Unusual Unblock

I'm playing in a club game with a good player in an inexperienced partnership against weak opposition. We are having fits and starts, when I pick up
 S:J103 H:A1086 D:QJ5 C:AK9
This looks like a strong notrump, which we are playing, so I open 1NT. Partner transfers to spades and bids 2NT, giving me a bit of a problem. Bidding game seems wrong, so my choice is between playing 2NT and 3S:. The shape suggests notrump, but the aces and spades suggest spades. Notrump would probably be better at the game level, but in a partscore, we may not have enough stuff to get the spades going in time. On the other hand, partner could have bid Stayman and rebid 2S: to suggest an unbalanced invitational hand with five spades. It's close, but opposite a balanced hand, 4333 should elect notrump, I think, and I feel like playing notrump, so I pass.

The opening lead is a small club and dummy is not what I expected.

S: A7642
H: J53
D: A1097
C: 5
S: J103
H: A1086
D: QJ5
C: AK9


The field is going to be in 4S:. Partner has underbid by a fair bit. I would have transferred to spades and bid diamonds. Then my hand would choose spades. On the other hand, they haven't made 4S: yet. I haven't made 2NT, either. I think 4S: rates to make; it will go down only if spades are bad and the diamond finesse is off. I have to hope that spades are wedged.

I play low from dummy and win East's C:Q with the C:K. I want them to know I have the C:AK; if West wins a trick, I would like him to be afraid to continue clubs.

I have nothing to do but set up my diamond tricks now. I hope the finesse loses, but I don't have any sensible alternative. West covers my D:Q, unfortunately, and I win. The good news is that I'm up to eight tricks. The bad news is that 4S: looks cold.

I could play on hearts now, playing spades to be breaking poorly, but if they win a heart and continue clubs, I won't know whether to chance a second heart finesse. It must be better to find out what's going on in spades. If East has a doubleton honor, I may be able to run the suit; if he flies with the S:Q, I'll know he has both honors. Otherwise, I might be able to duck a trick to West. Maybe he won't continue clubs. I play a small spade from dummy and East plays the S:8 to my S:J and West's S:Q. West immediately continues with the S:K. That's friendly. I'm up to nine tricks now. I win the S:A as East pitches a club.

I lied. I'm up to ten tricks. Under the S:A, I unblock the S:10. I continue with the S:7 from dummy, driving out the S:9 and shortly claim ten tricks: three spades, one heart, four diamonds, and two clubs.

Oddly, the field has managed to go down in 4S:. Not a single pair made it. +180 is a cold top. I'm not sure how they managed to go down. Maybe they just slammed down the ace of trumps and lost three spades and a heart?

The unblock of a winner to set up the spade suit seems to me to be an unusual play. It must come up in other guises, but I think this is the first time I've ever seen this particular combination. This is the spade suit after a trick was lost to the S:Q:

When West played the S:K, I can always run the suit with one loser, but unblocking saves an entry to dummy, which, in this case, was needed.
Copyright © 2001 Jeff Goldsmith