Here is a hand from the 1996 bridge Olympiads, played in Rhodes, Greece.

With N-S vulnerable, South dealt and the bidding went:

Szymanowski Huang Martens Kuo
pass pass 3S pass
3NT ??

Suppose you have momentarily taken the West place. You hastily look at your cards and see:

S 3
H Q 4
D A 9 8 2
C Q J 10 8 6 2

You are told that 3S is a old-fashioned preempt, always solid when vulnerable. Are you tempted to bid on? If you pass, what will you lead against 3NT?

A small detail: this is the 64th and last board of a tight match and, if your calculations are of any worth, your side may be some 5-10 IMPs in front. Did this information alter your decision?

        (Scroll down for the rest of the story.)

In any case, the full deal was:

                            S A K J 9 7 5 2
                            H 10 5 2
                            D 10
                            C 4 3

S 3                                                 S Q 6
H Q 4                                               H A K 8 7
D A 9 8 2                                           D K J 7 5 3
C Q J 10 8 6 2                                      C 9 7

                            S 10 8 4
                            H J 9 6 3
                            D Q 6 4
                            C A K 5

As you see, against a 3NT contract the normal club lead lets declarer get home with nine top tricks. However, the weird auction (with a 3NT reply by a passed hand over a pre-empt!) should warn/alert West against making a normal lead. The situation is not unlike to a gambling 3NT opening, so an attacking lead may have some merit.

Not that it is easy to beat the contract after, say, the DA lead. If diamonds are continued, East has to underlead his ace-king of hearts at trick three and then West has to continue on hearts. All this may happen, but do not bet too heavily on it.

Obviously, after a low diamond lead the defence is able to take many tricks. The same is true after the unusual lead of the heart queen.

It seems that Huang, the Taipei player, gave due consideration to the riddle of his opening lead against an eventual 3NT, for he came with a novel solution to it: he bid 4C himself!

You see, Huang knew that his partner was marked with opening values. He also knew that the "gambling" 3NT enemy contract might very well make with the "wrong" opening lead. He hated the idea of losing the match on a semi-blind guess, so he took insurance against a probable large swing (3NT making) by paying a small premium (4C and 3NT both going down).

Huang was right. Four clubs went one down after the D10 lead. As a result, although Taipei lost on the board, since at the other room N-S meekly sold out to 3C making, the loss was an affordable 4 IMPs. Taipei won by 10 IMPs, 132 to 122. Even if 3NT by Szymanowski were allowed to succeed, Taipei would still win narrowly -but this does not change the soundness of Huang's call.

Taipei went on to the semifinals where it very nearly upset mighty France, the eventual winners. Poland was left with the bitter thought of losing the match on the last board, despite the brilliant effort of Szymanowski.

In another quarterfinal, in the Ladies series, the British player led a club against 3NT after a different auction -and it cost a place in the semifinal!

Special thanks to Al "BiigAl" Lochli, District 16 ACBL Internet Coordinator for assistance with the HTML presentation.

Nikos Sarantakos,
Luxembourg, June 1998