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Third Hand Low

This deal from the U.S. Bridge Championship in Memphis last month caused a major swing in the final match between teams captained by Nick Nickell and Richard Schwartz. The same contract was reached at both tables, and the same opening lead was made. As East, would you have been up to the task?

4 H by South

N-S Vul
S 7 6
H A 9 7 3
D A 10 9 8 7 2
C J
S Q 9 8 5 3 2
H 10 8
D 3
C A Q 10 9
TableS K J
H K 6 4
D Q J 5 4
C 8 6 5 4
Lead: D 3S A 10 4
H Q J 5 2
D K 6
C K 7 3 2

West

1 S
2 S
North

Dbl
4 H
East

Rdbl
All Pass
South
1 C
2 H

West led his singleton diamond. At one table, East played the D J to force the king, then declarer cleared trumps quickly with the ace and another. It made no difference now, but East ducked, allowing the queen to win. It was then a simple matter to cross to the D A and establish the suit with a ruffing finesse — 11 tricks were made.

At the other table, Jeff Meckstroth was East; but he did not cover the diamond, allowing dummy to win the 10. If declarer now clears trumps, East can win the H K and lead a third trump while diamonds are hopelessly blocked. Realizing this, declarer led a second diamond immediately, ruffed by West; then a spade shift scuttled the contract. A closer look reveals that East’s duck was a killing play; there is no way for declarer to succeed.

One of the bridge adages players are taught is “third hand high,” as it is usually right to force declarer to waste a high card. The key word, of course, is “usually”; Meckstroth knows all the exceptions.

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© 2002 Richard Pavlicek