Main     Ask Richard 9R03 by Richard Pavlicek    

Notrump Declarer Play

This page contains selected queries to “Ask Richard” about declarer play in notrump, although discussion sometimes includes other topics. Presentation is reverse-chronological (most recent first). Queries and followups appear in this color, and Richard’s replies are in black. Names, greetings and personal messages have been removed to respect privacy and focus on bridge.

Club dilemmaApril 3, 2012 (9S28)

West

Pass
Pass
North

1 H
6 NT
East

Pass
AP
South
1 C
2 NT
IMPs
N-S Vul
S A 7 6 4
H A J 7 5
D A J 4
C 9 2
 
 
 
 
Table


6 NT South
Lead: S Q
S K 10 3
H K Q 10
D K 7
C A K 10 6 4

How would you play this slam? If you run the C 9, what is your plan if West wins, or if East covers?

Good problem, reminiscent of the old days, not only regarding the club plays but which spade to win and whether to run hearts early.

I would win the S A and lead the C 9. If covered I’d win and lead the H Q to the ace (running hearts seems wrong as it forces committal between clubs establishing and S Q-J doubleton) then finesse the C 10. This needs clubs 3-3, or 4-2 with C Q-J onside, or a miracle.

If the C 9 is ducked and loses, there is much subjectivity. An expert East would cover routinely with C J-8-x-x (South might have A-Q-10-x-x or K-Q-10-x-x) but unlikely (maybe never) with C Q-8-x-x; so if West wins the queen, I would not finesse again. If he wins the jack, I’d still be thinking, but I’d cash a second spade first (if the S J falls then play clubs from the top with a diamond finesse in reserve). Tough one.

Color me downJanuary 31, 2012 (9S19)

West

Pass
Pass
North

Dbl
3 NT
East
2 S
Pass
AP
South
Pass
2 NT
IMPs
N-S Vul
S A 8
H K Q 10 9
D Q 10 7 3
C A K 3
S 5
H A 7 3
D K 8 4 2
C Q 9 7 6 4
TableS K Q 10 7 4 2
H J 6 5
D J 6
C 8 5


3 NT South
Lead: S 5
S J 9 6 3
H 8 4 2
D A 9 5
C J 10 2

With best play by both sides (not double-dummy) should 3 NT be made? In a recent practice match, declarer ended up with two spades, two hearts, two diamonds and three clubs (not necessarily in that order).

Well, I would go down if that helps — as my partners chime, “So what else is new?” It seems better to win the first spade (maybe to preserve an exit). Then I’d lead the H K, which puts me on the history channel barring a defensive goof.

Successful paths are rarer than it seems, e.g., if you duck and win the second spade, I think you have to lead the D Q to make. Tough one; at least the cards will be the same at the other table.

Unlucky duckDecember 6, 2011 (9S13)

West

Pass
Pass
North

1 S
3 NT
East

Pass
AP
South
1 D
1 NT
Board-a-match
N-S Vul
S A 10 6 5
H 7 5
D K 7 3
C A K 10 4
Trick
1 W
2 W
3 E
4 S
5 N
6 S
Lead
H Q
H 9
H 3
C 2
D 3
D 5
2nd
5
7
K
6
8
9
3rd
4
A
2
A
A
7
4th
6
8
C 4
7
2
S 2
W L
0 1
0 2
1 2
2 2
3 2
3 3
 
 
 
 
Table



3 NT South
S K J
H K 8 6
D A 10 6 5 4
C 5 3 2

I am curious what you think of my play. The play strongly suggested West started with five hearts, and I believe my play was best despite its failure. West promptly cashed two hearts to set me. This was a frequently discussed deal. Since East began with the S Q and sole club guard, he can be endplayed if I win the D K at Trick 6; but this loses to any doubleton honor in East. (Presumably declarer will play a third diamond if both follow twice.) At many tables, West overcalled which may change the percentage line.

