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The Disappearing Loser

  by Richard Pavlicek

The 58th annual Southeastern Regional was held last week at the Sheraton Bal Harbour (Miami Beach). The seven-day tournament attracted many out-of-state players as well as the usual local crowd. Today’s deal occurred in the Flight A Knockout Teams.

4 H South
Both Vul
S A 7 3
H K 8 4 3
D K 10 6 2
C K 5

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

Lead: H 2
S K 8 5 4
H J 10 6 5
C A 10 7 2

After three routine bids, South, optimistically perhaps, decided to try for game. Two spades showed length in spades and basically asked North to go to four hearts with a maximum raise, or return to three hearts with a minimum. North passed the buck with three clubs, meaning… who knows?… and South ended the suspense with four hearts.

West found the best lead of a low trump and declarer hopped with dummy’s king. This play was based on the sound logic that a defender might lead from A-x-x in trumps, but never would lead from Q-x-x. Declarer crossed to his hand with the spade king to lead the diamond jack: queen, king, ace. East cashed the heart queen, then returned a diamond to dummy’s 10 as South discarded a spade.

It appears that declarer must lose four tricks (two hearts, one diamond, one spade) but that is an illusion. The contract is made simply by cashing the remaining top tricks and crossruffing. The 10 tricks consist of two spades, two clubs, one diamond, one high trump (king), two club ruffs and two diamond ruffs. The apparent inconsistency — four losers and 10 winners — emphasizes the importance of counting winners when planning the play. Only therein lies the truth. In actuality, two of declarer’s losers are telescoped into one, as West’s trump ace and East’s spade queen collide at trick 13.

Could the contract have been defeated? Yes! An inspired West could seal declarer’s fate with a spectacular play: Overtake the heart queen with the ace to lead a third trump. This sacrifices a trump winner, but it limits declarer to a total of four trump tricks (counting ruffs) instead of the five actually won.

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© 1988 Richard Pavlicek