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Smoke Screen Wins Bridge Hand

  by Richard Pavlicek

Knowledge of all the bidding rules and percentage plays does not make a complete bridge player. These objective skills must be augmented by an understanding of human nature and psychology to produce a top-notch player. Take today’s deal, for example.

3 NT South
None Vul
S A K 6 5 4
H 9 3
D A Q J 6 5
C 3

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

Lead: D 10
S 8
H J 7 6 2
D K 4 3
C K J 10 5 4

After an aggressive auction our South player became declarer in three notrump, and West led the diamond 10 which was taken my dummy’s jack. At this juncture declarer has seven easy tricks, but the prospects for nine are bleak. The club suit offers some hope, but the singleton in dummy makes it extremely unlikely that two club tricks can be developed without allowing the opponents to cash at least five tricks in hearts and clubs. Working on the spade suit is equally hopeless.

Nevertheless, our declarer had a plan. It is the natural instinct of the defenders to attempt to counter declarer’s line of play, so South adopted a diversionary tactic. At trick two a heart was led to South’s jack and West’s queen. It is now quite apparent — to you and me but not West — that the opponents can cash out and defeat three notrump; but put yourself in the West seat. Would you know to lead the heart ace and eight at this point? Probably not, and neither did the actual West. In view of declarer’s line of play and the sight of dummy, West shifted to the club two. The smoke screen was working!

East won the club ace and returned the suit; declarer casually finessed the jack and held his breath as West won the queen. Zowie! West returned another club, and the deal was over. Declarer gathered in his 10 tricks — an overtrick, no less — as East-West exchanged angry looks.

It might be contended that somewhere along the line the defenders erred (each claimed the other was an idiot at the time), but the truth is that neither defender did anything terribly wrong. Perhaps they should have figured out what declarer was up to; perhaps not; but the point is this: Declarer had virtually no chance to succeed along normal lines, so his psychological attack was well-judged. Evidently in bridge, as in non-Euclidean geometry, the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.

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© 1981 Richard Pavlicek