The Real Deal


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The GOAT?

In sports, the “GOAT” refers to the Greatest Of All Time. The greatest (or certainly one of the top few) of all time in bridge went wrong on this deal. Can you spot the clear mistake? In the finals of the 2018 U.S. Bridge Championship, he held:

♠ Q J 5 3   A K 5  K Q 10 4  ♣K Q

In second seat (favorable vulnerability), he opened 2NT. His partner bid 3♣, a form of Stayman that asked for four- or five-card majors. He responded 3 to show at least one four-card major, but no five-card major. Partner now bid 3♠, showing four hearts, which was doubled by East for the lead. Having spades well-stopped and not four hearts, opener tried 3NT, which bought the contract.

The ♠4 was led and dummy tabled:

North
♠ 2
Q J 9 4
J 9 8 7 5 2
♣ A 6
South
♠ Q J 5 3
A K 5
K Q 10 4
♣ K Q

5 (reached at the other table) would have been much easier. Also, without this revealing auction that allowed a lead-directing double, there would have been a club lead and the contract would be laydown.

Anyway, the spade lead went to the ace and the ♠6 was returned. Declarer’s jack lost to the king and another spade came back. This was the Real Deal:

Dlr:
East
Vul:
E-W
North
♠ 2
Q J 9 4
J 9 8 7 5 2
♣ A 6
West
♠ K 9 4
8 6 3 2
♣ J 10 8 5 3 2
East
♠ A 10 8 7 6
10 7
A 6 3
♣ 9 7 4
South
♠ Q J 5 3
A K 5
K Q 10 4
♣ K Q

As you can see, the contract was down one. After the third round of spades – East overtook the 9 with the 10 to drive out the queen – declarer had to play diamonds, and East set the contract with the A and four spade tricks.

So, what went wrong? Declarer could have, and should have, made the contract. He should not have played a spade honor at trick two. Even if the doubler held ♠A K 10 x x, he couldn’t also hold the A: Review the auction, noting that East was a passed hand. So letting the defense win the second spade cheaply has to be the winning play. With the actual layout, West can’t set up his partner’s spades.

This time, the GOAT was the goat.