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Delicate Timing

My wife Mabel showed me this deal from a recent online game. As West, she made a negative double of the 2 S overcall to show hearts, and East shrewdly supported with three. When North tried to steal the contract at 3 S, she felt obliged to double since her side had the clear majority of high cards. I certainly agree with this decision at matchpoints, so I was unhappy to hear 3 S was made.

3 S× by South

N-S Vul
S A 6
H A 4
D 9 6 5 4 3
C J 7 6 2
S Q 7 5 3
H K 10 9 7
D Q J 10
C Q 5
TableS 4
H Q 8 2
D A K 8 7 2
C A 10 9 8
Lead: D QS K J 10 9 8 2
H J 6 5 3
D
C K 4 3

West

Dbl
Pass
Dbl
North

Pass
3 S
All Pass
East
1 D
3 H
Pass
South
2 S
Pass
Pass

Mabel led the D Q, ruffed by South, who led a heart to the ace and ruffed another diamond. A heart was conceded to East, who returned a trump to the jack and ace, a good play by declarer (Mabel of course did not cover). Next came a club to the king (East could not gain by hopping), then a heart ruff and a diamond ruff.

Declarer was now down to S K-10 alone (West had Q-7-5), so he simply exited with a club, leaving the defense helpless. East had no trump to lead, so Mabel had to ruff at trick 11. Ouch. I wonder if that saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” ever considered the case of a woman endplayed.

An original trump lead would seal declarer’s fate, but the defense had a second opportunity as the play went. When East won the heart trick, a not-so-obvious third diamond would ruin declarer’s timing. On the first club lead, East then can hop with the ace and lead a fourth diamond, allowing West to overruff and return a trump (or shed a club if South ruffs high or pitches).

Can declarer succeed legitimately after a diamond lead? Yes, the key play is to duck the first heart. This forces the defense to commit (lead trumps, diamonds or clubs) then declarer has the entries to cope. Suppose a trump is returned, won by the ace; then a club to the king; heart to the ace; diamond ruff; heart ruff; diamond ruff reaches the same ending as above.

As is so often the case, timing the play is a delicate issue. Losing a trick at the right time is just as important as winning tricks.

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© 2004 Richard Pavlicek