Some of the country's better bridge players rarely if ever take part in a tournament, with the result that their skill is known only in the comparatively narrow circles in which they play rubber bridge. One such is Harold Fagin, vice-president of the Longines-Wittnauer Watch Company, who showed how successful a tournament player he could have become when he joined me some 20 years ago to win the New England Team Championship.
Fagin likes to talk about bridge hands he has played and, as with most of us, his favorites are apt to be those in which he has swindled his opponents out of what was rightfully theirs. One of the most unusual features of the hand shown here is that it involved a situation in which Fagin had to make the "losing" play in order to win.
West's overcall, even though made at the one level, is open to serious question. His suit is so anemic that, if North should become declarer, a heart lead is very likely to be damaging to East-West, to make no mention of the fact that it gives North-South a pleasant choice: they can double for penalties if they think they cannot make game; they can double if they think it might be more profitable than game; or they can bid game.
In this deal the overcall was punished in still another way, for it enabled Fagin to lay the basis for a deceptive maneuver. Dummy played the 9 of hearts on the opening lead, East won the trick with the jack and declarer dropped the 7, instead of the 2.
East, fearing South was now out of hearts, made the logical shift to a trump, taken by West's ace. West returned the club 10 for the good reasons that if declarer had two clubs he might misguess the situation; and if he had three, it might be possible for the defense to establish a second club trick before South established his diamonds.
This was where the odd situation arose in which declarer could not afford to guess right. He knew it was most unlikely that West was underleading the ace of clubs with every possibility that the defenders could win a second heart trick. So the "winning" play in the club suit itself was probably the jack, in hopes that it would force the ace. But this play would surely lose in the end. If dummy's jack of clubs forced the ace, East would have little choice but to try the ace of hearts for the setting trick. So Fagin put up dummy's club king.
Exactly as declarer hoped, East reasoned that for West to overcall on a suit in which his high cards were Q-8, he probably had six hearts. This meant that the ace of hearts, if East led it, would be trumped and dummy's king would be established for an immediate club discard if South needed one. There seemed a better chance that West had made a deceptive lead from queen-10 of clubs alone or had started with only a single club in his hand. So East returned a club and the game was over. Fagin ruffed, drew another round of trumps and had no difficulty in winning the rest of the tricks when a single ruff established the diamonds.
There's some excuse for an overcall on a weak five-card suit when you have a two-suited hand. Without a two-suiter, it is better to maintain a discreet silence.