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Fireball Bidder Burns Out in Play

  by Richard Pavlicek

When South failed to make his optimistic four-heart contract, North began the postmortem with, “How can you open with only eight points?” He struck another blow with, “I’ve never seen such bidding in my life,” and summed it up with, “Ridiculous!”

I also disapprove of South’s opening, but only mildly so. South made a tactical gamble that didn’t work. Probably wiser would be to pass and enter the bidding later, but the criticism he received was unwarranted. If I were choosing teams right now, I would pick South. You can have North — that is, if you find a cage to contain him.

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


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

Lead: C A
S A J 8 5 4 3
H K 9 8 7 3
D 3
C 6


Four hearts actually is a reasonable contract. As the cards lie it appears that declarer will lose only a spade, a heart and a club; but it wasn’t quite so easy. Follow the play:

West led the club ace, and continued with the jack; queen, king, ruff. South led a heart to dummy’s ace, then a spade to the jack and king. West led another club, ruffed; then South cashed the spade ace and ruffed a spade — trouble — East overruffed and led a fourth round of clubs, which allowed West to win the heart queen.

The defense was fierce, but declarer could have succeeded with accurate play. Do you see how? It would not have helped to cash the heart king before ruffing a spade, as East would refuse to overruff; declarer then could not return to his hand without ruffing with his last trump, so the remaining spades would be lost.

Declarer’s mistake, however slight, was to use dummy’s heart ace as an early entry to dummy. After ruffing the second club lead, a better play is to lead a low spade from hand. Ruff the club return, then play ace and another spade, ruffing low in dummy. If East overruffs and returns a club, South can ruff with the eight; if West overruffs with the queen, dummy overruffs with the ace, then declarer can finesse against East.

The moral: If you’re going to bid like a fireball, you have to play like one, too.

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© 1989 Richard Pavlicek