They say that 1NT is the hardest contract to make. (One of my students once suggested that your partner should always raise you to 2NT since that contract must be easier.) From an online game: As South, you hold:
♠ 9 4 ♥ A 5 3 ♦ A Q 5 3 ♣ A J 6 4
Your 1NT opening buys it and left-hand opponent leads the ♠6 (standard fourth-best leads). What is your plan?
This was IMP scoring, but your plan shouldn’t be any different at matchpoints. In notrump, count your winners. You have three sure diamonds and two aces for five. This spade lead gives you a great chance for extra tricks. If LHO has led from the ace–queen, you can win the jack now and later lead up to the king.
The Rule of 11 tells you that East has only one card higher than the 6: 11 – 6 = 5 cards higher than the 6 in the other three hands, and you can see four of those cards.
Players are reluctant to lead away from the A–Q against 1NT, so let’s say you choose instead to hope that LHO has led from an empty suit headed by the Q–10. You play low from dummy and hope East produces a low one or the ace. No, he plays the queen. That’s not terrible news – at least it wasn’t the 10. Now you will be able to later build additional trick(s) in spades.
Looking at those great spades in dummy, RHO switches. He plays the ♥Q. And you?
Well, in my tricky way, I have glossed over the key play. Did you unblock your ♠9 at trick one? You will soon see why that was a good idea.
Let’s say you hold up in hearts and the defense plays them until you win your ace. The diamonds can wait; you want to play a spade now while dummy still has the ♦K as an entry. If you play the ♠9, which you carelessly retained, LHO plays low. Your 9 wins the trick and you are stuck in your hand. Winning in dummy is no better. When you test diamonds, they don’t split, and you have only six tricks for down one.
What if you properly unblock the ♠9 at trick one? Your foresight makes the rest easy. When you win your ♥A, you lead your ♠4 to dummy’s 8. Then you are in dummy to knock out LHO’s ♠A and you have seven sure tricks. This was the Real Deal::
My lawyers have made me state that there is a double-dummy way to survive without unblocking the ♠9 at trick one. Too many players out there run my deals through double-dummy software and write letters to the editor! Still, it is the correct play. Be proud of your plus 90 if you saw it!