♠ Q95 ♠ T86432
♥ JT ♥ 852
♦ Q92 ♦ 3
♣ T6543 ♣ Q87
West North East South
P 1H P 3H
P 4N P 5S*
P 5N P 6D
P 7N All Pass
Opening Lead: 7C
Before getting into a discussion of the bidding and play, put yourself in East’s position. North takes the opening lead with the Jack and immediately attacks hearts. After leading three hearts, she leads the fourth. You have to sluff. What do you discard?
Bidding: While South could open 1N with this unbalanced hand, 1D was OK, although it makes a rebid difficult since she doesn’t have enough to reverse. I would open it 1N. South’s jump showed 15 to 18 HCP. Since north had 18 HCP, slam was a distinct possibility, so immediately went to Roman Key Card Blackwood. Her response of five spades showed two key cards plus the queen of trump. North’s five no Trump rebid promised all five key cards and asked for the number of kings. When she showed one King, they had all of the aces and Kings plus the queen of trump. North took a chance on the grand slam and chose no Trump, rather than hearts, because north’s hand was balanced and north knew that the rest of the players would be playing in hearts, so making no trump would give a cold top.
Play: First, East should lead the standard lead, 4th from longest and strongest, the spade 4. It makes no difference on this hand, but underleading a queen when you only hold three cards in the suit is a terrible lead.
Now for the answer to the question that begins the column. Look at dummy on your left and what do you see? You see a five card diamond suit. But declarer started by running the hearts (your partner discarding the Jack and then the Ten), even though a four-one split could set her. What do you deduce from that? You already know that she has the ace of diamonds from the bidding. The King and Jack are on the board. If she had the ace and the queen she would start with diamonds, where she has five certain tricks. Therefore, she must be lacking the Queen of diamonds. You know your partner has it. The one card you cannot discard on the fourth lead of hearts is your three of diamonds. Why? Because from the bidding North has no clue about what either hand holds. She is going to have to guess on the queen of diamonds. So you have to save a diamond to play when she leads diamonds. If you show out on her first lead, she knows where the queen is. But when you sluff the diamond, it pretty much telegraphs to him that you do not have the queen. If you have the queen you would not be sluffing diamonds because you would be protecting the queen.
When north saw the discard of the three of diamonds it told her that she could lead to the King on the board and finesse back through West, thereby setting up five diamond tricks, making seven no Trump cold. Of course, after you sluff your singleton diamond, when she leads to the king on the board, you show out so she knows your partner holds the queen. that's why you have to keep the diamond.
Another thing that made it so easy after the sluff of the three of diamonds was that when you are missing the queen in a situation like this the first lead can be deadly. If, for instance, you lead the ace first and East shows out, you are doomed to lose the queen since you can no longer finesse, having already played the ace. Similarly, if you lead low from the ace to the King Jack on the board and West shows out, you have lost the ability to finesse. So discarding the three of diamonds on the fourth heart lead told north that she could safely under lead the ace to the King on the board and come back through west for the finesse. The singleton might seem like a good card to discard because it is never going to take a trick, but discarding that singleton made the contract much easier for declarer. If East had saved the diamond trey to play it when north started the diamonds, she still would have no clue as to where the Queen was. She would then have to either guess on the finesse or play the Ace and King and hope for the drop in a 2-2 split.
So when you’re defending no trump and there is a long running suit on the board that might need a finesse, don’t discard your singleton in that suit because you will need to play it to keep from telling declarer the shape of the suit. Maybe she'll guess wrong. In fact, even if you don't have a singleton, you shouldn't discard that suit.