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"THERE WAS nothing I could do about that!" claimed South, after going down in his spade game on this deal. Well, a statement like that always attracts the attention of a bridge columnist in search of copy.

South had opened One Spade and raised his partner's response of Two Clubs to Three. As this undoubtedly suggested a five card spade suit (as well as limiting South's hand), North had no problem in raising to Four Spades. This left West with an awkward lead. If he had chosen a heart and East had switched to diamonds at either trick 2 or 3, I would have been forced to agree with South's comment, but in practice West had chosen the five of diamonds for his opening salvo. This play followed a simple route - declarer won East's king with his ace, drew trumps, and finessed in clubs. Everything was wrong - the club finesse lost, West was put in with the queen of diamonds, and when he returned a heart there was no winning guess available to declarer who now ended one off.

Yes, South was unlucky - all the missing high cards were badly placed for him - but can you see a much better line of play that would practically have guaranteed his contract? Try letting East's king of diamonds win the first trick! This gives up a second natural winner in the suit but it was a completely unnecessary extra winner. The point is that West is now kept out of the lead and can never make the punishing heart switch. After this play, declarer would have made an easy ten tricks.