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"WHEN IS a safety-play not a safety-play?" asked North after this hand had been played. It was a very good riddle but, unfortunately, his partner had just found the answer.

South opened One Heart and North responded Two No-trumps. This agreed hearts as trumps and was forcing to game but, after East had overcalled with Three Spades, South passed to show the minimum nature of his opening bid. Reluctantly North readjusted his sights to a mere game and West led the six of spades against Four Hearts.

East started the defence with three top spades and declarer took stock. Arguing that, if the trumps broke 3-2, he could save a trick by ruffing high and that, if they happened to be 4-1, he would lose a trick in the suit anyway, he judged that it would be preferable to trump high.

And so he ruffed with his ace. (He usually made some trite observation after a play of this kind, and we waited with clenched teeth. We were not disappointed. "Never send a boy on a man's errand!" came as he swept up the trick.) As you can see, this led to an unhappy outcome, for West was now bound to come to two trump tricks.

So, what was the real safety-play? Why, ruff the third round of spades with the three of hearts! Yes, an overtrick might be sacrificed in the process but now, whether West over-ruffs or not, he cannot possibly come to more than one trump trick. It was quite clear that declarer had completely overlooked the possibility of a 5-0 break.