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Beating the Unbeatable

  by Richard Pavlicek

Mt. Everest was unclimbable; the Titanic was unsinkable; and today’s contract was unbeatable — or so it was said. The bidding was the same at most tables on this deal from the 1985 Fall North American Championships in Winnipeg. South opened one notrump and North responded two clubs (Stayman) to search for a possible spade fit. When South rebid two diamonds to deny a four-card major, North proceeded directly to the most likely game contract.

3 NT South
None Vul
S A K 10 9
H 6 2
D J 6 4 2
C K 4 3


2 C
3 NT

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

Lead: H Q
S J 5 3
H A 8 4
D K Q 10 7
C A Q 5

After a heart lead, the play appears routine. It makes no difference on which round South wins the heart ace — it is inevitable to lose three heart tricks and the diamond ace, after which declarer has nine winners: two spades, one heart, three diamonds and three clubs. You might expect this to be duplicated at every table for a flat result. Not so! One declarer was defeated in three notrump.

Could anyone play that badly? I suppose, but that was not the case; the ill-fated declarer was a victim of clever defense. South ducked the heart queen and ducked again when East produced the king on the next round. After winning the third heart lead, South led the diamond king to force out the ace and East returned… a diamond! That’s right; East did not bother to lead his remaining heart, even though he knew his partner held the jack. The trap was set.

Declarer was now convinced that East held no more hearts. With only three tricks lost, it seemed safe to try for an overtrick by taking the spade finesse. After all, even if it lost, East was out of hearts (ha ha) and declarer would win the rest. Ouch! If only you could have seen South’s expression when East produced a heart for down one!

East demonstrated a fine defensive principle: Do not hurry to win a trick that books declarer. Look for the setting trick.

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© 1986 Richard Pavlicek