You played right at any scoring, certainly at board-a-match, since the second-round duck is not only the best play to make but has chances for 10 tricks. In contrast, winning the D K and switching to spades when East shows out adds a chance for down three. Crossing to dummy to start diamonds was good too, guarding against an unblock from D Q-x (and probably J-x in practice). Even if West had overcalled, the same play seems clear.

I would expect down one to be a push, probably with better chances of winning the board than losing it. I gather you made an eighth trick on a black-suit squeeze, which seems wiser than the spade finesse which could mean down three if it lost.

I believe I carelessly pitched a club from hand on the fourth heart, being disappointed with the diamond position and momentarily losing focus (one of a number of my failings) so I needed the spade finesse for down one.

At the other table declarer won the D K at Trick 6, then was obliged to take the spade hook and hope. The successful finesse and endplay saw the contract home — plus 600 for the bad guys. The deal was written up in the Daily Bulletin lauding the endplay line, with no mention of ducking the D 9.

Back at youMay 25, 2011 (9R99)

West

Pass
AP
North

1 H
East
Pass
Pass
South
1 D
1 NT
Matchpoints
E-W Vul
S J 8 2
H K Q J 4
D 5 4 2
C Q 5 4
Trick
1 W
2 E
Lead
S 3
S 9
2nd
2
?
3rd
A
4th
4
W L
0 1
 
 
 
 
Table



1 NT South
S K 10 4
H 9 6 2
D A Q 10 8
C K 10 2

What line of play do you recommend? Assume fourth-best leads, and whoever has the H A will duck when you lead a heart up.

Straightfoward play is to use dummy’s two heart entries to finesse the D 10 and D Q. Unless both diamonds are wrong, opponents can win only six tricks, while you also have six (counting a club) and several chances for seven. Only problem is pitching on the fourth spade, since a routine diamond from dummy and club from hand could limit your later options.

Another possibility, which I prefer, is to win the S K and exit with a spade immediately (an expert East cannot have S A-Q-9 as he would play the queen at Trick 1). I can always fall back on Plan A, but this gives me an extra lead from West which may help greatly and more flexibility after I discard. And who knows, maybe West has been studying up on squeeze defense and won’t cash his thirteener.

TopMain

Best of a bad lotMay 24, 2011 (9R98)

West

Pass
Pass
North
Pass
2 H
3 NT
East
Pass
Pass
AP
South
1 NT
2 S
Matchpoints
N-S Vul
S 10 8 7 3 2
H K 10 6
D A 9 7
C A 2
 
 
 
 
Table


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

West’s lead shows 0 or 2 higher. How would you play?

Tough one. Apparently they can’t set me on gaining the lead unless West led a short suit; but even so, prospects are bleak needing tricks from at least two sources.

I think the best chance is to try for four spade tricks (better than 50 percent with the added Q-J, Q-9, J-9 doubletons) combined with a heart guess. I would duck, win the second club, cash S A-K, and lead a heart. Which way to finesse is irritating, but I’d probably win the king and clear spades, eventually planning to finesse East. This way, at least I’ll have eight tricks if spades work, whereas finessing the H 10 early probably limits me to seven if it loses.

DiaboliqueApril 22, 2011 (9R89)

West

Pass
Pass
Pass
AP
North

2 D2
3 C
4 NT
East

Pass
Pass
Pass
South
2 C1
2 NT3
3 D
6 NT
IMPs
None Vul
S K Q 6 4
H J 6 3
D Q 7 5
C Q 4 2
 
 
 
 
Table
1. 20-23 but not 20-21 balanced 2. mandatory
3. 22-23 balanced


6 NT South
Lead: H 10
S A 7 2
H A K 8
D A K 4 3
C A J 10

Which play gives the best chance to make 6 NT?

Interesting. If the club finesse works, the contract is always makable, though you may have to guess the distribution. If the finesse loses, you probably need at least one suit (spades or diamonds) to be 3-3, with squeeze chances between the other and hearts.

