Menu Vu-Bridge | Play like a Champion!

 Tricky Trials by Ben Norton

Tricky Trials

The USBC trials determine who represents the USA in the Bermuda Bowl, Venice Cup and d’Orsi Bowl for the open, women and seniors categories respectively. 18 top class teams entered the event in 2019, but only one emerged to become USA 2 (the ever-present Nickell squad won the event for USA 1 last year).

Can you win the right to represent the USA in the upcoming Bermuda Bowl in China? Take the South seat for these five opening lead problems.

Question 1

  Your Hand
 A 5 3
 J 8 5
 J 8 5 3 2
 8 6
Q: 1 - A baptism of fire.

*2 was a forcing raise and 4 was RKCB

Pass6All Pass

 Your choice:
A: 3. Your Jacks don’t rate to be of much use and the cards seem to be lying well for declarer. An attacking lead is in order, but for a red-suit lead to work, you’d not only need to pick the right one (you’d probably try a heart, being shorter there), but you’d also have to find partner with the King and dummy with the Ace, or partner with the King-10 over dummy’s Queen. That’s quite the parlay.

Your best shot lies in the Spade suit. Dummy is known to have a Spade control and rates to have the King, so leading a low one may well put declarer to a guess at trick one. Give partner the Q and declarer the J. This needs less from partner than a Heart or a Diamond does.

On the actual hand, a low Spade lead was the only one to give the defense a chance. Given time, declarer had enough red-suit winners to pitch two of dummy’s KJx. On a sneaky Spade underlead, he’d have a guess and would most likely go down.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 2

  Your Hand
 A K 6
 8 6 4
 8 4 2
 J 10 8 4
Q: 2 - Seems simple, right?

Pass4All Pass

 Your choice:
A: K. Well, the J is both the safest and most constructive choice, but this is no time for safety, holding three small diamonds over declarer’s length, which indicates the suit is running. Time is of the essence and you should look to establish one of the rounded suits.

There’s no need to put all your bets on one horse. It could well be necessary to attack Hearts, and you can cater for this by leading a top Spade. If the sight of dummy suggests a Heart shift is in order, you’ll have done well. If instead a Club is needed, you may still have time to set up a trick or two there, to cash when you regain the lead in trumps.

When this hand was played, a Club was led. Declarer had 4=2=6=1 shape with the singleton K opposite dummy’s Queen and a slow Heart loser. A Heart lead or shift would have beaten the contract, but the Club lead set up a pitch for declarer’s second Heart and the game was made.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 3

  Your Hand
 9 4 2
 Q J 8 6
 6 3
 K 6 4 2
Q: 3 - What do you make of this?

*2NT was a puppet to 3 (Lebensohl) and 3 was to play

All Pass

 Your choice:
A: Q. To justify his 3NT bid, declarer must have good Diamonds and plenty of top tricks. He’s aiming to run nine winners with the help of dummy’s long Diamonds. He must be prepared for a Spade lead in light of your bidding, so he likely has a double stopper there and a Spade attack will prove too slow.

Your best bet is to establish one of the rounded suits. Both leads need around the same in terms of strength from partner to be successful, since the A or K will do, while a Club requires partner to have the A or QJ. However, in Clubs, you may already have two quick tricks, while the same can’t be said of the Heart suit. It follows that if it's necessary to play on Clubs, you may still have time to do so later. A Heart lead is also less likely to give away a cheap trick.

In terms of which Heart to lead, the Queen is much the better shot. If you had five Hearts, you might be concerned about blocking the suit, but with four, that’s not a problem and your aim should be to clear up the position for partner while not presenting declarer with an easy ninth trick.

On the layout, a Heart was the only lead to break the contract. Partner had to win the Ace and shift to a Club for a cunning 'Bait and Switch' play (declarer would have to duck to prevent the defense from running the suit, then you could win and switch back to Hearts with an extra trick in the bag). Zia actually doubled it (his team was a lot down at the time) and found the winning Q lead. His partner made the normal-looking duck, though, and declarer got home.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 4

  Your Hand
 K Q 6 2
 8 7 6 5 2
 10 3
 A 6
Q: 4 - Which one?

Pass3NTAll Pass

 Your choice:
A: K. You’d usually lead your longest suit, but the Hearts will take a while to establish here, and after West’s unlimited raise, you should look for a faster method of setting up tricks.

Your Spades are good and will require much less from partner to work than a Heart lead will, but which Spade should you lead? The textbooks suggest leading small from KQxx against no-trump, but the modern theory is to start with an honor.

As on the previous hand, there’s little risk of blocking the suit when you hold only four cards. The premium is on not giving away silly tricks and keeping your options open. You don’t want to lose to declarer’s J, simultaneously giving away a potentially crucial tempo. Try the K (or, if the King asks for an unblock, the Queen).

Just to prove I’m not a results merchant, a Spade lead, the one chosen at the table, would let this one through. West had taken an off-center decision to raise to 3NT with five poor Spades in a 5=3=2=3 shape. A Heart lead, commencing an early attack on dummy’s entries, was needed to set the game. 4 was making, though, so there’s some consolation.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Question 5

  Your Hand
 A 9 2
 A 10 7
 9 8 6
 Q 10 8 2
Q: 5 - Last, but not least.

Pass4All Pass

 Your choice:
A: 2. It could be necessary to attack in Clubs before declarer’s losers go away on dummy’s Diamonds, but with West having a weak hand, there’s little reason to expect this to be the case. Meanwhile, a Club lead could give declarer his game-going trick by opening up a frozen suit. East-West have had an invitational sequence, suggesting they don’t have much to spare. Thus, a passive defense may be best.

East has shown Heart length and you have a fair holding sitting over him. What’s more, dummy may well have a ruffing value in Hearts for his jump to game. If you can pull the trumps, declarer will have to suffer whatever slow Heart losers he has coming.

Your best shot is a trump lead, aiming to cut down dummy’s ruffing potential. Unless another course is indicated, you intend to continue with Ace and another trump when you get in. It’s best to lead a low Spade, to avoid crashing partner’s honor when he has a significant doubleton. Don’t worry too much about solving the suit for declarer. It’s likely he could always do that himself, anyway.

As it was, any non-Heart lead would have worked on the deal, but only if the defense switched to trumps immediately. South found a Spade lead and the contract was beaten in double-quick time.

Your result so far:
Open Question

Overall Results

Your results:   out of    Average: 

What next? You may enjoy playing our prepared hands series.
More informations on our website:

Rate yourself:

0 - 40% We applaud your effort.
Review the subject and try again. You'll be surprised how much better you'll do.
We're here for you!!
41 - 50% Buy your mentor a cuppa and ask for clarification on the ones you got wrong.
No mentor? Make finding one a priority!
51 - 60% Nice improvement! One more review and you'll have this down solid!
61 - 80% What a good job! All that's left is some fine tuning
Over 80% Wow! It's time for you to become a mentor. Find someone who needs help and share your knowledge!