June 26, 2024

Responding with Diamonds or a Major

Real Deal #52 (in Audrey Grant Magazine)

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 05/14/2023
Level: General Interest

This real deal was dealt by Nader Hanna. 


Dlr: South
♠ Q1098
♥ 8
♦ A974
♣ 9732
♠ K32
♥ 9432
♦ J86
♣ J104
  ♠ A64
♥ AQ765
♦ 532
♣ 86
  ♠ J75
♥ KJ10
♦ KQ10
♣ AKQ5



  WEST     NORTH     EAST     SOUTH  
Pass  1♠   Pass  2NT
Pass 3NT All Pass  


With 15-17 balanced, South would have opened 1NT. With 20-21 balanced, 2NT would be the opening bid. What if the range is 18-19 with a balanced hand? Then, the opening is in a suit with the plan to rebid 2NT. Accordingly, South opens 1♠.

Responding with diamonds and a major(s).

North should respond 1♠. Why? The focus should be on getting the 4-card major into the auction. With likely only one bid to make, North should use it to show the spades. Skip (“bypass”) the diamond suit. Similarly, don’t raise clubs; it is much more important to introduce the major.

East would need a better suit and/or hand to overcall on the two level (especially vulnerable).

As planned, South rebids 2NT to show 18-19 balanced. This denies 4-card spade support. North adds his 6 HCP and knows the partnership has 24-25 combined. North might like to invite game, but there is no room. Too bad there is no 2 ½ NT bid! He has to guess to either pass 2NT or raise to 3NT. Looking for clubs is not a good idea (clubs pay only 20 points a trick and 11 tricks would be required for game there).

Upgradable cards

I would take the high road (3NT) for these reasons:

1) The 4-card length in clubs is a valuable asset. Opener will often have 4 (sometimes 5) clubs. Picture how useful your length will be opposite, say, KQJxx of clubs. This means that after the ♠A is gone, partner is almost sure to have 4 tricks. Opposite AKxx of clubs, a 3-2 break would mean an extra trick in the suit. Contrast this to if you were short in clubs, where partner’s long clubs could be useless.

2) You have beautiful intermediates in spades. Q1098 is worth much more than Q432.

3) An ace is usually more valuable than its assigned 4 points. That ♠A will tend to be more useful than say, two queens or four jacks.

All of those factors make North’s hand worth something like 7 or 8 points, thus the raise to 3NT.

Should North be a little worried about the heart suit? Admittedly yes, but opener has a balanced hand with a lot of HCP, so usually will have the hearts stopped.

The Opening Lead

Against notrump you typically lead from your longest/strongest suit, unless the opponents have bid that suit. Here, hearts is the longest and it is also an unbid suit, so that is the choice. Which heart? With an honor (at least the 10), choose the 4th highest card in the suit. However, with nothing higher than a 9, it is better not to lead 4th best (so that partner won’t think you have a decent suit). When he sees a high card like a 9 or 8 led, it is unlikely to be 4th-best (there aren’t a lot of higher cards). Partner can usually tell you’ve led from a “nothing suit.” With only small cards, try to lead a highish one. Partner can usually read this as top of nothing. Here, I’d be a little worried about leading the 9, because it could waste an important “spot.” For example, if you hit partner with QJ10 or KJ10 (among many possibilities), you will have wish you had kept the 9. So, choose the second highest card, in this case the ♠4.

The Play 

In notrump, declarer should count winners/tricks. Here, he starts with 3 sure tricks in each minor. The heart lead will provide at least one more. If clubs split 3-2, that will produce an 8th trick. If diamonds behave, a 9th trick can be taken there. Spades can possibly be developed. But that would involve losing the lead twice. The main issue for declarer will be the location of the ♠Q.

Dummy plays low and East plays 3rd-hand high, the ace. South plays the ♠10. East can’t clearly read the ♠4 lead. Conceivably, it could have been 4th-best from KJ94 (though that would mean declarer made a strange play of the 10 from 10xx). Unless there is a strong reason not to, it is usually best to return partner’s suit. East leads a low heart at trick 2 and declarer has to decide whether or not to finesse the jack.

Going up with the king can’t possibly help (the queen won’t fall), so declarer might as well try the jack. His luck is in—the jack wins the trick!

Should declarer go after spades? It can’t hurt to play one round (since hearts are still stopped). Either opponent can win this trick and now knock out declarer’s last heart stopper. 

Declarer has to be careful to keep all 4 diamonds in dummy (that 4th diamond is a potential trick). On those heart plays, he can throw clubs from dummy.

Once the last heart stopper is removed, it is time to try the minor suits. Playing another spade would establish two spade winners, but would allow the defense to take the good hearts. On the ace and king of clubs East and West follow suit. That means clubs are 3-2.  Declarer can next try the DK and ♠Q to see if the jack falls. It doesn’t, but on the next diamond play, the jack appears. The ace and 9 of diamonds take tricks, so declarer ends up with 4 diamonds, 4 clubs and 2 hearts for 10 tricks.

Did it matter that the defense set up two tricks for declarer in hearts? Not really. Had they led a different suit, declarer would have been able to work on spades. Once the ace and king were dislodged, declarer would have 2 good spades to go with 8 minor-suit tricks. On this actual East-West layout (♠Q onside, both minors behaving), there should be 10 tricks whether declarer plays left to right or right to left. In real life, it never seems to happen that way.

Lesson Points

1) With 18-19 balanced, open in a suit and rebid 2NT.

2) With a weak hand, responding to 1♠, bypass diamonds to show a 4-card major.

3) Aces and length in partner’s suit are assets that should make you upgrade your hand’s HCP value.

4) From small cards (no 10 or higher) don’t lead 4th-best. Lead top or if you’re not sure you can afford it, next to top.

5) When planning the play in notrump, count sure winners and then decide how to develop more.