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Sparkling Defense

  by Richard Pavlicek

The North American Championships of the American Contract Bridge League are held three times each year at different cities in the U.S. (occasionally Canada). In addition to deciding the major titles, these 10-day affairs offer many “secondary events” geared toward the average bridge player.

Today’s deal occurred in a secondary event at the most recent N.A.C. in San Antonio, Texas. The bidding was the same at virtually every table. South opened one notrump and North raised to two notrump to try for game. With 17 points and a five-card suit, South was happy to accept the invitation.

3 NT South
Both Vul
S 9 7 4
H A 8 2
D J 7 6 5
C K 6 4


2 NT

1 NT
3 NT
S 10 8 6 5 3
H 10 4 3
D 8 2
C A 7 2
TableS K Q J
H Q J 9 7
D Q 10 9 3
C 10 9

Lead: S 5
S A 2
H K 6 5
D A K 4
C Q J 8 5 3

At one table the defense was sparkling. The spade five was led to East’s jack (South ducking) and the spade king was returned to South’s ace. The club suit had to be established, so South led a small club to dummy’s king and then another club back to his jack. West ducked both of these tricks, since his spade suit could not be cashed due to the blockage.

Declarer had little choice but to continue clubs and West perforce won the ace. The spotlight was now on East, who made the fine play of discarding his spade queen! East knew from his partner’s spade plays (five then three) that he held a five-card suit and, therefore, that it was safe to unblock. West could then cash three spade tricks to defeat the contract.

This combination of excellent defense — West holding off the club ace and East unblocking in spades — netted a top score for our East-West pair and, needless to say, a bottom score for North-South.

Could South have made the hand? Yes, an expert South would have won the first spade lead, after which East would be unable to unblock the spade suit. Ducking the first spade lead could gain only if the spades were divided six-two, and this is contraindicated (assuming normal card play) by West’s lead and East’s play — the spade five could not be fourth-best from a six-card suit, nor could it be from a doubleton (East would not play the jack at trick one). In other words, justice was served.

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© 1984 Richard Pavlicek