When Peter Leventritt takes off for Buenos Aires next April to play on the U.S. team in the world championship competition against France, Italy and Argentina, he will leave his famous New York Card School still soundly staffed with international talent. Included on the faculty is my teammate and friend Boris Koytchou, a young man born in Russia, who has played on the international teams of both France and the U.S.
Last year Boris won the Sally Fishbein Memorial trophy for the outstanding individual performance at the Summer National Championships in Los Angeles. There he added to our team victory in the Spingold Championship his own excellent performances in the Men's Pair and other events, to compile the best record made by any player at the tournament.
In the following deal he had the opportunity to make a play that is contrary to the basic "book" advice given to all novice bridge players.
This was a deal that violated all of the clich� "rules" that presumably guide the beginner toward expert play. First to fall by the wayside was the classic "Lead the fourth highest of the longest and strongest suit." Instead West, Harold Ogust, chose the 9 of hearts as his opening lead. Leading your long suit when your hand doesn't promise any certain re-entries is usually a futile procedure. It is far better, in such straits, to try to find partner's best suit and hope that he will have the equipment with which the contract may be defeated.
To Ogust, that suit seemed to be hearts. Dummy's low heart was played and now East, Koytchou, took his turn at tearing up the rule book. "Third hand high" runs the precept. And, with the ace in dummy, Koytchou was sure to be able to win the first trick with his heart king. But West's 9 was marked as a top-of-nothing lead—which meant that South must have queen-jack-10. That left only two hearts for Ogust. Suppose East took the first trick and continued the suit. West, if he were able to regain the lead, would not have another heart to return. So, instead of winning the trick with the king, Koytchou played the 7 to encourage partner to continue the suit, and allowed South to win the trick with the 10-spot.
Declarer's best chance to win nine tricks or more was to establish some diamonds, so when he won the first trick he led the diamond 9. Ogust ignored another rule—"second hand low." He rose with the diamond king to lead a second heart. This time the finesse lost to Koytchou's king, and a third heart (on which West discarded the 2 of diamonds) knocked out declarer's last stopper.
Before staking everything on finding West with the diamond ace, declarer took the queen and ace of spades, in hopes that the jack-10 might fall. When no honor appeared, South fell back on the diamonds. But his hope was lost. Koytchou had the ace to gain the lead and cash his two hearts to put the contract down one trick.
Broad rules of play are reasonably good guides. They will help an inexperienced player to cope with players of greater skill. But rules were not meant to take the place of reason. So, when inspiration points in the direction of the latter, it is well to scrap the rules and let the plus on your score be the answer to your critics.