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Avoiding the Anxiety Syndrome

  by Richard Pavlicek

A common syndrome for many declarers is the anxiety to win tricks. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with winning tricks — that’s the name of the game — but the tendency is to win now and worry later. A skillful declarer does his worrying before he starts cashing tricks. Even if the contract looks easy, consider what might go wrong. Today’s deal is a case in point.

6 NT South
E-W Vul
S A K 10 7 6 5 3
H Q 7 5 4

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

Lead: D 10
S Q 2
H A K 3
D K Q 3 2
C K J 6 3

The bidding was top-notch. South’s two notrump showed 13 points or more (unlimited because the partnership uses three notrump as a major-suit raise). The subsequent jump to four notrump showed 17-19 (not Blackwood) and invited slam. North then made a good decision (perhaps lucky) to place the contract in six notrump rather than six spades, which would fail with the bad trump break.

West led the diamond 10 to the ace, and East switched to the heart 10, won by the ace. Declarer led a club to the ace then a spade to the queen, dismayed to see West show out. The 4-0 break was a surprise, and declarer had to rethink his plan. Too late! There’s no way to succeed from this point. Declarer was too anxious to run the spade suit.

The problem is that South was just cashing tricks without a plan. The contract looked easy, and he failed to consider the only possible danger, that East held four spades. In that event, declarer has 10 sure tricks — three spades, three hearts, two diamonds and two clubs — plus a prospect for 11 if hearts divide 3-3 or if the club queen drops. Further, if hearts are 3-3 and East has the club queen, East can be squeezed if declarer does not waste the spade queen, a vital link to his hand.

The correct sequence is to cash three rounds of hearts first. Everyone follows suit, so cash the fourth heart and discard a club from your hand. Unblock the ace of clubs, lead a spade to the queen, and cash your remaining winners in the minor suits. In the three-card ending East cannot keep both the club queen and his spade stopper.

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© 1990 Richard Pavlicek