Fight for the extra trick

Today’s hand was submitted in the past by Australian expert Tim Bourke. Consider the bidding and play.

Dealer South, NS vul.

          NORTH
          T6
          J62
          QJ5
          K9653
WEST                EAST
 AQJ87              9532
 5                  QT9
 T983               K76
 Q87                JT2
          SOUTH
           K4
           AK8743
           A42
           A4

WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
                1H
1S   2H    2S   4H
All pass

Playing 5-card standard, South opened 1H. West had enough to scrape up a 1-level overcall, 1S. North had a clear raise of hearts while East, whose partner was only an overcaller, had more of a stretch to show the fit, 2S. South, with 20 points including shortage, clearly had enough for game, 4H.

Given the favourable vulnerability, West considered sacrificing in 4S, but showed some discipline and passed.

What should be the opening lead from West? As usual, the best choice is “top of a sequence”, the D10. With spades headed by the ace and without the king, that suit is unappealing, and indeed a spade lead would have provided declarer with a tenth trick.

The diamond lead was covered by the queen from dummy, and East’s DK, won by declarer’s DA. Declarer could count two tricks in each minor and, after leading the A-K of hearts and finding the HQ did not fall, there were five tricks there, for nine in total. Where should the tenth trick come from?

If the SA were with East, it would be possible to score the SK by leading a spade from dummy for the finesse. You, of course, can see that would fail as the cards lie, and perhaps that is no surprise given West’s spade overcall.

In any case, there is no rush to take the spade finesse. Best is to first try setting up the long suit, clubs. Start with the CA (high from the shorter holding to avoid blocking the suit), then a club to the king, and lead another club, ruffing. Luckily the clubs divide 3-3 so the suit is now established. Cross back to dummy using the DJ entry, and lead the clubs.

True, East can ruff the club, but that is no tragedy – declarer knew a trick had to be lost to the HQ, and when East ruffs, the diamond loser is discarded from hand anyway, and the contract made.

In fact, East had already slipped in the defence. Can you see how?

Think back to the first trick. When West led the D10, East should know for sure that West does not have the DA (because against a suit contract, one does not “lead away from an ace” at Trick One). Therefore there was nothing to gain by putting up the DK at this stage.

If East ducks, declarer still makes two diamond tricks, but the difference is that the DJ will not be there as an entry to dummy for later – and setting up the clubs is useless for declarer if there is no way to get to them afterwards! That way, declarer fails by one trick; West takes two spades while East scores a diamond and a trump.

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