Traditionally, the bridge table is an expanse of something less than one square yard with a surface that is reasonably flat and not too slippery. Sit down to play, however, and you soon discover that this deceptively smooth surface is a mirage. The playing arena is actually honeycombed with pitfalls waiting to engulf the unwary, the gullible or the careless.
It wouldn't be easy to map all these pitfalls, but I can at least warn you against the apparently bottomless one into which Mr. and Mrs. Average Player drop a large proportion of the contracts which slip through their fingers. They vanish not into space but into the chasm of the fourth dimension—time.
Here's a typical case that proves it is not so much that players fail to realize what they must do, but that they do not always take the pains to figure out when they should do it.
Some of this country's experienced players frown upon South's four no-trump call in this sequence. In their personal style of bidding, this would not be a Blackwood call for aces but merely a raise of no trump. In my view, however, these players labor under a self-imposed handicap. While a player may occasionally wish to give a delicate, nonforcing raise in no trump above the game level, in countless instances he wishes to find out about his partner's aces and, sometimes, his kings.
Thus, I am quite convinced that any four no-trump bid which follows upon a previous display of great strength—e.g., South's jump spade response to the opening heart bid—should be treated as part of the Blackwood Convention demanding information about aces.
But let's move on from the bidding. The small-slam contract was a reasonably good sporting venture, though it could have been beaten by a club lead.
Lacking the benefit of second sight, West failed to open a club. The heart queen appeared a safer choice, despite North's bid of that suit. And, with South's cooperation, this lead proved an effective thrust. Without hesitation, declarer reached for the heart king. Then he drew trumps and led his remaining heart to the ace. Next, "he ruffed a heart in the optimistic hope that the suit would break. When that bubble burst, he ended up a trick short of his goal.
Since the odds were distinctly against the three-three break of the six missing hearts, it should have been apparent from the outset that the line of play chosen by South was not the best way to establish the long heart without which declarer had no chance to win a 12th trick. In fact, South booted the contract at the very first trick when he captured the opening lead.
South's plan could succeed only if the hearts were equally divided. By enlisting time on his side, he could win the slam if the hearts broke no worse than four-two. The winning play is to duck West's lead!
Observe how easy the play is after that duck. Let West shift to clubs; it doesn't matter. South wins, draws trumps, leads his other heart to the ace, and now his ruff of a low heart sets up the suit. The entire timing of the play is changed by the first-trick duck.