Playing IMPS, you hold the following hand, neither side vul:
AQJT95 93 8 KT74 in first chair.
The first decision comes early, do you open and if so what? There are 4 criteria to apply to hands when deciding what to do, HCP, Looser Count, Playing Strength, Pre-emptive value. I have only 10 HCP, but this is a very good playing strength hand, with only 6 loosers, something I will never get across to partner if I open 2S. I even have a little defence, so I open 1S. This goes P on my left and 2D (GF) by partner, P on my right, so this is now easy, I bid 2S, min with 6 spades. P on my left, 3H by pard, P on my right and next decision point. The hand has definitely not got any better on the auction, but I am still going to play this hand in game, partner made a 2/1 GF bid, and I have no compelling reason to override that. The question is where. I think there are 2 main options here, jump to 4S showing a weak hand with good spades, essentially ending most auctions, or bid 3N showing the clubs stoppers.
The biggest problem with 3N may not be tricks, it may be getting to my hand to cash spade winners if anything bad happens. 1 local expert put it very well, you have to envision the play of the hand when you are bidding it. I am not sure I like my vision of 3N, but I finally decide to bid that anyways to show my club stopper, really hoping partner can bid over that, as now bidding 4S will really describe my hand well. And there is the the 1 benefit, 9 tricks is 1 less than 10. Alas, partner and both opps pass and I have bought the contract in 3N.
LHO leads the 3 of hearts (4th best) and I see this dummy.
4 AJ85 AQJ73 J65
I don’t have many solid tricks (3), but a lot of potential. To start a hand, I usually like to make up a logic tree to indicate the main line and optional branches I will take. Here, the main line looks like set up spades, force an entry in clubs, and see what else is required for 9. Option 1 is diamonds, option 2 is hearts and scramble. So first order of business is the heart suit and that lead, how to keep loosers down. In theory, the 3 indicates an honour, but this particular LHO does not necessarily require that, and he is a good player. Since I am going to have to survive several heart leads, the J is staking too much at trick 1, and I like to allow the opps to make errors later, so I play low at trick 1. It is amazing how often that is right in totally hopeless scenarios, and here I have the 9, so it is fairly easy. RHO wins the K of hearts, but I do not totally believe that. Based on speed of play and intangibles, I am going to place the Q of hearts as a distinct possible on my right, but not the 10, so not bad so far.
But now RHO makes an unexpected and not that welcome shift, to the Q of Clubs. This may present me with some club tricks, and definitely modifies my logic tree quite a bit, since the spade suit went down to a middle priority set up and the clubs with a scramble situation may now be the best line. This is because it looks like RHO is trying to cut me off from my hand and the spade suit, a nasty possibility now. I have nothing better to do and I can not allow too many clubs tricks to be set up, so I play the K of Clubs, somewhat surprisingly holding the trick when LHO plays low. I have to admit that I now thought the A of clubs was likely on my left, and my chances in this contract had gone way down, but I needed some spade tricks for any play, so I played the somewhat sneaky J of spades, holding the trick. I now played the A of spades, pitching a diamond, and the Q of spades, pitching another diamond from board, as LHO won the K and RHO pitched a club (!). I was now working on more of the scramble line than the spade line, but decided my chances were not that much worse than when this hand started. I still only had 3+2 loosers around (K Hearts, K Spades, A Clubs as definites, Q Hearts, K Diamonds as possibles), so get rid of 1 possible looser and I was in business.
LHO now played a 2nd heart and when I played low, RHO won the Q (I was right). RHO now returned a heart to board while I pitched a good spade. Now came decision time, how to play the clubs. But first, I needed to strip any other exit cards from the opp so I cashed the last heart, pitching my diamond (didn’t need it as spades are good, and the club suit was still blocked, so a club pitch was out), and leaving this position with the lead on dummy. Remember, I have lost 2 hearts and a spade now, with the A of clubs still outstanding in 3NT.
I now led the J of clubs off of dummy and it held the trick as LHO pitched a diamond. This was great news, since I now had a slight chance. But I was worried RHO would win the next club and strand me on the dummy with a diamond for down 1. But best chance, I led the club off dummy and RHO won the A. He then led a club to my hand and I was able to claim making 3.
The reason that he led the club back was back was RHO had no winning choices. His original hand was xx KQxx Kx AQ9xx, he currently had -- -- Kx xx, all loosing choices. But it emphasizes the need to have cashed the last heart, else RHO could have won the second club and exited the heart, stranding me on board to lead a diamond off.
Here was the full initial hand
It turns out that even with every red suit card offside, the K of spades off side, you can still almost always make 3N on this hand, and that 4S is almost always down, since they get the K spades, A clubs, a club ruff, and some red card.