ACES ON BRIDGE
Today’s deal features a simple but vital element of avoidance technique. North-South are playing inverted raises, so North shows a limit raise or better with club support. South’s three notrump shows real extras but no great slam interest, and North has nothing more to say. West leads the fourth-highest spade four, and declarer should win at once. To hold up would risk a harmful shift to diamonds. South must then decide which suit to attack first. If declarer can negotiate the clubs successfully, he will have five clubs, two spades and two diamond tricks. He will have time to get two hearts also, even though he does not need those tricks for game. If declarer gets the clubs wrong, he will have only four clubs and will therefore need at least one heart trick for game. What is the right approach?
South must go after the hearts first, because if West has the heart ace, it could serve as an entry to the spade suit. It would be fatal to allow the defenders access to that suit if it should break 5-3.
By knocking the heart out first, declarer can proceed to duck the second spade, win the third and take a club finesse into the safe hand, East.
When West refuses the first heart, South can switch to clubs, with a heart trick in the bag. The game is then almost completely safe.
If South went after the clubs first, he would likely lose a trick to West’s queen. With the heart ace situated to his left, declarer would be toast.