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When I am asked what distinguishes an expert from the run-of-the- mill player, I am tempted to reply that, while they both make mistakes, the expert is much quicker at thinking up a convincing alibi.

This was a case in point. North opened One Club, the expert East bid One Diamond, and South bid One Heart. West showed his spades, North raised to Two Hearts and, after West had bid spades again, pushed to Three Hearts and all passed.

West led #Q to the king and ace and, when declarer followed with the ace and another trump, it was all over, the successful club finesse bringing in nine tricks.

West was quick off the mark: "If you play two more rounds of diamonds immediately instead of switching to spades, I can ruff with !K. That gives us two heart tricks, and South's losing spade doesn't go anywhere."

It certainly sounded plausible but, after a quick look at the remaining cards, East had his counter-analysis worked out. As he patiently explained, when West ruffed with !K, declarer would simply discard a spade from dummy. Say West switched to a trump; then after winning with the ace, declarer would cash three club tricks with the aid of the finesse, cross to SA, and ruff dummy's last club. Then he would get off lead with a trump to the queen and, with only diamonds left, East would have to concede a ruff and discard.

Spot on - but would South have got there in real life?

East-West game; dealer North


4A 8 3

!A J 7 3

#K 5

2J 10 4 3

West East

4K J 7 6 5 4 2 410

!K 4 !Q 10

#Q 4 #A J 9 8 7 3

26 2 2K 9 8 7


4Q 9

!9 8 6 5 2

#10 6 2

2A Q 5