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Fishing with Zia Mahmood

How would you declare 3 NT on the ten of diamonds lead? The deal is another from the Mind Sports Games (the Bridge Olympics) held in Lille.

You have eight top tricks and need a ninth from spades, yet are completely wide open in hearts. One thing you should not do is feebly cash out your eight minorsuit winners. How could the opponents let you win a spade trick without cashing their hearts then?

It seems right to try to sneak a spade trick early. So win the ten of diamonds with dummy’s ace – you never know, this might fool the defence into thinking you are worried about diamonds – and lead a spade from dummy.

Board Teams
South Deals
None Vul
10 3 2
10 9 2
A J 6 2
A J 10
A 7
A 4 3
10 9 8 4
9 8 7 2
W   E
Q 9 8 6 4
K Q 7 6 5
5 3
K J 5
J 8
K Q 7 3
K Q 6 4
West North East South
      1 N1
Pass 3 N Pass Pass
  1. 15-17


Does it matter which spade you lead? I think you should lead the ten. You are intending to play the king from hand – to sneak the trick past the ace in East’s hand. The advantage of leading the ten is that East might cover when holding the queen and now, after ♠ 10, ♠ Q, ♠ K, ♠ A, you will survive unless West finds the heart switch.

I regret to tell you that the English Open pair sitting E-W did let 3 NT make after precisely that start: ten of diamonds to the ace; ten of spades covered by queen, king and ace and... a second diamond. Declarer now cashed out – his promoted jack of spades being the ninth trick. Game made.

Probably East should not have covered the ten of spades with the queen. Probably West should have found the heart switch (there was little other hope really). Well played declarer, though.

One declarer, a Mr Zia Mahmood playing for the USA, tried perhaps an even better line. He reasoned that if he played a spade at trick two, the opponents would surely switch to the other major for honey: hearts. So instead (after winning the ten of diamonds with dummy’s ace), he tried a heart to the jack (key play). Maybe the opponents would switch to spades...
I like it – and E-W fell for the bait. West won the ace of hearts and switched ace and another spade. Declarer’s ♠ KJ both scored and he chalked up an overtrick, to rub salt into the wound. Perhaps if East had played the queen of spades under West’s ace, West might have thought twice about playing his second spade (that queen must logically deny the king). But he didn’t.

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