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Penalty Double Clues Winning Play

  by Richard Pavlicek

Although my team lost in the finals of the North American team trials earlier this month, we did stage an exciting come-from-behind win in our 128-deal semifinal match. Today’s deal provided a boost when we made an optimistic four-heart contract.

4 H× South
None Vul
H A K 5 4
D K 7 3
C A Q 10 7 4

1 S


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

Lead: H 10
S A 9 6 3
H 9 7 6 2
D J 8 6
C 8 6

West’s opening bid does not meet the textbook requirements, but the winning strategy these days is to get in the first bid — and our opponents were notorious for this. North doubled, East scrounged up a raise to two spades, and this was passed around to North who doubled again to show a stronger takeout double. It appears that South should bid only three hearts; but this was a forced bid, and the spade ace might be the key card for game. Therefore, South opted to bid four hearts and, when East doubled, wished he could have taken it back. Too late.

West led the heart 10, won in dummy, and it was apparent from the double that East held the remaining trumps. Prospects were bleak, but declarer saw a glimmer of hope. The spade king was overtaken with the ace — the only way to get to South’s hand — then followed a club to the queen, club ace and a club ruff to establish that suit. A diamond was led toward the king and West hopped with the ace to return a spade, forcing dummy to ruff.

East now held more trumps than either dummy or declarer, but it didn’t matter. Declarer led a good club, and East could choose his demise: If he ruffed low, South would overruff; if he discarded, South would also and repeat the process. East in fact ruffed high and South threw a diamond; the spade return was ruffed in dummy and declarer lost only one more trump trick — making four hearts doubled.

The same contract was reached at the other table, but it was not doubled. That declarer, having no reason to suspect otherwise, played for a normal three-two trump break and went down one. Could there be a lesson here?

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© 1987 Richard Pavlicek