By Prof Tony Campbell

YOU are sitting on the left of dummy, so it is your lead. As we saw in previous articles you have a difficult decision to make. Will it be active, trying to set up tricks between yourself and your partner, or will it be passive, aiming not to give away a trick to declarer. I am pleased to say that many of us are playing bridge online during the Covid crisis both at Bridge Club Live (BCL) and Bridge Base Online (BBO). An interesting hand turned up last week on BBO, where I had to decide what to lead. It also introduces you to a useful variation of Stayman.

The Auction

East/West’s system usually required 21 to 22 points to open 2 no trumps. But here, East decided that 20 points and a five card suit were sufficient. West then bid 3 clubs. This is called puppet Stayman, a variation of the usual system bid asking if partner has a four card major. In this case, after 2NT, it asks the opener to bid a five card major if he has one, and 3 diamonds if he has a four card one. If the latter is the case, there is a mechanism to find a 4-4 major fit. I will explain this next week. In this hand, East has five spades, so bid 3 spades. West was hoping for three hearts, when they would have a 5-3 heart fit, for 4 hearts to make. So, without this, he bid 3NT.

The play

So what would you lead from my hand as South? East should have at least 21 points. I have 6, and dummy must have at least 4-5 points to make up the magical 25 points minimum East/West need for 3NT. That leaves a maximum of nine points in my partner’s hand. East has shown 5 spades, and West must have at least 3 hearts, maybe 4, for his 3C puppet Stayman bid. So, with kings in both majors neither are an attractive lead, quite likely to lead into East’s ace and queen. With a doubleton diamond, dummy may well have some length in this suit. So I decided to lead the 8 of clubs. This is known as a MUD lead. When you hold three cards in the suit, you play these in the order – Middle, Up, Down. Declarer played low from dummy, my partner playing the queen and East winning with the Ace. East can see 8 tricks on top – 1 club after winning the first trick with the ace, then 2 other aces and 5 diamonds. So he needs one more to make the contract of 3NT. He would have to rely on one of the finesses in the majors. So East played off five diamond tricks, ending in dummy. I discarded the 9 of clubs, showing partner my lead was MUD, and then two small hearts. I know East started with five spades, so I needed to protect that suit. Declarer then took the spade finesse which I won, and I returned my last club to partner, who rightly had not discarded one on the last diamond. He now has the clubs counted. I have shown 3, dummy had 3, and he started with five. So he knew that playing the king of clubs would drop East’s naked Jack, enabling him to make four club tricks in all. So we got the contract one off, making 4 clubs and the king of spades for a near top. At other tables South led either a diamond or a heart. Both allowed East to make nine tricks before North-South were able to make their four club tricks.

What have we learnt?

1. When leading to 3NT, if declarer has shown a big hand take care not to give a trick away by leading into his hand, when he may well have two or more honours in the suit you chose to lead.

2. Try and give your partner as much information as possible about the strength of your hand, and particularly the number of cards you started with in a key suit.

Further information

The American Sam Stayman is credited with the convention named after him, publishing it in 1945. In fact, it had been invented in 1939 by Jack Marx, a founder of the British Acol system, who didn't publish it until 1946. The variation of Puppet Stayman was published by an American player Kit Woolsey in Bridge World in 1977-1978, who credited the idea to Neil Silverman. There are now many variations of this very useful convention.

A very good double dummy site, something I loved in Bridge Magazine when I was a student, is written by Hugh Darwen, see http://doubledummy.net. I will give you the link to some solutions on the Penarth Bridge Club web site, after the closing date for each problem. See https://bridgemagazine.co.uk/double-dummy-bridge-problems/ (which also has a copy of the entire archive). The latest problem is 183, composed by Franco Baseggio. Good luck with your online bridge. Bridge Club Live (BCL) is the best and may be open again for new registrations. Bridge Online Base (BBO) is also good. Many of our members are registered on this site. Contact meryl.skipper@icloud.com for information on how to join it. I hope you are able to keep copies of my articles as I build them up. Please let me know if they are useful. You can always find my articles online at www.penarthtimes/bridge. Keep an eye on https://www.bridgewebs.com/penarth/. Keep well. Keep safe. Bon chance. Virtual table up. campbellak@cf.ac.uk.