The Real Deal

Watching Helplessly

Playing online (anonymous partners, European money site), I held:

♠ 6   Q 7 6  Q 6 5   ♣ A K 8 7 6 5

Left-hand opponent opened 1 and with both sides vulnerable, at IMP scoring, my partner bid 3♠. Everyone passed, and I ask you to watch helplessly with me as partner (mis)plays the deal.

♠ 6
Q 7 6
Q 6 5
♣ A K 8 7 6 5
♠ Q 5 4
J 5 4
A J 3
♣ 10 4 3 2
♠ K 10
A K 10 9
9 8 7 4
♣ Q J 9
♠ A J 9 8 7 3 2
8 3 2
K 10 2
♣ —

See if you can spot the errors.

The A was led and everyone played low. LHO accurately switched to a low heart and RHO won the 9. East cashed two more high hearts and then played the ♣Q. Declarer won in dummy and led a low spade. RHO played the king and declarer won the ace.

Now declarer led the ♠7, hoping RHO had ♠K Q doubleton. RHO won the 10 and the contract was down two.

Because standard signaling was used, on the A lead (West led his partner’s suit), East played the 4. When South played the 2, it was obvious to West that his partner didn’t like diamonds – the 4 was the lowest one outstanding. South should have played the 10. Why?

Hiding the low one might cause West to misread the signal. The 4 might look high (maybe from K 9 8 4 2). As declarer, signal as if you were a defender. High means you want them to continue because it will make their signal look encouraging.

South’s careless 2 made it easy for West to switch to hearts. Perhaps he should lead the J, but his low one did the job. East read him for an honor, so inserted the 9 – a key play. Had East won with the K, he couldn’t cash all three defensive heart tricks. After cashing three hearts, East should have played the fourth heart, hoping to promote a trump trick: Picture West with ♠9 x x.

When declarer eventually led a trump from dummy, East made a good play of the ♠K. Had he played the 10, South would have played the jack and couldn’t go wrong (he would have lost only one spade trick). After the ♠K drove out the ace, declarer had a guess. Or did he?

For one, it was unlikely East had ♠K Q doubleton. From the early play, it looked like he had 10 points in hearts and clubs; 5 more in spades would give him 15 and a likely 1NT opening. More importantly, even if East did have ♠K Q doubleton, declarer would still lose two spade tricks. Why?

Because East was marked with the fourth heart: Remember that he won the 9 at trick two and next played the A–K; West couldn’t have J–10–x–x – nobody defends that way. So, if East won his now-bare ♠Q, he would just play the fourth heart and West would make the ♠10 anyway. So, after winning the ♠A, declarer should have continued with the ♠J. At least he would have salvaged down one.