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In my view, it takes more time and talent to become a first-rate declarer than a fine defender. Nevertheless, I suspect that more players would make today's contract as South than would beat it as East.

The actual South and East both stumbled. South finessed on the first heart, and East took the king and returned a heart. South won, forced out the ace of spades, won the next heart and wound up winning 10 tricks.

Since West is marked with a very weak hand, East can't beat the contract with a heart return. But since West must have one trick for the defense to have a chance, East should shift to a low diamond at Trick Two. Dummy wins; but when West gets in, he leads his last diamond, giving the defense three diamonds, a heart and a spade.

South can afford to misplay if East is the type who returns his partner's lead no matter what. Against a capable East, South must win the first heart with the ace and force out the ace of spades, assuring the contract.

You hold: K J 10 9 5 A Q 10 K J 10 A J. Your partner opens one club, you respond one spade and he then bids one no trump. The opponents pass. What do you say?

A: If you're sure partner will know what you're doing, bid four clubs, the Gerber Convention, to check for aces. Unless he replies four diamonds (no aces), bid six no trump. With most partners, bid six no trump directly. Partner almost surely has at least one ace, and delay risks a misunderstanding.

North dealer

East-West vulnerable
K J 10 9 5
A Q 10
K J 10
A 8 7 2
9 7 5 3
6 2
9 5 3
6 4
K 8
A Q 9 3
8 7 6 4 2
Q 3
J 6 4 2
8 7 5 4
K Q 10
North East South West
1 Pass 1 NT Pass
3 NT All Pass
Opening lead -- 3

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