Learning to play bridge is very often a matter of learning good habits. But habits, like drugs, tend to lull the user into a state of euphoria. Unless treated with respect, they can be dangerous. The declarer in the following hand, for example, kicked away a very good grand slam contract because he could not shed what in any other circumstance would have been considered a good habit. The contract was the result of an unusual bid. Its loss was the result of lazily following a common principle of play.
West's pre-emptive bid of four clubs robbed the opponents of space in which to exchange information, but North-South were using a convention called the grand slam force. South's opening bid was unlikely to include much in clubs, North knew, and his only real concern was whether partner held the missing tops in his spade suit. North's five no-trump bid was intended to resolve that doubt. The burst to five no trump asked partner to bid seven if he held two of the three top honors in his bid suit, or to sign off at six if he lacked one of the two missing top cards. With a bare minimum bid, South wasn't keen on bidding seven, but since that minimum included the ace-queen of spades he had no choice in the matter.
Dummy's ace won the club opening and declarer thought he saw 13 tricks—two top diamonds, two diamond ruffs in the North hand, four high trumps in his own hand and four heart tricks in addition to the ace of clubs already won. He played accordingly. After one round of trumps, he cashed the ace and king of diamonds, trumped a third diamond with the jack of spades, came back to his hand with a second trump lead and ruffed the fourth diamond with dummy's spade king. A club ruff put South in to draw East's last trump, but, alas, the hearts were stacked and there was no way for declarer to avoid a losing heart trick.
South failed when he used dummy's trumps for ruffing. Generally, trumps are shorter in dummy and so as a rule it is worth one or two tricks to trump from the shorter hand. But in the above hand trumps were evenly divided. South, to his misfortune, was mesmerized by the prospect of ruffing in dummy and never realized that with an equal number of trumps in each hand the rule governing short-trump hands would not apply. See for yourself what would have happened if South had recognized the need for breaking a habit.
After winning the club ace in dummy, declarer should immediately lead another club and trump it. He cashes the spade ace and leads a spade to dummy's jack. Next he leads dummy's last club and ruffs it with his spade queen. And on this very trick, unless East gets rid of his trump, he must leave one of the red suits unprotected.
Dummy gets in again with the ace of diamonds to lead a third trump, on which South discards a heart. Next comes a lead to South's diamond king and a diamond ruff in dummy. Now, no matter how he has played earlier, East will have to unguard diamonds, making South's last diamond good, or give up heart protection, letting South cash in all four hearts.
Be forewarned by your opponents' bidding. What they say may amount to good evidence that the time has come for you to break old, ordinary rules.
South dealer North-South vulnerable
[King of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]