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Timing Is Key to Winning Defense

Today’s deal is constructed but based on an actual tournament deal with a similar characteristic. Three notrump is an overbid — so what else is new? — but hard to fault. North made a sporting takeout double for the unbid suits (spades and clubs), and South felt his hand was worth a jump to game.

3 NT S A 10 9 8
D 3 2
C J 10 9 8 7
None Vul


1 H
All Pass



1 D

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

West led the heart jack, and declarer saw an easy road to his contract: Two diamond tricks could be established to go with seven major-suit winners. The only problem was that East-West might cash their five top tricks (three clubs and two diamonds) before declarer could win his nine tricks. But fortune was smiling; East-West could win only two club tricks because the suit was blocked.

The play was routine. A diamond was lost to East, the heart return was won in dummy, and the remaining high diamond was forced out — nine tricks for declarer. The defense was helpless, and a different opening lead would not have mattered either.

All neat and simple. Perhaps too simple. Something about this deal bothered me, so I looked closer for the underlying truth. It was like the defendant in an old Perry Mason episode; all the evidence points to guilty, but you know he is innocent.

After some deliberation, I found what I was looking for: East-West can defeat three notrump. The winning defense involves no spectacular plays but is difficult to spot, because of its subtle effect on timing. The opening lead must be a spade, after which any attempt by declarer can be foiled. Perry Mason would be proud.

Here is one variation: South wins the spade king and leads a diamond. East wins and cashes both top clubs and the other top diamond (crucial) then exits with a second spade. It appears that declarer now has nine tricks, but there is no way to untangle them with hearts blocked and the reduced communication in spades. Try it.


© 4-24-1988 Richard Pavlicek