Five Easy (?) Pieces (Grand National District Finals)
by Larry Cohen

The finals of the New York Grand Nationals was played in May between our team (Jimmy Cayne-Alan Sontag, David Berkowitz-Larry Cohen) and Brian Glubok-Fred Chang, Jimmy Rosenbloom-Michael Radin. Our team was down by 40 IMPs at the half, and lost by that margin. These five opening-lead problems all occurred in the first half. Our team got all five of them wrong. If you can get four out of five correct, you'd have won the match for us:

#1) Both vulnerable : S KT98  H 92  D AQ93  C T63

You             Dummy           Partner         Declarer
Pass            1 D*            Pass            1H
Pass            2 H             Pass            2NT**
Pass            4 H             All Pass
*Two or more diamonds, less than a big club
**Natural, opponents aren't sure if it's forcing or not

#2) Nobody vulnerable : S Q974  H A2  D J10854   C A7

You             Dummy           Partner         Declarer
Pass            3 C             Pass            4 H
All Pass

#3) Opponents vulnerable : S QJ42  H Q75  D Q62  C Q32
You             Dummy           Partner         Declarer
--              Pass            Pass            1NT
Pass            2 C             Pass            2 D
Pass            3NT             All Pass

#4) Nobody vulnerable : S KJ865  H AQ74  D 3  C QT5

You             Dummy           Partner         Declarer
--              1NT             Pass            2 S  (NF)
Pass            Pass            3 C             3 D
Pass            5 D             Pass            Pass
Double          Pass            Pass            Pass

#5) Nobody vulnerable:  S 4  H Q987532  D KQ98  C 10

You             Dummy           Partner         Declarer
--              --              --              1NT
3 H             Dbl (Neg)       Pass            3NT
All Pass

On #1 you can go aggressive (spade lead) or passive (trump or club lead). I think a diamond is suicidal. I faced this problem and narrowed it down to a club or spade lead. A trump lead might be right, but it might pick off David's Qxx (he hates that!). My only slight clue was that if David had a marginal overcall he might have chosen one spade which is safer than two clubs. If he had say QJxxx or Axxxx of a black suit it was more likely to be in clubs (unbiddable on the one level). So, I chose a club, and this was the layout:

                             North
                             S 7 4
                             H A K 5 4
                             D K 8 7 5 2
                             C J 7
West                                               East
S K T 9 8                                          S Q 6 5 3
H 9 2                                              H 10 6 7
D A Q 9 3                                          D J
C T 6 3                                            C A 9 8 5 4
                             South
                             S A J 2
                             H Q J 8 3
                             D 10 6 4
                             C K Q 2

David won the ace of clubs and returned a spade. Declarer won and pitched a spade from dummy on the KQ of clubs. He now played a diamond up. If I hopped ace and played another diamond and declarer guessed wrong we would beat it, but I ducked the diamond to dummy's king. Declarer continued diamonds (David threw a spade). I tapped dummy with a spade and declarer played a third round of diamonds (David throwing his last spade). Now I played another spade, but declarer ruffed high, and the 3-2 trump break saw him home. At the other table Brian Glubok led a spade against four hearts, the only lead to beat it outright. Cayne had to lose a spade, a club, and two diamonds for a 10 IMP loss.

On #2 I would have opened the bidding with the West hand, but Sontag-Cayne play sound openings, so Alan passed as the dealer. He chose to lead a low spade and that was not a success:

                             North
                             S 10 3
                             H Q 4
                             D 9 7 6
                             C K Q J 10 9 8
West                                                   East
S Q 9 7 4                                              S 8 6 5
H A 2                                                  H 10 7
D J T 8 5 4                                            D A K 3 2
C A 7                                                  C 6 5 4 2
                             South
                             S A K J 2
                             H K J 9 8 6 5 3
                             D Q
                             C 3

Declarer won dummy's ten and continued with the ace, king, and the fourth spade ruffed with dummy's queen. Now when trumps behaved he had ten tricks. At the other table West opened with a Swedish 1 C, which in this case was showing 10-12 balanced. North had to pass, East bid 1D (0-8) and I jumped to four hearts with the South hand. A diamond was led to the king,and now a trump to the ace and another trump would beat the contract. However, diamonds were continued and I simply ruffed and played on clubs. West took his ace, but there was no longer any defense. Plus 420 at both tables was a push, but the right opening lead and defense will set the contract.

