A few days before last month's Indianapolis 500-mile auto race, Rodger Ward, winner in 1959 and second in 1960, was visibly nervous. His trouble, however, was not the forthcoming race. He was on television playing bridge. Actually Ward had better reason to be frightened by the "'500" than by his bridge, which is almost as good as his driving.
The program was Easley Blackwood's Bridge Hour, a locally produced show starring the inventor of the four no-trump convention who, when he isn't thinking about bridge, is an Indianapolis insurance executive. Ward and I were playing against Blackwood and one of his favorite partners, Stanley McComas. Bidding boldly, Ward forced the contract to 11 tricks on a hand that appeared to include three losers. Here is how he made one of these losers vanish into thin air.
The average player is rarely so disciplined that he will stay out of the bidding with an eight-card suit, but an immediate overcall with the South hand is not sound tactics. Ward correctly stayed off the pace until he could see how the bidding would shape up. When I found the strength for a take-out double with the North cards, however, he skipped immediately to three clubs. Had I then bid three no trump, we would have had an easy game but no story. When, instead, I bid the five-card spade suit, Ward went on to four clubs. We were now at the point of no return, but in television bridge one is less conservative than one might be in a tournament and I carried on to put Ward in game at clubs.
After the opening lead of the diamond deuce, when I put down the dummy it was apparent that declarer had an immediate loser in diamonds and potential losers in spades and hearts as well. But Ward made excellent use of the fact that his singleton diamond happened to be the 8-spot.
He played low from dummy, and East took home the diamond queen. A heart return by East looks best, but actually would have had little effect on the hand. In fact, East returned the jack of trumps, and declarer let it ride to dummy's ace.
Ward knew that East must have the diamond ace, so he led dummy's diamond king. East covered and Ward trumped. Now, no matter who held the diamond jack, the contract was assured. Ward returned to dummy with the 10 of clubs and led the 10 of diamonds, discarding a heart from his hand. West won the trick with the jack, but the diamond 9 was established as a parking place for South's second spade. By giving up two diamonds instead of the one he was sure to lose, South established a diamond winner that furnished his 11th trick.
"Where do you think you'll finish in the '500'?" Rodger was asked. "I can't answer that," the racing star replied (he finished third). "But I know where I want the 500 to finish. Right above the line in our score—where you will kindly chalk up the 500 bonus for game and rubber."
Sometimes, the only way to avoid more losers than you can afford is by throwing one loser on another, meanwhile building up a trick that will take care of still a third. Even a heart return by East would not have stopped Ward's club game. He would win in dummy, lead the king of diamonds through and ruff out East's ace. Next he would cash the king of clubs, lead to dummy's ace and play the diamond 10, discarding the heart that he would have to lose anyway.