Opening lead: six of hearts
This deal from a team contest demonstrates one of the more subtle areas of sound defensive play. The final contract at both tables was three notrump, but only one of the defenders found the way to derail declarer.
At the first table, West led the heart six. Declarer won East’s jack with the king and led the jack of clubs, on which West played the nine, dummy the three and East the king. East then returned the heart nine, ducked by South, whose only real chance was to hope the opposing hearts were blocked.
West followed with the three to the second heart lead, leaving East in a quandary as to which suit to play next. With virtually nothing to go on, East shifted to a diamond, whereupon declarer ran off four diamonds and five clubs to finish with 10 tricks. Of course, had East returned a spade at trick three, West would have collected a spade and three more hearts for a two-trick set.
Though it might appear that East simply misguessed, there was a better way available, as the defence at the second table demonstrated. Here, too, West led the heart six to the jack and king, and declarer took a losing club finesse. But when East then returned the heart nine and declarer ducked, West played the eight.
This gave East food for thought. While it was possible that West had started with just the A-Q-8-6 of hearts (which would in turn mean that declarer began with five hearts), it was also possible that West started with five hearts and had played the eight as a suit-preference signal asking for the return of the higher-ranking side suit, spades.
Since this was far better than a total shot in the dark, East shifted to a spade, and South very quickly went down two.
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