The Real Deal

Spot the errors

Playing online (yes, occasionally, I imbibe), I held:

♠ Q J 10  K J 10 2    A Q 6 5 3   ♣ 2

At IMPs, with neither side vulnerable, my partner (anonymous) opened 1♣. What should I respond? With only one bid to make, I recommend bypassing diamonds and showing a four-card major. Here, I had enough to bid more than once, so I went in normal order with 1. Partner rebid 1. Now what?.

I have enough to force to game, but with no agreements, I didn’t know if 1♠ was available as fourth-suit game forcing. Some players use 2♠ as an artificial game force in this situation, and 1♠ is natural and forcing for one round.

Fortunately, I had another way to make a game-forcing heart raise. No, not a jump to 4, but a splinter jump to 4♣. Even without discussion, partner (this was at an “experienced” table) would recognize 4♣ as showing four hearts, club shortness (0 or 1) and values for game.

At this point, take a look at the full deal. I’d like to present the facts, and see if you can tell me if any errors were made:

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

In actuality, after 1♣–1–1, West took the opportunity to overcall with 2♣. I still made my splinter jump to 4♣, at which point South got exuberant and Blackwooded into 6.

West led the ♠9 and declarer played skillfully, or so it may seem. He won the ♠Q in dummy and drew only two rounds of trumps. He then tested diamonds. If they were no worse than 4–2, he’d be fine. Diamonds turned out to be 5–1, but because the opponent holding the singleton had only two trumps, declarer was still alive. AfterK and A, he played dummy’s singleton club to the 3, 8 and 9. West continued spades. Declarer was now able to cash all his winners (three spades, three diamonds) and then ruff dummy’s two low diamonds in his hand to make a beautiful 980.

What went wrong? What went right might be the quicker question to answer.

Had declarer drawn a third round of trumps right away, he would have failed – ending up with an extra diamond in dummy that he couldn’t ruff. But when declarer led the singleton club from dummy, East missed his chance. He should have risen with the ♣K to play a third round of trumps. That would have set the contract.

Accordingly, declarer should not have given East that chance. At trick two, he should anticipate the play and lead a club himself! This would be bad if spades were 6–1, but if East had six spades, he likely would have bid. Declarer can win any return, cash two trumps (as before) and then test diamonds. This time, he can take 12 uninterrupted tricks without ever letting East in to play that fatal third trump.

The last laugh, however, goes to the defense. West could have set the contract by leading his singleton diamond. True, it seems like a strange lead when you know from the auction that your partner has no ace. But as often happens, a singleton lead causes impossible handling problems. Declarer can’t give up a club – East can win and issue a ruff – so he has to start by drawing two rounds of trumps. Then, when he does have to give up the lead, East can win the ♣K and play that decisive third trump.

All of these points and counterpoints are actually common themes that experienced players run into over and over throughout the course of a life of bridge.