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Key Defense Enables Two Chances

Today’s deal, from the Men’s Swiss Teams at the recent Southeastern Regional in Bal Harbour, created a significant swing when the West defenders took different actions. Was it a guess? Or did one defender err?

3 NT S A Q 6 4
H 10 9
D A K Q 9 8 5
C 3
None Vul

West

Pass
Pass


North
1 D
1 S
3 NT


East
Pass
Pass
All Pass


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

The bidding was the same at both tables. North bid one diamond, then conservatively rebid one spade after South’s one-heart response. When South continued with one notrump, North raised to game, expecting his strong diamond suit to provide the bulk of tricks.

Both Wests led the club six to East’s ace, then the club nine was returned; 10, jack, spade four — a clever discard from dummy. It was apparent that declarer held the guarded club queen, so a shift was appropriate. But here the paths diverged.

At one table West decided to play his partner for the spade king, so he shifted to a spade. This was quickly gobbled up by declarer, who had nine easy tricks: six diamonds and three spades.

At the other table West chose to play his partner for the heart king, so he shifted to a heart. What a difference! East won the king and returned his last club, allowing West to run the entire club suit plus the heart ace — down three.

Which card was East more likely to have, the heart king or the spade king? Was one defender just lucky? Or was there a way to figure this out. Judge for yourself before reading further.

Surely, either case might exist; and one could argue that East is less likely to hold the heart king because South bid hearts. But this is not the crux of the problem. To defeat three notrump, East must have one of those kings, so West should try to keep both chances alive. Leading a spade was committal — if wrong there was no second chance, as you saw. Leading a heart, however, would not surrender the contract if wrong. Switch the heart and spade kings to verify that declarer could not win nine tricks.

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© 4-30-1989 Richard Pavlicek