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Strong Trumps or Weak Trumps?

I was in Boston last month for the North American Championships. The weather was hot, but our team was not, as we were knocked out midway through the seven-day Spingold Cup. The winners were Bob Hamman and Bobby Wolff (arguably the best pair in the world), Lew Stansby, Chip Martel, Jimmy Cayne and Chuck Burger.

Today’s deal occurred in a secondary event. As West I listened to my opponents bid as shown. South chose to open one heart rather than bid his emaciated spade suit. North responded two clubs, South rebid his hearts (again eschewing spades), North raised and South bid game — all very reasonable. Surely, an eight-card fit headed by A-K-Q had to be better than one missing all those cards. Wouldn’t you think?

4 H S J 4 3
H 8 6 2
D K Q J
C A 8 7 4
None Vul

West

Pass
Pass
All Pass


North

2 C
3 H


East

Pass
Pass


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

Think again. I led the club queen (brilliant, huh) and declarer won dummy’s ace, discarding a spade. Nine tricks were easy, but the 10th had to come from the spade suit. The problem was that declarer had to give up three spade tricks, and each time he lost the lead a club would be returned. Whether he drew trumps or not, he could not cope with the continued club leads. It is impossible to make four hearts. Try it.

As most bridge players know, the textbook way to show 5-5 shape is to bid the higher suit first (although controversial with spades and clubs) without regard to suit quality. The purpose is to prepare for a second bid (and maybe a third), which will be more convenient in the lower suit, allowing partner to return to your first suit at the same level. If South had heeded this advice, he would have opened one spade, and the final contract would be four spades.

Curiously, four spades makes easily. The best play (though not essential) is to ruff the club lead; lead a trump, ruff the club return, and lead a second trump. It makes no difference if East cashes his third trump; all you lose are three trump tricks.

Hmm. The old textbooks may have contained more wisdom than we thought.

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© 8-19-1990 Richard Pavlicek