This is Bridge Week in Los Angeles and, by the time its championship events are over, an alltime tournament attendance record is likely to be shattered.
The West Coast area is strongly represented in the expert column not only by home-grown talent but by a number of European bridge stars who have settled there. Among these is Stella Rebner—formerly of Vienna, now one of the high-ranking players in this country—who recently gave a stylish exhibition of defense in this hand.
West's hand was hardly one to inspire any particular optimism and, with all four suits bid by the opponents, it seemed that no opening lead was especially inviting. West finally decided in favor of the spade 3. Mrs. Rebner, playing East, put up the ace, and the declarer, who seemed to know his way around the course, dropped the queen. Now East went into a huddle, and you are invited to join her in trying to uncover the winning defense.
While you're thinking things over, let me develop the hint I dropped when I implied that South's play of the spade queen was wise. If he had held on to that card and a second spade was led, West would simply have refused to take it. Declarer would win one spade trick but could not develop another for lack of entries to dummy. However, good plays sometimes breed great counterplays, and that was the case here.
East led the queen of hearts directly into the teeth of dummy's ace-king-jack! Far from being an act of charity, this shrewd maneuver gave declarer an extra heart trick, but it deprived him of three tricks in spades.
At this point the best declarer could do was cash dummy's three good hearts, discarding a couple of diamonds. Then he took the club finesse, cashed the club ace and led a third club, but the suit didn't break, and now the declarer was doomed.
Now observe how pleasant South's life would have been had East returned anything but a heart, and any heart but the queen. Declarer would have had time to clear the spades for three winners while he still held a heart for entry to dummy, and the successful club finesse would have given him nine tricks.
How could East tell that the heart play would set the hand? She couldn't be sure—but she could deduce from the bidding that it was the only valid hope. South had at least five clubs from the rebid of that suit and probably five diamonds from the fact he had bid diamonds first. Since East was looking at the 2 of spades, West's lead of the 3 identified a four-card suit, leaving South with just two. There was room in declarer's hand for only one heart. It was essential to remove that card before the spade suit could become established, and if East led any heart but the queen she would be giving North five heart tricks.
The carping critic might point out that East's attack would have boomeranged had South's singleton heart been the 10, but to this I can only point out that the odds were four to one against it—and furthermore, if that had been the situation, the contract couldn't have been defeated.
Be wary of bidding three no trump on misfit hands. Having shown his distribution, South should have contented himself with expressing a preference for North's spade suit, bidding three spades instead of three no trump. Defeat of a four-spade contract would have been beyond the most capable defenders.