bid confidently, that should mean most of the field (since it's a fairly good field) is in the same slam. I lead the Ace of clubs and take my 45%.

If 6N was not bid confidently, I lead a spade. My partnership agreements are usually that non-honor leads at slams are meaningless (b/c declarer can usually use the info better than partner), so I lead a random non-honor.

If I am in a swinging situation where I am fairly confident I want top or bottom, I lead a diamond.

Updated to add explanation:

If opponents have 12 tricks no matter what, it's quite likely that they have 13 tricks outside of clubs, or at least they have 12 tricks and can squeeze me in the black suits for the 13th. (This includes those situations where declarer has no choice but to finesse my partner's heart honor to get to 12 tricks as well as situations squeezing partner (unsuccessfully) in a red suit+clubs and me (successfully) in the black suits for the 13th.) So I have to lead AC if I think they'll make.

If there is a way to beat the contract, it's quite possible leading AC sets up their 12th trick (for example if their clubs are Kx opposite QJxx). Indeed, it's quite possible they have 10 or 11 tricks outside of clubs and can set up 1 or 2 more tricks in clubs. Hence you need to hit partner's king immediately. The heart king would be useless since hearts are probably with declarer. That leaves spades and diamonds, with spades more likely because of the bidding. Spades is also better because there are holdings where partner has the diamond king and the contract goes down except on the lead of the AC, whereas a diamond lead when partner has the spade king and nothing else probably means opponents end up with 1 spade, 5 in each red suit, and a club.

(But there definitely are holdings that require a diamond lead - most of these involve marked finesses against your Jack of spades. Hence it's a reasonable swinging lead.)

(If one has to lead the 9 or 6 of spades, I think the 9 is better. If opps have 7 spades (say A52 in dummy vs QT74 in hand), the 6 is more likely to induce declarer to try to drop the KS singleton (either in desperation for trick 12 or hope for trick 13). Not that I'd think through this at the table.)

A low club hoping to hit partner's king or queen might seem like a good idea, but I very much doubt that LHO bid 6N without neither the ace nor king of clubs (even if 2N promised stoppers). If partner has the queen and opponents need exactly one club trick, they are more likely than not to get the finesse wrong if you don't lead clubs but right if you do, since a lead of a club strongly suggests you don't have the queen.

  • As you have noted, the choice of lead can depend on intangibles. However it is possible to recognize the soundness and quality of analysis, irrespective of the final card choice. I have worked hard to not key anything while still giving as complete information as possible. – Forget I was ever here Mar 21 '16 at 0:38
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    @TomAu - Because it might be a king, and opps might have 3 clubs, 3 spades, 5 hearts, and AD if I lead AC. – Alexander Woo Mar 21 '16 at 1:54
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    @TomAu - More generally, in many of the cases where the contract is in doubt, leading the AC gives away a vital club trick or a vital tempo. On the other hand, when the contract is not in doubt, the AC might be squeezed out of you (or the opps might have 13 top tricks in the other suits) if you don't take it. – Alexander Woo Mar 21 '16 at 2:14
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    @PieterGeerkens - As an "Eastern"-er, I can only shake my head at the form of semi-Western that forces you to rebid 2N with that. – Alexander Woo Mar 22 '16 at 16:38
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    @TomAu - it's effectively the same for my argument. Leading the TC strongly suggests you don't have the Q (which you don't). If partner doesn't have a side king, opponents aren't likely to need more than one club trick. If partner does have the CQ and the opponents need a club trick, they are likely to finesse the wrong way if you don't lead a club. My example hand still applies. – Alexander Woo Mar 22 '16 at 21:53
1

It's clear from the bidding that declarer dominates hearts and dummy dominates diamonds. By bidding their respective no trumps, each party probably showed "fillers" in the other's suits.

With only two tricks needed for a set, the fifth spade doesn't matter as much as the fact that your jack is "fourth tier," which is to say that it is too remote to be a trick. Therefore, it seems like the defense's best bet is in clubs. If the bidding led straight to a 33 hcp no trump declaration, I'd lead the ace of clubs, take the sure trick and hope to get a non-bottom. If partner can score a red suit queen (or any other card), that would be gravy. One advantage of leading the ace is that you get to see dummy before making your second lead.

Given the surrounding circumstances, there's a real possibility that the opponents have less than 33 points, and that they are stretching for the 6NT contract with 30-32. (I have retracted my other earlier comments about the bidding because they just cause confusion.) You have five points, and partner may have more than two.

So instead of having one queen, it's possible that your partner has two. (There's also a small chance that partner has the king of clubs, instead.) If both of those queens are red suit queens, the one that's "offside" a finesse should score after a lead of the ace of clubs. Suppose it's one red suit queen and one black suit queen (chosen at random). Which black suit queen can help you more?

Instead of the ace, I might lead the ten of clubs, hoping to set up a second club trick if partner has the queen, and either the king or the jack is in dummy. (And if this doesn't happen,partner will lead back a club if he gets in with a red queen.) On the other hand, if partner has the queen (or even king) of spades, it would take a second round of spades before the jack comes into play on the third round. That is to say, you have two club tricks if and when partner takes his red queen and leads back a club. But you might not get either a club or a spade trick if partner leads back a spade based on an opening spade lead.

In cases like this (only two tricks needed to "set"), I prefer to lead a short strong suit (clubs) rather than a long weak one (spades).

  • 1
    Playing 2/1 - the 2D bid indicates 13+. The 2N bid depends on agreements: some pairs play it as biddable with any opening hand without 5 hearts, others play it promises some semblance of a stopper in both unbid suits, and yet others play it promises at least 14 or even at least 18. Without further information, I would assume dummy is the strong hand. – Alexander Woo Mar 20 '16 at 19:52
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    Not when playing the "Two Over One" system. In a "Two Over One" system, a 2/1 bid is game forcing. – Alexander Woo Mar 20 '16 at 19:57
  • @TomAu: Opponents are playing Western style not Eastern - their opening 1NT bid is strong, and on this auction it is clear that Dummy is the strong hand. Declarer has not shown any extra values. Declarer could be on a 5332 or 5422 12-14 count. – Forget I was ever here Mar 20 '16 at 21:25
  • @AlexanderWoo: Also, RHO and I go back more than 30 years, to when we were both under 10 MPS. He would not be above trying to be a bit clever in order to grab me. ;-) – Forget I was ever here Mar 20 '16 at 21:42
  • RHO is a very good player with > 6,000 MPS (all earned, non bought). LHO is weaker, but I assume no dummy – Forget I was ever here Mar 20 '16 at 21:47

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