The immediate problem is whether to play the H J. West might have led from the queen (e.g., S x-x H Q-10-9-x D 10-x-x-x C K-x-x) hoping to establish a heart trick before the C K is dislodged; but more likely he has H 10-9-x or 10-9-x-x, where it may be necessary to keep the H J threat against East (e.g., S 10-x-x H Q-x-x D J-10-x-x C x-x-x), and the dual heart dependency retains further options.

At the table I think I’d win the H A (low from dummy), cross to dummy in spades, and run the C Q. After that, one could write a thesis on the options and variations. I'll pass on it now.

Mirror on the wallApril 12, 2011 (9R83)

West

Pass
Pass
North

2 C
3 NT
East
Pass
Pass
AP
South
1 NT
2 H
Matchpoints
E-W Vul
S Q J 6 5
H 8 4
D K 8
C A J 8 5 4
Trick
1 W
2 S
3 S
4 E
5 W
6 N
7 N
8 E
9 S
Lead
D 7
C K
C 6
H 6
D 2
C A
C 5
H 10
S 2
2nd
8
3
10
Q
K
7
9
K
3
3rd
10
4
J
A
S 4
D 4
D 5
3
J
4th
A
2
Q
4
3
D 6
D 9
8
K
W L
1 0
2 0
2 1
2 2
3 2
4 2
4 3
5 3
5 4
S 3
H A 7 5 3
D Q J 9 7 6 2
C 10 3
TableS K 10 9 7 4
H J 10 6
D 10
C Q 9 7 2


3 NT South
down 1 -50
S A 8 2
H K Q 9 2
D A 5 4 3
C K 6

Is there any way I could know to duck the H 6 lead at Trick 4?

No, but you missed a later opportunity. Leading a spade at Trick 9 was a resignation (no chance). Had you exited with a heart, it would establish the H 9 (albeit lucky) and East would have to lead a spade, allowing you to reach dummy and win the rest.

The early play was poor. I would have ducked the D 10 at Trick 1, not expecting the actual lie but to increase chances when diamonds are 5-2. If a diamond were returned (on another layout) I would next lead a heart to the king, hoping to remove West’s entry early; or if it won, lead a low spade to the queen. Attacking clubs first is shortsighted with two high cards (H A S K) outstanding.

On the actual layout, if East returns a low heart (queen, ace) at Trick 2, it is possible to succeed if you assume a bad lie and establish the H 9; but this requires mirrors. Down one seems normal.

Cardiac dangerMarch 14, 2011 (9R69)

West

2 H
AP
North
1 S
3 D
East
Pass
Pass
South
1 NT1
3 NT
IMPs
None Vul
S A Q 6 4 3
H 9
D Q J 10 8 4
C A J
Trick
1 W
2 S
Lead
H 6
?
2nd
9
3rd
J
4th
Q
W L
1 0
 
 
 
 
Table
1. forcing



3 NT South
S K 7
H Q 10 5 3
D A 9
C Q 10 8 6 4

I was South on this deal from a regional Swiss in Louisville (sadly not the Platinum pairs final) and under time pressure did not find the winning play. I thought about ducking the H J at Trick 1, but it seemed better to win. How would you continue?

Winning the H Q certainly looks right. I would cash three spades (assuming both follow twice) pitching a club, then lead the D Q (trying to tempt a cover). If spades split 3-3, I can finesse and claim. Else I’d overtake with the ace and lead a diamond back (overtaking if West follows low) hoping West has the D K. If East has the D K, there’s still a slim chance he has H J-8 doubleton, blocking the suit.

TopMain

Spade dead-endFebruary 14, 2011 (9R59)

West
Pass
Pass
North
Pass
3 NT
East
Pass
AP
South
1 NT
Matchpoints
Both Vul
S Q 4 3 2
H Q J 8
D A J 10
C K 8 5
S 10
H 6 5 4
D K 9 5 3 2
C 10 9 4 3
TableS K J 9 8
H 9 7 2
D Q 7 6
C Q 7 6


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

How should 3 NT be played (not knowing the E-W cards)?

