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A familiar theme in deceptive defense is to let declarer win his first try at a repeatable finesse. A similar idea, less well known, is to refuse to cash a winner when you can.

Today’s West led the queen of spades against 3NT. East signaled with the nine, and South ducked. West continued with the ten, and East overtook with his king. South held up his ace again, won the third spade and attacked the clubs. When East took his ace, he … returned a club without cashing his good spade.

South won and needed three diamond tricks for his contract. Since he assumed, reasonably enough, that West held the defenders’ winning spade, South cashed the ace of diamonds and led to dummy’s jack. Even if the finesse lost, South expected to take nine tricks. He was stunned when East took the queen and produced a spade for down one.

East’s defense almost compelled South to go down. But if East cashes his spade when he takes the ace of clubs, South may guess right in diamonds.

You hold: ´ K 9 8 7 ™ Q 10 2 © Q 6 2 ® A 5 2. Your partner opens one diamond, you respond one spade, he bids two clubs and you try 2NT. Partner then bids three spades. What do you say?

A: Partner has a good hand, probably with 3-1-5-4 distribution. If he had the same pattern but minimum values, he’d have raised one spade to two spades. To bid 3NT would be chancy; even if you stopped the hearts, you might lack nine fast tricks. Bid four diamonds.

South dealer

Both sides vulnerable

NORTH

´ 6 3 2

™ K 9 3

© K J 10 9

® J 10 8

WEST EAST

´ Q J 10 ´ K 9 8 7

™ J 7 6 4 ™ Q 10 2

© 8 7 3 © Q 6 2

® 7 6 4 ® A 5 2

SOUTH

´ A 5 4

™ A 8 5

© A 5 4

® K Q 9 3

South West North East

1 NT Pass 2 NT Pass

3 NT All Pass

Opening lead – ´ Q