"I had to go one down in 24," explained South to his partner after this deal. "Everything was wrong, but it didn't matter as they could have made 4!." North, a well-behaved partner, nodded understandingly and refrained from pointing out that (a) the heart game was by no means a certainty and (b) 24should have been straightfoward.

The bidding was extremely brief: South opened 24 (weak) and all passed. I do not know what you think about South's bid, but it fills me with horror. A poor suit, a first and a second round control outside ... Oh dear, oh dear, but you cannot argue with what should have been a success.

West started with the #A and #K and declarer ruffed. He continued with 4A (good) and a second spade (bad). East won, drew a third round of trumps, and forced again with a third diamond to leave South with only one trump. Now, when a club finesse failed, it was all over. Another diamond used up South's last trump and East still had a winning diamond to come.

Leaving the bidding aside, what went wrong with declarer's play? Once both defenders had followed to the 4A, he should have attacked clubs immediately. He is now a tempo ahead of the defenders and, no matter how the clubs and trumps are divided, he cannot lose more than four tricks in the black suits and the one diamond that the defenders have already taken. Yes, he may well have missed an overtrick or two if the cards had lain more kindly.