Independent Pursuits: Bridge

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The Independent Culture
"I EXPECT that all of the standard safety-plays should be routine for the top players..." writes a correspondent. Well, I agree with the "should" part of that sentence but, in a recent international match between Sweden and a top team who prefer to remain anonymous, only one declarer had done his homework.

The bidding was the same at both tables (something of a rarity these days). South opened 1 No-trumps (15-17 points) and North raised directly to 3 No-trumps. Why no Stayman? The argument applied by both Norths was that their hearts were bad and, even if partner held four cards in the suit, Four Hearts might fail against a bad trump break while there were nine easy tricks in No-trumps. (A point to note is that both of North's doubleton suits consist of two honours, much reducing the chances of a combined weakness.)

It worked well, for both Wests led a natural 410 instead of the diamond they might well have chosen if South had admitted to holding four spades. The anonymous declarer won on the table and happily finessed 2J. Yes, he was unlucky - West won with his singleton queen and lost no time in switching to diamonds. When the diamond finesse failed and it turned out that East still held the clubs, South ended up with only eight tricks.

So, how would the well-read player have tackled matters? He would have followed the Swedish line. After winning the spade lead in dummy, he would have led a club to his ace. As the cards lay, all would have been plain sailing. But suppose 2A brings nothing of interest? Then declarer crosses to dummy with a spade and leads another club towards his jack. Whatever happens, if either opponent shows out, South can cope comfortably, and comes to four club tricks and his contract.