The Real Deal

My regular partner, David Berkowitz, was playing in a regional in Oregon on the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t make the trip, so David called me on the phone with this problem:
♠ A 9 3
A Q 10 9 8 7 3
♣ 9 8
He gave me these cards and told me that right-hand opponent opens 2♣, Precision (11–15 high-card points and long clubs, usually six or more). He imposed 3 (both vulnerable) as an intermediate jump overcall. Okay with me. LHO made a negative double and RHO tried 3NT. Your lead.
I told him this isn’t a problem at all. With a sure side entry (♠A), I want to set up my diamonds. The best chance is to lay down the A.
Then, you get to see the diamonds in dummy and figure out the continuation. If dummy has J x x and declarer K x, you continue with a low diamond. If dummy has singleton or doubleton J, then you continue with the queen. Some days, a smartaleck declarer might even try 3NT
with a singleton K, anticipating you won’t lay down the A. Anyway, the A seemed a standout lead. David disagreed.
He told me that neither player in his match led the A (at the other table, the overcall was 2, LHO bid 2 and RHO bid 2NT raised to 3NT). Anyway, I asked around, and everyone I asked thought theA was automatic on either auction.
Here are all four hands and the amusing story of what happened on the Real Deal:

Dlr: South ♠ J 7 6 5
Vul: Both A J 10 7 5
6 4
♣ A 4
♠ A 9 3 ♠ K Q 10 2
4 K 9 8 6 3
A Q 10 9 8 7 3 J 2
♣ 9 8 ♣ 5 2
♠ 8 4
Q 2
K 5
♣ K Q J 10 7 6 3

If you do lead the A, you had better be smart enough to switch to spades at trick two (instead of knocking out the K). In real life, the West player who overcalled 3 led the ♠A. His partner, playing standard signals, could have risked
the 10, but played the ♠2 (in tempo). West figured his only chance was to continue spades, and this was a rousing success. East cashed the spades and switched to the J: down seven! Notice the ethics involved. If East thought forever at trick one and then played the ♠2, it wouldn’t be honest/ethical for West to figure
out to continue the suit. Maybe East should have played the ♠10, but it is a shame to have to signal with a defensive trick (which is why “upside-down” attitude is becoming popular).

At the other table, West didn’t lead diamonds and didn’t lead spades. He chose his singleton heart! Declarer, looking at eight sure tricks, needed the heart finesse for nine. The 4 looked innocent enough (it could easily have been from the king), so he finessed at trick one. Disaster! Now, the J came through and the defense took seven diamonds, four spades and the K for down eight. That meant plus 800 (the hard way) and a 3–IMP swing. Here’s how the comparison went: “Plus 700” … “Lose 3.” Hard to imagine beating a contract seven vulnerable tricks only to lose out to a pair that beat it eight!

To think that I might have led the A and continued diamonds for minus 600 — good thing I was sitting at home instead of playing on the Pacific Coast.

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