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Mistiming the Play Costs Game

Nashville, Tenn., was not our place of destiny, as our team did not distinguish itself, finishing in 15th place. We can’t blame the location; the Opryland Hotel was a delightful setting, especially with its lavish display of Christmas lights.

Today’s deal occurred in the Blue Ribbon Pairs, the premier pair event of the tournament. Bill Root and I defeated four hearts when declarer (a top expert from the Washington, D.C., area) mistimed the play. Put yourself in the South seat and see if you can do better.

4 H S A K Q 3
H A 10 9
D K
C Q 10 9 6 2
Both Vul

West
Pass
Pass
Pass
All Pass


North
1 C
1 S
3 H


East
Pass
Pass
Pass


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

North’s hand was not quite worth a jump shift at his second turn, so he settled for one spade; and South rebid one notrump with his diamond stopper. North then made the key bid of three hearts, which showed exactly three trumps and implied shortness in diamonds, since North had bid three different suits. South had nothing to brag about in hearts, but the diamond ace and club king warranted a shot at game.

Root, West, led the diamond three, won by dummy’s king. Declarer led a low spade to his jack, ruffed a diamond, then continued with the ace and another heart to West’s jack. West shrewdly returned his last spade and declarer was finished. He tried leading a club to his king, but, of course, I took the ace and gave partner a spade ruff. Down one. How would you have played it?

The four-one trump break was unfortunate for declarer, but such occurrences are not so uncommon as to be ignored. A superior line of play is to lead a club to the king at trick two (East cannot gain by hopping with the ace), then continue as before: diamond ruff; heart ace; heart to West.

Declarer still must be careful. If West returns a spade (best), win in dummy and lead a club to break up the communication between the East-West hands. This stifles the spade ruff, and declarer cannot be prevented from forcing out the high trump and drawing West’s last trump to make his contract.

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© 12-4-1988 Richard Pavlicek