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Holiday Gifts

 by Richard Pavlicek

During the holidays, people tend to overindulge in food and drink — and in bidding. Consider this deal from my December 2003 contest, “Our Finest Gifts We Bring.” North-South seem to have “brought East-West a gift” by overbidding to 3 NT with only 21 HCP. North was the instigator with his light opening bid and push to game. Nonetheless, the strong diamond suit and 4-4 spade break are blessings for declarer, and the “gift” may just be another piece of coal in your stocking.

North dealsS 7 2WestNorthEastSouth
E-W vulH 10 4 21 DDblRdbl
D K Q J 10 8 71 S2 DPass2 NT
C A 9Pass3 NTPassPass
S J 9 8 4TableS A Q 6 3Pass
H Q 9 3H K 8 7 5
D 9 6D A 5
C J 8 6 2C Q 7 5
S K 10 5
H A J 6
D 4 3 2
3 NT SouthC K 10 4 3

This was a defensive play contest, and the problem was how East should defend after winning the first trick with the S A. Partner is marked with only four spades (fourth-best leads) and South with the S K, so a spade return is futile. Even though West is sure to have the S J (with 10-9-8-4 he would lead the 10), declarer will lose only three spades and the D A.

A number of respondents suggested a club return, hoping to knock out the C A and shut out the long diamonds. While this might work, it’s really a long shot requiring partner to have the C K and at least three diamonds. In the actual layout, declarer simply wins the C K and claims soon after.

The best chance to beat 3 NT is a heart return, hoping partner has H Q-x-x or better; but even this has a hitch. Declarer will duck the heart to West, then a heart return not only surrenders the contract but an overtrick as well. If partner only knew to switch back to spades, you’d be in business.

As East, you know what partner should do, so you should guide him by returning the heart eight, a high card suggesting a dislike for hearts. Hence, a good partner should get it right. Out of 854 participants, only 109 found this lead, so defense is clearly an area that needs improvement.

You’re in luck! Try your hand this December with “Let Your Heart Be Light” ( Participation is sure to benefit your bridge game; and who knows? You might even be the next winner. Last year’s winner was from Zimbabwe, of all places, so Florida is overdue.

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© 2004 Richard Pavlicek