Whenever a reader sends me a publishable hand, but one in which my story may seem to be faintly critical of the way he bid or played it, I find myself impaled on the horns of a dilemma.
If I mention my correspondent's name, am I not guilty of putting the bite on the hand that is feeding me with material? On the other hand, if I fail to identify him, do I not take advantage of his kindness without the common courtesy of making a proper acknowledgment?
My usual compromise is to mention my correspondent's initials and home town, and I will fall back upon that practice in discussing today's grand slam. So P.C.H. of Arlington, Va. may hide behind that anonymity or readily identify himself to his friends, as he may please, after reading what I have to say in reply to his comment, "We didn't make it but, if psychic, could have."
The final contract was impeccable, although there is much to be said against the manner in which it was reached. South does not have a sound opening bid. He can muster up a skimpy 13 points with the aid of counting 2 for his singleton. Although 13 points carries a cautious option on the right to open, South doesn't keep his 13-point rating for any longer than required to deduct 1 point because his hand includes no ace. When partner's skip response sounded the warning that he might be headed for dizzy heights, South's courage in bidding his four-card spade suit is of the kind that frequently results in a posthumous award.
North's skip response was amply justified—but properly punished, nevertheless. With suits of equal length, it is proper to bid the higher-ranking one first—especially when both are respectably endowed with top-card strength. The difference between A-J-10 and A-K-Q is not a good reason for bidding hearts before spades. Had North observed this rule, he might have had the pleasure of playing the hand for the grand slam, and of being what my correspondent calls "psychic."
It is easy to guess that the first thing declarer did was draw trumps so that neither opponent could ruff one of his precious winners. But in the course of protecting these winners, declarer left himself with only two trumps to take care of dummy's three losers.
This is one case in which "safe" play is dangerous. If an opponent can ruff the second heart, the long hearts will never be established, so South should ruff them himself. After winning the first heart trick, he cashes a second high heart, discarding his little club. Then he ruffs dummy's small hearts and third club before taking more than a single round of trumps. Now dummy has nothing left but top trumps and the good queen of hearts to be cashed after the opponents' trumps are gone.
Had North been declarer, the chances are he would have played the hand correctly, because declarer trumps losing cards with dummy's trumps as a matter of habit. It requires a departure from the usual to use your own trumps for ruffing and thus make dummy the master hand.
Which player made the worse bidding mistake? This is the question most frequently asked a bridge writer, for in most bridge arguments the bad result was a matter of collaboration. Lacking other evidence, the answer must be decided on the principle that first is worst.