You are on lead after the auction below, having declined to overcall vulnerable:

West North East South
Mann Thompson  
Pass 1NT
Pass 2 Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 3NT
Pass Pass Pass
Q 6 5 2
A 10 3
A Q 10 6 5
4

What is your choice?

Your partner is a class act having narrowly missed a medal in the U26 play-off and you have a silver medal from a disappointing final in the U21 teams. Of some relevance to this hand is the previous board – North had psyched 1H with a 3 card suit, a queen and two jacks and a 4-3-3-3 shape. South with 16 points had quickly bid to 3NT and duly went down. In my humble opinion, psyching should be forbidden in an individual. Please do not do it – it is most disrespectful and against the spirit of the game. It is deeply unfair to everyone else competing.

Simon Stocken

The auction was revealing for West and because of West’s pass almost completely unrevealing for declarer – the dogs that did not bark in the night would soon be biting declarer to his cost. West knew his partner’s expected points from the auction as North had guaranteed at least 8 points, a long club suit and a 4-card major while South had 15-17 which meant partner had limited high cards. As soon as North hits the Stayman button, West is considering this question and his lead options.

Once South denied the major Castor Mann was preparing his lead against a NT contract – here was his reasoning. “I know my partner has 5 points at best, likely fewer, and I want to hit Jx or Kx in the dummy. Once I see the dummy, I will be able to make the correct continuation to minimize overtricks and maximize our potential to defeat the contract”

It is worth considering the play at other tables on the traditional 4th best lead – dummy won DK and recognized the danger of losing the lead to East who would put a diamond through the J 9 8, so instead of cashing A K, declarer took a first round club finesse (West being long in diamonds increases the likelihood of him being short in clubs) The club finesse was successful and now declarer has 9 certain tricks. Cashing the CAK forces two potentially revealing discards from West.

Now declarer played J to put West under pressure to make a quick decision. If West covers this then declarer will soon emerge with 11 tricks and a phenomenal matchpoint score. If West plays low smoothly declarer might recognize that he is already scoring well after his correct decision in Clubs and cash out for 9 tricks.

This was not the Castor Way. I had the pleasure of playing bridge at St Erik’s club in Stockholm earlier in the month. I played there twice – my first partner was an almost total beginner – and we had a wonderful afternoon. There is always a benefit to playing bridge no matter the standard as there are always opportunities to learn, especially from the perspective of a bridge teacher. The opportunity and benefit for me was that I played against Castor and we were able to play a session the following day. I now have a friend and ally for life.

Castor’s A immediately hit the jackpot when dummy was revealed and now the whole hand was almost an open book. Dummy tabled a minimum so partner has 3-5 points. Declarer has at most 3 hearts and likely exactly three as East holding a 6 card heart suit might have opened with 2H (juniors require far less than other mortals to bid) At trick two, Castor switched promptly to the H3 won by partner’s HK who returned H6 (his original 4th highest).

Declarer played HQ – the HJ would be incorrect – West knew that East could not have HQ from his play of HK – and Castor took his HA and cleared the suit won in hand with HQ. Declarer could now only make this double dummy which required two entries to dummy and a misdefence – West must foil this by inserting SQ should South lead S9.

I did see one declarer adopt a similar approach although this particular West was unable to hold his cards up so declarer was double-dummy rather early in the play – hold your cards up and don’t lead forward at the table is the best advice for any bridge player anywhere.

So declarer cashed A K and played a third club to East’s Q. East cashed his two winning hearts and played a diamond through South’s J98 for four defensive undertricks. This truly brilliant lead and fine subsequent defence was only possible because West eschewed the traditional 4th highest lead, knowing he could expect little from partner. With at least one outside entry it is perfectly safe to start with the DA.

The Castor Way left declarer the castaway on this deal on a desert island alone as the only declarer to suffer a 4 trick defeat without ever having made a mistake. A bridge hand is like a jigsaw puzzle – as soon as the bidding starts whether the dogs bark or the sleeping dogs lie all four players must start to assemble the pieces from the evidence available. The player who puts the puzzle together quickest will undoubtedly prevail.

The Full hand:

Board 10 Individual Session 3

Dealer East All VUL

CONTRACT 3NT. A lead

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

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