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Stepping Across the River

If you wanted to reach the other side of a river, you would look for a shallow crossing place that had a stepping-stone — I know, you’d look for a bridge first, but there is no bridge — except in this article, which also has a stepping-stone. Now that I’ve got you thoroughly confused, let’s begin with the bidding.

4 H S J 4 3 2
H 7 6
D J 8 5 4
C 9 8 2
N-S Vul

West

Pass
All Pass


North

2 D


East
1 S
Pass


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

South held a powerful hand and was somewhat dismayed to hear East open one spade in front of him. Rather than jump immediately to game, South properly made a takeout double; North was forced to bid his best suit, and South ended the auction with four hearts. It may appear that South should bid three notrump (to prevent a spade ruff), but West could defeat that contract by leading a club.

Against four hearts West led his singleton spade to the ace, and East returned the spade nine for West to ruff. This was a suit-preference signal asking West to shift to the higher ranking side suit, diamonds. (Similarly, the spade five would ask for a club lead.) West dutifully returned a diamond; low, 10, ace.

Declarer was now in trouble. With one of his spade honors ruffed away, he could win only nine tricks. The spade jack would provide a 10th trick, but there was no way to reach dummy to cash it. Declarer needed a stepping-stone, and East would play the role.

On the first two spade leads South was careful to unblock the king and queen (the 10 is equally good). This was a necessary move to force East to keep two spades, else declarer could overtake the 10 with the jack after trumps were drawn. Just as in crossing the river, if you don’t watch your step, you’ll wind up in the drink.

All six trumps were led to reduce everyone to four cards. North remained with J-4 in spades and J-8 in diamonds. East kept 8-7 in spades and K-Q in diamonds. Next the club ace was cashed; North threw a diamond, and East was forced to do the same. Finally, South won the spade 10 and exited with a diamond — bada-bing, bada-bing — forcing East to yield the spade jack across the river.

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© 7-22-1990 Richard Pavlicek