Each year, the American Contract Bridge League selects from its roster of 75,000 players one honorary member. Past selections have included such historic names as Milton Work, Wilbur Whitehead, Ely Culbertson, Harold S. Vanderbilt and General Alfred Gruenther.
The popular choice for 1958 is my good friend and frequent teammate, Lee Hazen. A successful attorney, Hazen is one bridge star who has achieved top rank while carrying on a full-time professional career.
The strenuous job of competing in a bridge tournament is doubly exhausting on top of a full day's work. Yet, during the national championships in Los Angeles last December, Hazen flew two round trips coast-to-coast. And in March, when his team won the Vanderbilt Cup team of four, Hazen commuted from snowbound Atlantic City to his work-laden desk in New York, thanks to service furnished by Johnny Rau, a bridge star with a pilot's license and a single-engine Beechcraft plane.
Hazen starred defensively in the following deal.
Hazen owns a sense of humor as keen as his sense of timing in bridge. Both flashed brightly in his description of what happened when he held the East cards.
"Partner's lead of the queen of spades," said Lee, "was an unexpected pleasure. In fact, it aroused such enthusiasm that I gave him a really big come-on signal—one that he could not possibly ignore. Just to make sure that he wouldn't shift to some other suit, I played the king of spades."
Of course, Hazen's play of the spade king was not merely an extravagant signal; it was an essential play. Signaling with the 10-spot, although it expressed enthusiasm, would not have elicited another spade lead for the very good reason that—as Hazen had instantly realized—West might not have another spade to play. Declarer would have permitted West's queen to hold the trick, and that would have been that. West would have to lead another suit and, since he had plenty of stoppers in hearts and clubs, declarer would have ample time to establish the diamonds. The defenders could take only one spade and two diamond tricks, and South would have breezed home with an overtrick to boot.
East's overtake of partner's queen, however, made South's hold-up of his ace of spades futile, for East could and did continue leading the suit. The 10 forced out South's jack and, when he got in with, the queen of diamonds, the spade 9 knocked out declarer's ace. South had no way to make game without the diamond suit, and when East got in again with the diamond ace he still had three good spade tricks remaining and was able to put the contract down two.
When you give a come-on signal, the rule is "Play the highest card you can spare." In this case, East could spare the king, and failure to play it would have been fatal. But in all cases, failure to play a higher card indicates inability to do so, and the information thus conveyed will frequently unmask declarer's attempt at deceiving the leader by false-carding. There are occasions, too, when it will suggest the shift that is the defenders' only hope.