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Finding the Right Contract

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When we played this hand recently, the south player, Ernestine Simpson, used a bidding device called a transfer to direct her partner, Lynda Hempel, into the minor suit game of 5 clubs and away from the more usual contract of 3 notrump. She did very well to find the safer minor suit game because, on a spade lead, the defense can beat 3 notrump, but 5 clubs is icy on any lead. Why, then, was 3 notrump set only once in the 10 times the hand was played at that contract? I believe the answer is that the defense failed to unblock the spade suit. West held 4 high spots in spades, and if east, after leading the spade 3 (fourth highest in his spade suit) does not lead another small spade after getting in with the queen of clubs, there is the danger that he will be unable to gain the lead and cash the setting trick in spades. Three notrump went down only once in 10 replays when Doug Bullock and Craig Jones were defending. Some declarers made a much as 6 notrump. The hand illustrates two valuable lessons: lead the fourth highest of your longest and strongest suit against notrump unless your partner has bid a suit or you have a strong sequence in another suit, and watch your card spots on defense to prevent the frustration of having set up a suit and not being able to cash the tricks you deserve. Thanks to Craig Jones for recording this hand and the results. The first qualifying game of the Grand National Teams competition was played last Saturday, and we will have winners from that event next week.

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