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The Delicate Art of Timing

  by Richard Pavlicek

Timing the play at a suit contract is a difficult art to master because of the many resources available to declarer. Witness today’s deal, which occurred in a practice match over the holidays.

4 H South
None Vul
S 3
H K Q 2
D A 7 6 5 4
C K 6 5 3


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

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

The bidding was exemplary all around. West doubled South’s one-heart opening for takeout, North redoubled to show 10 points or more, and East rescued his side to one spade. South doubled to show four spades (essentially for penalty), but North had no intentions of playing there with his unshown heart support. Three hearts was forcing, and South continued to game.

West led a trump, and declarer considered his prospects. There were eight top tricks (assuming a normal trump break), and one spade could be ruffed in dummy. The spade ace was clearly offside because of the bidding, so the 10th trick would have to come from one of the minor suits. South did not want to hinge his fate on a three-three club break, so he planned to establish the long diamond in dummy.

Declarer won the heart king, cashed the diamond ace, and ruffed a diamond in hand. A spade was conceded, and the inevitable trump return was won with the queen. Declarer then ruffed a diamond, ruffed a spade, and led a diamond. Curtains! If South ruffed this, he would be unable to draw East’s last trump; and no matter what he discarded, a spade return by East would defeat the contract.

South’s intention to establish the diamond suit was correct, but his timing was afoul. The dilemma he reached was predictable. His trumps were inadequate to ruff three diamonds, so he should plan to concede one along the way. Here is the best play:

Win the heart king and lead a low diamond to the queen, king. Win the trump return in dummy, ruff a diamond, then lead the spade king to West’s ace, which is necessary to prevent East from winning and returning a trump. Assume West returns a club (best); win the ace, ruff a spade, then ruff a diamond. Finally, draw the last trump, lead a club to dummy, and cash the ace and last diamond.

Partner would smile.

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© 1989 Richard Pavlicek