Whether to attack spades or diamonds first is moot, and any reasonable play should bring 10 tricks. Suppose you win the H Q, cross to the S A and lead another spade — oops, forget that suit and duck in dummy to preserve the queen from capture. Win the heart return; finesse in diamonds, losing; win the heart return; finesse diamonds, and finally something works. You now have nine tricks and can safely lead a club to the jack for an overtrick.

West’s opening lead was a curious choice, but the D 3 only makes the play easier. Three notrump making four should be a great result, as many will get to 4 S (doomed from the go) after North opens 1 C. It’s nice to see a well-judged pass (despite 13 HCP) be rewarded.

Deutsche discardJanuary 12, 2011 (9R44)

West

Pass
Pass
North
1 C
1 S
3 NT
East
Pass
Pass
AP
South
1 H
2 NT
IMPs
S Q 9 6 3
H
D K 4 3
C A K Q 10 8 6
Trick
1 W
2 S
Lead
D 5
H J
2nd
3
A
3rd
J
?
4th
A
W L
1 0
 
 
 
 
Table



3 NT South
S J 10
H K Q J 4
D A 10 9
C 7 5 3 2

Dr. Ulrich Auhagen made this exercise and asked, “Can South guarantee 3 NT after this start?” My solution was to discard the D K, but Auhagen often makes it very difficult. Have I overlooked something?

You got it, though the problem would be harder if West played a low heart at Trick 2; i.e., you must still pitch the D K to avert a potentially fatal spade switch and diamond through.

For two similar problems of this type see Slick Tricks for Nine Tricks #3 and Frosty, the Notrump #3.

Not quite foolproofOctober 14, 2010 (9R11)

West

Pass
Pass
North

2 C
3 NT
East

Pass
AP
South
1 NT
2 D
IMPs
None Vul
S A 6 5 3
H 8 2
D A 5 3
C K 10 5 2
Trick
1 W
Lead
H 7
2nd
8
3rd
Q
4th
?
S Q J
H K J 9 7 4
D 8 6
C J 8 7 6
TableS 10 9 8 7
H Q 10 6
D J 9 7 2
C Q 4



3 NT South
S K 4 2
H A 5 3
D K Q 10 4
C A 9 3

What is the proper play?

Declarer should hold up the H A until the third round (spade pitch from dummy) and lead a club to the 10, safely losing to East. Next test clubs and win both top spades, which reveals West is 2=5=2=4 (or 3=5=1=4) so a third-round diamond finesse against East is marked.

This play isn’t foolproof, however, as a clever East might card the same way with H Q-10-6-4 and not lead his fourth heart upon winning the C Q. Something to think about.

Psychological LineSeptember 27, 2010 (9R03)

West

Pass
Pass
AP
North

1 S
3 D
East

Pass
Pass
South
1 H
2 D
3 NT
Matchpoints
None Vul
S 10 6 4 2
H 3
D A 7 5 2
C K Q 9 4
Trick
1 W
Lead
C J
2nd
4
3rd
3
4th
A
W L
1 0
 
 
 
 
Table



3 NT South
S K J
H K Q 9 7 4
D K 10 6 3
C A 5

This hand comes from a recent sectional against fair competition (if a factor). I went for a psychological line rather than percentages, but I’m curious what you think is the best play. Side question: Would you open 1 H or 1 NT with the South hand?

This would have been a good problem for my contests (lots of options, no standout). Playing diamonds early is surely wrong (too many ways to be set). At the table I’d run clubs (with a finesse) pitching a heart and a diamond. If a spade is discarded, I’d lead a spade to the jack. Otherwise, I’d probably lead a heart to the king, but it’s less clear not knowing who discarded and what.

I would open 1 NT, but I’m not adamant about it. The major-suit holdings suggest a helpful lead could be on the way. On your auction I would have bid 3 H over 3 D, which I play shows a meaty suit (not necessarily six). This seems better than 3 NT, as it leaves room for 3 S, which might be the key to reach 4 S opposite, say, S Q-10-9-x-x H x-x D A-Q-J-x C x-x).

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© 2012 Richard Pavlicek