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Routine Holdup

Today’s deal is one of my advanced lesson deals, which illustrates some of the intricacies of declaring a notrump contract. The bidding is straightforward; but take note of North’s raise to two notrump with only 7 HCP, predicated of course by the potential of his five-card club suit.

3 NT S 6 5 4
H 9 7 2
D 4 3
C A K 8 5 2
None Vul

West

Pass
All Pass


North
Pass
2 NT


East
Pass
Pass


South
1 NT
3 NT
S Q 10 7 3
H K 5
D 10 9 7 6
C J 9 6
Table S K J 9
H Q J 10 8 6
D J 5
C Q 7 4
Lead: S 3 S A 8 2
H A 4 3
D A K Q 8 2
C 10 3

West leads the spade three to East’s king, and declarer faces his first obstacle. Most declarers do not win the ace because of their instinctive tendency to hold up their stopper. But this is not the time for a holdup play. First, the lead of the three suggests only a four-card suit, in which case declarer is in no danger; second, a clever East player may shift to a heart — and that is trouble. Win the ace!

The next hurdle is the choice of suits to establish. There are seven top tricks, so declarer needs to develop two more to make his contract. The diamond suit will provide the needed two tricks if the outstanding cards divide three-three, and will provide one trick with a four-two break. The club suit will provide two tricks with a three-three break, as long as declarer concedes the first round to the opponents to keep an entry to dummy. Of course a three-three break in either suit is against the odds. Which suit would you play first?

The key here is to combine your chances. By playing on clubs first, declarer can succeed if either minor suit divides evenly. Duck a club at trick two. Notice that East-West can win only four tricks (three spades and one club) before relinquishing the lead. Declarer can then test one of the minors; if it fails, he falls back on the other. Two chances are better than one.

Observe that cashing the top diamonds first is wrong. If that suit divides four-two, declarer’s only chance is to revert to clubs; but now the opponents can win five tricks — three spades, one club and one diamond.

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© 8-3-1986 Richard Pavlicek