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Crafty Defense Sets Expert Declarer

Today’s deal is another from last month’s Vanderbilt Knockout Team Championship in St. Louis. It occurred in the tense semifinal match between the Becker and Pender teams, which, according to the bridge cognoscenti, rated to decide the event — and so it proved as Pender went on to win.

4 S S K 5 4 2
H 6
D A K 10 4 2
C Q 9 7
N-S Vul

West

Pass
Pass
Pass


North

2 NT
3 D
4 S


East

Pass
Pass
All Pass


South
1 S
3 C
3 H
S A Q 10
H Q 9 7 5 4
D 7 6
C J 10 8
Table S 3
H J 8 3 2
D Q 8 5 3
C A 5 4 2
Lead: H 4 S J 9 8 7 6
H A K 10
D J 9
C K 6 3

The North-South pair for Pender reached the routine game in spades, although the bidding looks weird. This is because expert bidding involves many specialized conventions — some of which are personalized — to achieve greater accuracy. South’s opening bid is dubious (I recommend a pass) and the two-notrump response was an artificial forcing raise. The next three bids were also were artificial, the meaning of which is not important. Suffice it to say that anyone could reach the same contract with the standard sequence: Pass 1 D; 1 SS; 4 S. Fancy bidding is not necessarily superior.

Four spades is an excellent contract and unbeatable as the cards lie — unless you fall victim to the crafty defense offered by Jeff Meckstroth of Pickerington, Ohio, who sat West. He led the heart four (standard would be the five, but his methods were to lead the lowest of an odd number of cards). Declarer took the jack with the king, cashed the ace to throw a club from dummy, then led the spade nine on which West played the queen, a clever play. After winning the king, declarer was mesmerized to believe that West held ace-queen doubleton; so he led another spade. Curtains! West won and drew another round of trumps to limit declarer to one ruff in dummy, and the contract was set.

Declarer’s first trump lead was questionable, and his second was a gross error. After winning the spade king, he could guarantee his contract by leading either minor suit, eventually ruffing a heart and a club in dummy. Try it and you’ll see.

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© 4-5-1987 Richard Pavlicek