On #3 both Wests lead a diamond from Q 6 2. They reasoned dummy has hearts, declarer has spades, and partner didn't double clubs. I don't know if you like this reasoning or not, but both David Berkowitz and Fred Chang did:

                             North
                             S 5
                             H J 10 6 4
                             D K 9 7 5 3
                             C A J 4
West                                               East
S Q J 4 2                                          S K 9 8 3
H Q 7 5                                            H 9 3 2
D Q 6 2                                            D 10 8
C Q 3 2                                            C K 10 8 5
                             South
                             S A 10 7 6
                             H A K 8
                             D A J 4
                             C 9 7 6

Ouch! A diamond lead did not exactly skewer the declarer. Ten easy tricks for a push at 620. A heart lead would also be disastrous. On a black-suit lead, declarer would have to guess the diamonds to make three notrump.

On #4 you can lead partner's suit, a trump, or lay down the heart ace. Your partner is an aggressive bidder and balancer (me!). Is there any inference to be drawn from the fact that I didn't act directly (I could have shown any one or two-suiter via D.O.N.T.)? Anyway, David chose the club queen:

                             North
                             S A Q
                             H J 2
                             D Q 10 7 4 3
                             C A K J 7
West                                                East
S K J 8 6 5                                         S 4
H A Q 7 4                                           H K 10 5 3
D 3                                                 D A 5
C Q T 5                                             C 9 8 6 4 3 2
                             South
                             S 10 9 7 3 2
                             H 9 8 6
                             D K J 9 8 6
                             C Void

Ay caramba! Maybe I should have left them in two spades. No, I don't really believe that. I did, however, hate to bid my six-little suit, knowing that pard might lead one. Obviously a heart lead (or diamond lead) would produce a swift down one instead of the swift 12 tricks that the club queen produces. Our teammates played in a diamond partial (how ordinary) and scored 130 -- so this was a big swing.

On #5 I think you'll agree that it's a choice between the red suits. I held this hand and reasoned that even if I set up my hearts I wouldn't have a fast entry, so I tried the king of diamonds:

                             North
                             S 8 6 3 2
                             H K
                             D J 4 2
                             C A J 9 8 5
West                                               East
S 4                                                S J 10 9 7 5
H Q 9 8 7 5 3 2                                    H J 4
D K Q 9 5                                          D 10 5
C T                                                C K Q 4 3
                             South
                             S A K Q
                             H A 10 6
                             D A 7 6 3
                             C 7 6 2

Why does dummy always have the jack and declarer the ace? Declarer won and played a club to the ten, jack, and queen. Declarer won the heart switch in dummy, crossed in spades and played a club to dummy's nine. If David ducked, declarer would cross in spades and play a diamond up for his ninth trick (two diamonds, two hearts, two clubs, and three spades). If David won, declarer would have three club tricks, three spades, and three red tricks. Minus 400. In the other room Radin led a heart which affected the timing and entries in a way that made it impossible for declarer to take nine tricks. He won the king of hearts, crossed in spades and played a club to the ten, jack and queen. Now the defense cleared hearts. Declarer played another club, but now East could duck the second round. Declarer could not set up any diamond tricks because West's hearts were ready to run. Down one, and 10 IMPs to the winners.

I can't stand writing about matches I lose, so that's enough. Five disgusting hands. Five wrong leads. Have I ever told you that I hate opening-lead problems. Maybe that's why I bid so much.