Danielle and I had a top board in Monday's STaC game at the club en route to a nice 67.6% game on a hand that raises interesting bidding and play decisions.
Both sides were vulnerable. I dealt and opened 1 Diamond. LHO overcalled 1 Heart, Danielle bid 1 Spade, and RHO raised to 2 Hearts. What now?
Danielle showed a hand with at least 5 spades and 6 points. With the opponents both bidding hearts, this hand had increased in value significantly. It has controls in all suits and a potential source of tricks in diamonds. So I decided to force to game with a splinter bid of 4 hearts. She signed off in 4 spades.
Now let's move over to her side of the table. LHO leads the queen of clubs. She is looking at:
How would you play it?
From the bidding and the lead, LHO has the QJ of clubs and probably length in that suit. RHO made a vulnerable overcall, so probably has most of the rest of the opponents' high cards. You are in an aggressive game contract that not everyone will reach, so you should play this as if it was a team game: try to find the best line of play to win 10 tricks.
There are two possible plans: (a) draw trumps while establishing diamonds, or (b) cross-ruff. If you play to establish diamonds, you run the risk that dummy will be exhausted of trumps before you are in a position to run the diamonds, so the opponents will be able to cash several heart tricks. On the other hand, if you play for a cross-ruff there is a danger of overruffs and trump promotions by the defense.
Since LHO has probably club length and RHO has most of the remaining strength, the spade king and diamond queen are likely to be offside. This would seem to tip the balance towards playing for a cross-ruff. Your plan is to win 10 tricks with 2 high clubs, 2 high diamonds, 2 heart ruffs in dummy, the ace of spades, 2 club ruffs in your hand and the queen of spades.
Danielle went for this and played it nicely. She won the first club in her hand, and prepared for the cross-ruff by playing a club to the ace and a low heart. RHO had to win this trick, and had no good exit. He played a second round of clubs which Danielle took with the ace. (If the defense tries to stop the cross-ruff by switching to trumps, she can counter by ducking, winning the second trump and setting up diamonds while still keeping a trump in dummy.) She played a third club. RHO discarded a heart and she ruffed. Now she ruffed a heart in dummy and played a fourth round of clubs. RHO discarded another heart and she ruffed again. Now she ruffed her last heart in dummy, cashed the ace of spades and AK of diamonds, exited with another diamond and scored her spade queen at the end. Game bid and made!
Here is the entire hand:
While it would have been superior to cash the AK of diamonds before ruffing clubs (in case RHO has, say, 3=6=2=2 shape and pitches a diamond on the third round of clubs), I still like her cross-ruff approach. If she started by drawing trumps with ace and another spade, she would be defeated if either RHO had Kxx of spades (he would simply play a third spade, leaving her with 3 heart losers before diamonds are established) or RHO might be able to lead a heart over to LHO for a third spade play. Alternatively, if she started diamonds first, the defense could continue diamonds and get a diamond ruff to sink the contract. Her best chance other than the cross-ruff would have been to play a spade to the jack at trick 2. But even here the defense can prevail by winning and tapping dummy with 2 rounds of hearts. When declarer tries to set up diamonds, the defense can play a third round of hearts, forcing dummy to ruff with the ace, which promotes a second defensive trump trick.