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The One That Got Away

  by Richard Pavlicek

Getting your partner to do the right thing on defense is not always easy. Sometimes the appearance of dummy makes the best defense obvious; other times a careful signal will do the job; but occasionally you have to take matters into your own hands. Witness today’s deal.

4 S South
None Vul
S 9 8 3
H 10 6 5
D A J 9 6
C K J 10


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

Lead: H J
S A K Q J 7 6
H 9 7 3
D K 2
C Q 5

East’s opening was a weak two-bid, supposedly showing a six-card suit, but the A-K-Q holding was too tempting. South overcalled two spades, North raised, and South continued to game — an unfortunate contract (down one off the top) but with no one at fault for reaching. The perfect bidding system has not been invented yet, nor will it ever be, which is one of the factors that makes bridge exciting.

West led the heart jack, and East overtook with the queen to cash the first three heart tricks. West had to make a discard and reasoned that the club four would not be high enough for partner to read as a positive signal, so he pitched the diamond three as a negative signal. Telling partner not to lead a diamond would surely get the desired club lead.

East had other ideas. Dummy’s weak trump holding made it likely that West held a trump honor that could be promoted. Accordingly, East led a fourth heart. (This would be the winning defense if West held, say, J-x-x in spades instead of the club ace.)

Declarer seized the opportunity. He ruffed high in hand (throwing a club from dummy) and ran all his trumps. East had to keep the ace of clubs, so he could keep only three diamonds. This allowed declarer to win four diamond tricks, aided by the finesse. Making four spades!

So who was at fault? West, for his choice of discard? Or East, for leading a fourth heart? The answer: West was careless. Instead of trying to guide East into the correct defense, he should take control himself. All he had to do was ruff the third heart (even though it was partner’s trick) and cash his ace.

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© 1990 Richard Pavlicek