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Sharp Defense Redeems Bad Lead

  by Richard Pavlicek

Today’s deal occurred recently at the Bridge Club of Tamarac. It features a fine defensive play by Bill Howe, the club’s manager and current president of the Gold Coast Unit of the American Contract Bridge League. As East, Howe sealed the fate of South’s three-notrump contract even though his partner led the wrong suit.

3 NT South
None Vul
H Q J 10 6 5
D Q J 9 7 2
C 9 8


1 H
2 D

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

Lead: H 8
S Q 8 6 4 3
C A K Q 6 4 3

South’s intentions were to bid clubs first and then spades twice — the proper way to describe six-five distribution — but East botched this up with his one-spade overcall. South did the best he could by doubling. Note that this was a penalty double because North had already bid.

North might have passed the double — Howe probably would be set two tricks — but low-level doubles (especially at the one level) are cooperative; his decision to bid two diamonds was reasonable. This gave South a problem. It is unattractive to bid notrump with freakish distribution; however, South had high hopes that the club suit would provide six tricks, so he took a chance. I would too.

West apparently had more respect for South’s double than for his partner’s overcall (shame, shame) so he led a heart, which East correctly ducked to South’s king. Declarer cashed three top clubs and then gave West a club trick to establish the rest of the suit. West, now the wiser, returned the spade 10 to knock out dummy’s ace.

Declarer persisted by leading the heart queen, and East won the ace. At this point Howe had a complete count of the hand; he knew that South had one heart, six clubs (from the play), five spades (from West’s lead) and hence, one diamond. He also knew that declarer could win eight tricks, so he returned a diamond and waited for South to lead spades into his king-jack. Down one.

Declarer could have made the contract after West’s “masterful” heart lead. Play a spade to the ace; heart queen to East’s ace; then win the diamond return (best defense). Clear the clubs pitching diamonds from dummy, and East-West can win only two more tricks before surrendering the lead to North or South.

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© 1988 Richard Pavlicek