There is no better way to learn to play good bridge than by sitting down in a game—preferably with better players and with a good teacher at your elbow. Among the most enthusiastic of students who follow this method are the bridge teachers themselves.
Last month more than a hundred of these attended my teachers' convention at the Park Sheraton in New York. They were coached by me and my associates, Olive Peterson of Philadelphia and Paul Hodge of Dallas. They heard from perhaps a dozen great experts, including Howard Schenken, Albert Morehead, Peter Leventritt, Richard L. Frey and Edgar Kaplan. But the big moments of this three-day conference—and perhaps the ones from which they learned the most—were the two evenings when they played a series of prepared hands that called for especially skillful bidding or play in order to achieve a par result.
This kind of game has always been popular among good players. The problem is to create hands that can't go wrong. Like this one, for instance.
South's hand is just too darn good to settle for less than a six-heart bid when it should be made if partner has as little as the jack of clubs. If the bidding shown above needs an apology, that's it.
Remember, please, that hands like these are deliberately concocted to demonstrate a point. West has a reasonably normal opening lead in the jack of spades. South wins the trick and takes inventory. Over in dummy there are two perfectly good tricks in diamonds on which declarer could discard his losing clubs—but how can he get there? Is there any better play than to lead out all the trumps but one, cash the good spades and the ace of diamonds, and then play clubs, trusting that the king was doubleton, or that one of the opponents was unwise enough to unguard it?
With six clubs outstanding, the odds are against finding a singleton or doubleton king. And with dummy's good diamonds in plain sight, no sane defender is going to bother to hold on to diamonds, so the chance of an opponent discarding a club is not very bright. But South does have a 50-50 chance—a finesse in hearts.
The winning play doesn't look like the usual finesse because you have to lead away from your high cards instead of toward them. But it's the same even chance as any finesse—that West, rather than East, will hold the 10 of hearts.
The idea on this hand is for South to win the spade, cash the diamond ace, then lead a low heart. This makes West a present of a trick he isn't entitled to win—the heart 10. But it establishes the heart 9 as a re-entry to dummy. A second trump play puts North on lead and declarer discards two clubs on dummy's good diamonds.
That is, it does at every table but one. There the iconoclast in the West seat opened the 7 of hearts! Oh, yes, North could have won this trick with the 9. But South hadn't yet cashed his ace of diamonds, so all this enabled him to do was take a club finesse.
Alas, I had not been foresighted enough to give East the king of clubs. So the finesse lost, the slam went down, and once again I was convinced that it is hard to create a par that is truly foolproof.