ACES ON BRIDGE
“He who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first installment on his debt.”
As bidding methods develop, it has become customary for new-suit responses to a two-club opener to promise good suits, so the response of two diamonds becomes a marktime action. Players tend to avoid bidding two no-trump with a balanced hand, or they reserve the call for a different hand type altogether.
Today, though, South hogged the no-trump, and when he was unable to raise clubs directly, his partner closed his eyes and jumped to a contract he hoped South could make. This seems premature to me, since if South had held the doubleton club queen, there easily could have been 13 tricks on top. It would have cost nothing to bid four clubs, giving South the chance to cue-bid a second-round control.
When West led the spade 10 against the no-trump slam, South instinctively ducked in dummy, realizing too late that not only were the hearts now blocked, but the spades were too! He tried to recover by cashing his heart and spade winners then playing three rounds of clubs. However, when East was able to win and shift to diamonds, declarer had to play for his only chance of putting up the queen, so he finished an ignominious two down.
Had declarer paused for thought when it was necessary, he would have put up dummy’s ace at trick one, then unblocked his heart winners. Now come the clubs, and when they break 3-2, declarer can clear the suit.
The spade king represents the entry to the two heart winners, with the diamond ace still in place to reach the long clubs.
ANSWER: The spades may not be splitting for declarer, but it still seems right to go active by leading a top diamond rather than a relatively passive heart. Anytime your partner has diamond length or one of the top three diamonds, this is a sensible lead. Moreover, if the diamond ace-king are to your right, the lead doesn’t cost a trick.