This deal comes from a knockout match at the 2015 New Orleans NABC. With no one vulnerable, South held:
♠ 9 5 ♥ J 8 5 ♦ A K 8 5 4 ♣ A K J
He opened 1NT and responded 2♦ to his partner’s Stayman inquiry. His partner then jumped to 3♥. In Standard bidding, that would show five hearts, four spades and enough for at least game.
Most experts, however, use a popular convention here called Smolen. The jump to 3♥ or 3♠ after 1NT–2♣–2♦ does show a 5–4 game-forcing hand, but the jump is into the four-card suit (so that if there is a 5–3 fit, the strong hand is always declarer). So, this 3♥ jump showed five spades and four hearts. With no eight-card major-suit fit, South retreated to 3NT. The ♦Q was led and declarer saw:
What is the plan?
Setting up spades is out of the question. After winning the diamond lead and playing a spade, the defense would play more diamonds. They would likely set up at least two diamond tricks to go with the ♠A K Q. You are going to need to take nine tricks independent of the spade suit.
You have four club tricks to go with two diamonds. So, you will need three heart tricks. Also, there is the matter of being able to take dummy’s ♣Q if the suit isn’t 3–3 (you won’t be able to overtake your ♣J).
Will you need 3–3 hearts? If hearts are 3–3, the defender with the ace will hold up until the third round. So, you would then need an entry to the fourth heart. This means you can’t unblock the ♣A K J first, and you also would need clubs to be 3–3.
You would have to win the diamond lead, play three rounds of hearts (assuming the opponents hold up until the third round), win the diamond return and then play the ♣A K J and overtake (needing them to split 3–3 or an unlikely ♣10 9 doubleton).
Is there anything better? Yes.
The heart suit offers opportunities for three tricks without a 3–3 break. A doubleton heart ace is an interesting possibility. To get the best of all worlds, declarer should lead the ♥8 at trick two and put up an honor from dummy. If East wins the ace – from doubleton A–10 or A–9 – declarer can later unblock the top clubs, lay down the ♥J and lead his low heart for a finesse of dummy’s 7! This works when East started with the doubleton A–10 or A–9 of hearts, but loses to a statistically less likely ♥A 10 9. Restricted-choice fans will know what I am talking about.
Let’s say you win the opening diamond lead and play a careful ♥8 to the king and it wins. Now, you should cross back to your hand in clubs and lead a low heart. Why? West might have started with a doubleton ace. In fact, this was the Real Deal:
Declarer wins the diamond lead and plays the ♥8 to dummy’s king. He comes back to his hand with a high club to lead a low heart. When the ace pops up, declarer can later unblock his ♥J. With three heart tricks, he then has to overtake the ♣J and rely on clubs to split 3–3. When that suit cooperates, he takes four clubs, three hearts (due to the careful handling) and the ♦A K for nine tricks.