I really don't play much bridge these days. I continue to play for the Harvard Club in the InterClub Bridge League, but the season is wrapping up soon. I also play in an occasional rubber bridge game, and while I'm nowhere near the peak of my powers, I think I still have a little left in the tank.
As dealer, I picked up this hand for the first hand of the Chicago (hand rotated for convenience). With its prime controls and long diamond suit, this hand was too strong to just open 1NT with. So I opened 1♦ intending to rebid 2NT. The auction continued uncontested and I was declarer in 3NT on the ♠9 lead.
Even though dummy comes down with a hand that would've forced to game opposite a 1NT opening, some work will be needed to bring the contract home. I wasn't keen on committing to anything, so I ducked the first trick as East played the ♠10. East continues with the ♠Q as I win in hand and West follows low. Interesting play in the spade suit. It appears that East has started with all three honors, meaning he either has QJT tight, QJT8 and West led the 9 from 9xxx, or QJTxx(x).
Since I will need a heart trick even if I score 4 diamond tricks, I lead a heart towards dummy. West plays the ♥9 as I play the ♥Q which loses to the ♥A. Back comes the ♠J as I discard a small club and West follows with the ♠8. With nothing better to do, I play a diamond to the ♦10, losing to West's ♦Q. West goes into the tank for a little bit, and exits with the ♣Q. I take this in hand to test the diamonds. When I cash a high diamond, East discards a heart!
This was the position with me needing to take 5 of the last 6 tricks. It's pretty clear that East began with 5 spades and 1 diamond. What about his rounded suit holdings? If hearts began 3-3 I have no chance unless he blanked the ♥J for some reason. So did East start with 4 or 5 hearts? Is the ♥J dropping? The heart discard is actually quite telling. One of my favorite BOLS bridge tips is Terence Reese's "The discard tells the story". His main point was that some discards are much easier to make than others. For example, a defender will more readily discard a low card from Axxx or Kxxx than Jxxx. In this case, I reasoned that he was more likely to discard from an original 5 card heart holding because he could retain parity with dummy's holding.
Placing East with all the hearts, I can now count 4 tricks including the heart finesse. If I can score another club trick, I will actually make the contract. So what was the club position? I just could not see a case where West would exit with the ♣Q while holding the ♣J as well. So I played a club to the ♣A, dropping East's ♣J, cashed the ♣10, and finessed the ♥10 to make the contract. The full hand and play:
The defense was not optimal, but it often never is at bridge. Strangely enough, at the time that West got in with a diamond, I can always make it by a strip squeeze endplay if I know the exact position of the hand at that point.