The Real Deal

In the fall of 2009, I was on a seven-week cruise, teaching bridge in Asia. At night, I would often play with my students. This people-dealt deal arose in the China Sea.
I held the North cards and South was one of my better students*. This was the auction:

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

After some optimistic bidding by me (North), declarer received a diamond lead. The defense led three rounds of diamonds and declarer ruffed and took a heart finesse. He ended up losing two diamonds, a heart and eventually a club.

When teaching, I stress that at suit contracts you must count losers. Here, there appears to be one too many — two diamonds, one heart and one club.

After the hand, my partner asked me if he could have made it. What do you think?

Would the deal be here if the answer was no?

For starters, the heart finesse wasn’t likely to win. West had passed his partner’s opening bid, and already shown the Q J. It was unlikely he
could also have the K and have failed to respond with 6 HCP.

So, I would not have taken the heart finesse. Some days playing a heart to the ace would actually drop the singleton king offside — but not here.

There is a way, however, to avoid the loss of the club trick. If clubs are 3–3 there isn’t much that can be done. But, if East has fewer than three clubs, he can be thrown in with good
effect. Let’s watch:

The first three tricks are diamonds, declarer ruffing the third round. Then comes a heart to the ace, with the bad news that the king doesn’t fall. All is not lost.

Next, cash the top spades (throw a club from dummy) and ruff a spade. Then play the ♣A K and ruff your last spade in dummy to leave:

Dlr: East ♠ —
Vul: E-W Q 9
♣ 10
♠ — ♠ Q
5 K
♣ J 9 ♣ —
♠ —
10 7
♣ 5

Now, you just have to hope that when you play a heart that East will have no more clubs (nor a small heart with the king). On the Real Deal, he has to win his K and concede the rest.

Whether he plays his last spade or diamond, you can throw a club from one hand and ruff in the other. The ruff-sluff gives you your contract.

Do I expect my intermediate students to play a hand this way? Not at the table — especially with no warning bells or whistles. This one isn’t easy as it involves envisioning an ending after 10 tricks have been played. Once you realize the heart finesse is doomed, however, you can count three sure losers outside of clubs. This chance of East having a doubleton club and playing as shown can be worked out, but only with intense concentration and logic.

*This column is in memory of Art Savage, who played this deal and graciously gave permission for me to publish his name with it. The next month, he tragicallyand unexpectedly passed away. Many knew him as the owner of the Sacramento River Cats, AAA affiliate of the Oakland A’s. I got to know him as a wonderful human being, loving husband and promising bridge player.

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