Jenn and I are in Philadelphia playing in the World Mixed Pairs. We played 3 qualifying sessions, and managed to qualify for a 3-session final. We're off to a good start: we had a 60% game in the first session and are running fifth overall.
Here are two eerily similar opening lead problems that were very instrumental in our being able to qualify. I held one of them and got it right; the other one was held by a well-known Washington, DC expert who didn't. In each case, you hold a spade suit headed by the AKQ. Do you lead the ace or a low one?
1. You hold:
You are in second seat, both vulnerable. RHO deals and passes. You open the bidding with 1 Spade. LHO doubles, partner passes, RHO bids 1NT, and everyone passes. Do you lead the ace or a low spade?
2. You hold:
You are in first seat, none vulnerable. You open 1 Spade. It goes pass, pass, 1NT by RHO. You pass. LHO raises to 2NT and RHO accepts the invitation with 3NT. Do you lead the ace or a low spade?
It turns out that in both cases, it was necessary to underlead the AKQ.
Consider the first hand. What do you expect the distribution of the spades to be? LHO doubled, so he is likely to have a singleton. RHO bid 1NT, so he is likely to have 4 spades. This leaves partner with a likely doubleton. Your hand has no outside entries. The plan is to have partner get in with something, then lead his other spade to you so you can run the suit. Your lead is rewarded in a different way. Dummy had the stiff ten, partner had J8 and RHO had 9532! So we took the first six tricks. Jenn signalled what she wanted me to shift to (she had an ace), so we took the first 7 tricks for down one, which got us 79% of the matchpoints.
Now consider the second hand. Again, what do you expect the distribution of the spades to be? RHO should have 4 spades for his 1NT balance; the remaining spades are likely to be 2-2. Your hand has a potential entry with the king of diamonds, but if LHO has the ace, you'll never get to use it. So a low spade again is indicated. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for the DC expert, he chose to lead the ace, then the king, and found the spade suit to be T8 in dummy, J3 in partner's hand and 9642 in my hand, so once he led the ace, the spades blocked and couldn't be run for 4 tricks. The fourth spade trick was crucial, as I was able to set up 9 tricks without him ever getting in again. We got 89% of the matchpoints at a crucial time near the end of the last qualifying session.
Wish us luck!