This deal was played in a Maryland sectional. It originally appeared in a different guise in an excellent bidding article by Leslie Shafer (who graciously gave me permission to go at it from a different angle).
In a team game with both sides vulnerable, you’re the dealer and you pick up:
♠ Q J 5 4 ♥ Q 9 7 ♦ A 3 ♣ A K Q 5
You open 1♣ and your left-hand opponent overcalls 1♥. Partner passes and RHO bids 1♠. In her article, Leslie pointed out that a free 1NT bid now shows 18–19. With 15–17, South would have opened 1NT, and with less, he shouldn’t be sticking his nose in. In the original column, South bids 1NT and then everyone passes, but I’ve turned this into what I think is an instructional declarer-play problem. I’m going to have North raise to 3NT and have West lead the ♥5, his fourth-best heart (not his best choice).
On a diamond lead, you would be in big trouble. You’re off at least three diamond tricks and two aces. Having been treated to a low heart lead, however, you win the first trick with your ♥7 as East discards a spade. Now what?
You have four clubs, one diamond and now, one heart trick. Not only do you need to establish three more tricks, but you are in danger of the defense winning a major-suit ace and shifting to diamonds. This would likely establish five defensive tricks.
If you continue hearts (with any heart), West can win and make that killing diamond shift. You won’t have enough heart winners. So, you must work on spades first. If at trick two, you play to the ♠K, East (who bid spades) will win and shift to diamonds; again, you don’t have nine tricks.
Best is to cross to dummy in clubs to lead a low spade toward your hand. Now, if East grabs his ♠A (on air), you will have three spade tricks (plus one heart, one diamond and four clubs for nine). So, East has to duck. You win your ♠Q and now what?
If you continue spades, you are a trick short, and the diamond shift will defeat you. So, now you must go back to hearts, playing the ♥Q. If West takes it, you can later finesse to the ♥10 and take three hearts (plus one spade, one diamond and four clubs for nine tricks). So, West, seeing there is no longer a dummy entry if South doesn’t have another low club, holds up when you lead the ♥Q. If you play another heart, West can win, and you have no entry to dummy’s good ♥K.
So, the seesaw ride continues. After West ducks the ♥Q, you have two heart tricks in the bank and can go back to spades to set up two spades (plus one diamond, two hearts and four clubs for nine tricks).
This was the Real Deal:
What a beautifully logical deal! Every major-suit play is required in the exact order for reasons you can work out. You have to win the heart and then play spades from dummy. Then you abandon spades and go back to hearts. When the ♥Q holds, you go back to spades. If you do anything wrong or in the wrong order, you are swiftly defeated by a defensive diamond switch. I hope you enjoyed the seesaw ride!