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Smooth duck

This deal is from the same Common Game set as last week’s deal. This was the layout:

♠ 9 7
A K J 6 4
♣ Q J 7 4
♠ J 6 5 3
9 8 7
5 2
♣ K 10 3 2
♠ Q 10 4
K Q J 6 4
Q 9 8
♣ 8 5
♠ A K 8 2
A 5 3 2
4 3
♣ A 9 6

South opens 1NT. What should North respond? At IMPs, maybe it is right to pursue a contract of five, or maybe even six of a minor. Perhaps start with a transfer to diamonds, or some gadget to show the heart shortness.

However, at matchpoints, I believe it is practical to just raise to 3NT. For one, notrump pays better. Also, it doesn’t help the defense. After 1NT–3NT, West is unlikely to find the killing heart lead. He would lead a black suit and now declarer is in great shape.

The interesting part of this deal is the diamond suit. Let’s say declarer wins a black-suit lead in hand and plays a diamond. He would take a first-round finesse, hoping to maintain communication with the dummy. East wins the Q and no matter what he returns, declarer has at least nine tricks – more if the opening lead was a club.

However, what if East is ready for the diamond play and smoothly ducks? Could anyone find such a play? I think so. If declarer had x x x, he would be unlikely to play this way. So, the first-round finesse smells like x x. When East plays low, without a care in the world, wouldn’t you assume West has the Q? Declarer would likely come back to his hand and take another diamond finesse, guarding against a 4–1 break. Now, the finesse loses and East returns the K. Regardless of which black-suit was led at trick one, the defense is now in control and sets 3NT in spectacular fashion.