The better 3-0
This deal was played in the 2014 Denver Regional knockout. All vulnerable, South picked up:
♠ K 2 ♥ A 9 8 7 6 5 ♦ 8 ♣ A K J 5
He opened 1♥ and partner responded 4♣, a splinter bid. South has wasted club cards, but still quite a good hand. Should South explore for slam?
A good idea is to picture a few possible hands for partner. Opposite a hand such as:
♠ Q 7 6 5 ♥ K J 4 2 ♦ A J 7 6 ♣ 3
♠ A 8 7 6 ♥ K Q 4 2 ♦ Q 7 6 2 ♣ 3
slam is great. Even opposite an unsuitable hand such as:
♠ Q 7 6 5 ♥ K Q 4 2 ♦ K Q 3 2 ♣ 2
you’d still be OK on the five level. So I would try for slam, and Roman Key Card Blackwood seems the best tool. No need to make a control bid. If partner has two key cards (either two aces or one ace and the ♥K), you can bid the slam. Partner shows the required two key cards and you bid 6♥.
How should you play after the ♣10 lead?
If trumps are 2–1, you will be able to draw trumps and claim, probably making an overtrick by setting up the spades to discard your singleton diamond.
But what if trumps are 3–0? If you knew who had three and who had zero, you would start with the ace or king accordingly. Without knowing, how should you start trumps?
There is a subtle reason to start with the ♥A. If everyone follows, it won’t matter either way. If RHO shows out on the ♥A, you will have a marked finesse for West’s queen.
But even if LHO shows out, you still have a chance. If spades are 3–3, you will be fine. Play the top spades, ruff the third round and then throw a diamond on the fourth round as the opponents get their queen.
The extra chance comes if spades are 4–2. If you lay down the ♥A and find RHO with ♥Q–x–x and a doubleton spade, you can still make your contract. How?
After getting the bad news in hearts, you play the top spades ending in dummy, and then play a third spade. If RHO ruffs with his natural trump trick, you throw your losing diamond. If he declines to ruff, you ruff and go back to dummy’s ♥K and play a fourth spade. Again, if East ruffs, you throw your diamond. If he discards again, you ruff, ruff a club and play the fifth spade (now good) to throw your diamond loser.
Why won’t this work if you start with the ♥K? Because if LHO has ♥Q–x–x, you can’t benefit from 4–2 spades the wrong way. You have to ruff the third spade and LHO will overruff and cash a diamond winner.
Summary: If spades are 3–3, any play in hearts will work. But what if spades are 4–2 and the person holding two spades also holds ♥Q–x–x? You can make the contract if RHO has that holding, but not when LHO does. Accordingly, the correct play is to win the ♣J (throwing a diamond from dummy) and play the ♥A next. You make on any 2–1 heart split or if West has three hearts or if West has no hearts and spades behave.
This was the Real Deal:
Declarer played correctly, playing the ♥A first. The bad news was only temporary. Declarer turned his attention to spades and plan B came home. If you had started with the ♥K, you’d have survived on the actual layout, but not if the East–West hands were reversed.