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SOME players misdirect their energies in this game. I remember listening to eight or nine rounds of tortured relay bidding before, on lead, politely enquiring what I might expect to find in dummy. The ensuing description proved 100 per cent accurate and yet, against perfectly normal breaks, the contract proved about three levels too high. Consider this deal:

----------------------------------------------------------------- North-South game; dealer West ----------------------------------------------------------------- North S. K 5 2 H. 6 2 D. J 6 5 4 3 2 C. 5 4 West S. 8 7 3 H. Q J 10 8 D. K 9 C. J 9 6 2 East S. 10 6 4 H. A 9 4 3 D. 10 8 7 C. Q 8 3 South S. A Q J 9 H. K 7 5 D. A Q C. A K 10 7 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Everybody else reached Three No Trumps in two rounds of bidding but our heroes spent so much time on their auction (via a Strong Club and four rounds), flirting en route with what would have proved a top-scoring spade contract, to reach the same spot, that South had little time left for the play. Indeed the tournament director called 'Move please]' at the same time as the opening lead of the queen of hearts hit the table.

With only one entry to the table there were two possibilities for a ninth trick. If the hearts were 4-4 declarer could afford simply to play the ace and queen of diamonds to establish dummy's jack. But if there were four heart tricks to lose, he would have to use dummy's entry for the diamond finesse. Then, if it failed, he would never gain access to the jack.

Arguing that a 5-3 break was more likely than 4-4 (Will Table 4 move now please]), he duly took the losing finesse and ended with eight tricks.

As the best play in the diamond suit depended on the lie of the hearts, a more promising line was simply to return a heart at trick 2. The number of tricks that the defenders could take in the suit would then give him the answer as to how the diamonds should be played.