My topic this week has been "avoidance": keeping a dangerous opponent from gaining the lead. To see if you have the idea, cover today's East-West cards.

You'd have done better to open three diamonds; North would convert to an easy 3NT. How do you play five diamonds when West leads a heart?

If you take the ace, draw trumps and try a club finesse with the jack, you go down -- and you've missed the point of the deal. West wins and shifts to a spade through dummy's king (just what you needed to avoid), and you lose two spades.

To cash the A-K of clubs and lead a third club is better since you'd guard against a doubleton queen with West. (You wouldn't care if East won the third club; he couldn't hurt you with a spade lead.) But your best play is to duck the first heart!

East wins and leads another heart; and you throw a club on the ace, draw trumps, cash the top clubs and ruff a club. You then return a trump to dummy to discard spades on the good clubs.

DAILY QUESTION

You hold: S K 8 7 H A 2 D A J 3 C A 9 8 4 2. You open 1NT, your partner responds two clubs, you bid two diamonds and he bids three diamonds. The opponents pass. What do you say?

ANSWER: Partner's two clubs was supposedly the Stayman Convention, asking you to bid a four-card major suit; your two diamonds denied a major. His three diamonds is a surprise, but with a weak hand, he'd have passed. Since you have diamond help, bid 3NT, hoping to run his suit.

E-W vulnerable

NORTH

S K 8 7

H A 2

D A J 3

C A 9 8 4 2

WEST

S Q 9 5 2

H Q 9 5 3

D 7 4

C Q 10 6

EAST

S A J 10 3

H K J 10 8 6 4

D 2

C 7 5

SOUTH

S 6 4

H 7

D K Q 10 9 8 6 5

C K J 3

South West North East

4 D Pass 5 D All Pass

Opening lead -- H 3

Copyright 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate