Todays deal, from a recent practice match, resulted in a slam contract that was defeated by an early spade ruff. While this might be considered bad luck, the deal is instructive because South missed two opportunities to escape his ill fate.
East opened with a weak two-bid in spades, and South overcalled in hearts obviously to Norths delight. The prospects for slam were dampened by Norths spade holding, but they could not be ignored. Blackwood would not solve the problem, nor would a cue-bid of three spades; so North raised to five hearts as an invitation for South to bid slam. Excellent judgment.
The voluntary bid of five in a major suit has a special meaning among good players; it asks for control in the enemy suit (or the unbid suit if the enemy has not bid). Partner should: (1) Pass with two or more fast losers, (2) bid six of the agreed major with a singleton, (3) bid five notrump with the guarded king, or (4) cue-bid with the ace or void.
South missed his first opportunity right there. Holding K-10-3 in spades, he should have bid five notrump over five hearts. North still has a close decision, but the likelihood of a spade ruff would be staring him in the face; he might pass (a plus score) or raise to six notrump (easily made with the spade ace onside).
Souths second opportunity a spectacular one came in the play. He should have dropped the spade king under Easts ace. From Souths point of view Wests lead was an obvious singleton (remember the bidding), so the contract was doomed. The only hope was to create an illusion for East that South held the singleton, and the king play would be most convincing.
Put yourself in the East seat. If Souths king fell under your ace, would you continue spades at trick two? All indications are that partner led from 10-3-2, and continuing the suit would allow declarer to obtain a discard on dummys jack. Be honest. You would probably shift to a diamond and not speak to South again for a year.
© 1989 Richard Pavlicek