A cinch game contract is a tidy thing that yields a tidy score. It should be gratefully accepted and handled in the most cautious way. Why is it then that such hands make so many players dream dreams about overtricks—when the result may be a nightmare?
This example comes to me from Alan Truscott, the young English bridge master who played so well for Britain in the last World Championship and who has said he is thinking of moving permanently to America. If he does he will attempt to become one of the few players to represent more than one country in international competition. To date, the only European internationalist to also play for the U.S. is my teammate, Boris Koytchou, who has played for France. Truscott offers here a hand that displays quite simply what can happen when greed overwhelms caution.
Some hands are not easy to bid because no one bid describes them precisely. South is within the range of a one no trump opening because he holds 17 high-card points, and usually a balanced 17-point hand is less troublesome later when it is opened with one no trump in the first place. A doubleton is certainly not enough reason to avoid a no trump bid, but when the doubleton suit doesn't have even a low honor in it, I am inclined to prefer the more natural bid, in this case, one club. However, the final contract would have no doubt been the same.
After the diamond opening lead, South had visions of making 12 tricks with a bit of luck. But, in spite of having a total of 29 points, he wound up with a red face and only eight tricks. Winning the diamond trick with the queen, he led a spade to dummy's jack. West played the 9 as the beginning of a signal to show a doubleton and East ducked. Declarer came back to his hand with another diamond to lead another spade. This time East took dummy's queen with the ace.
A third diamond lead cleared the suit. Declarer went to dummy with the ace of clubs, but the spades failed to split. With no sure entry to dummy, declarer abandoned that suit and put all his hopes on a successful club finesse. His jack of clubs lost to West's queen. West cashed two diamond tricks. South kept the heart ace and the king-4 of clubs, but West had saved his clubs and declarer lost the last trick and his contract.
The key defensive play was East's duck of the first spade. But declarer could easily have made his contract by employing the same strategy. Ducks work both ways. After winning the first diamond, South should lead a spade and let West's 9 hold the trick. No lead, even a shift to the heart jack, can now do him any great harm. He would cover the heart jack with dummy's queen, win the king with the ace and lead his last spade. It will do no good for East to duck this trick; the lead will remain in dummy, and declarer simply continues leading the suit until East takes his ace. The defenders can cash two more heart tricks, but that is all they will take. Declarer wins three diamonds, three spades, two clubs and one heart for a total of nine tricks and the game.
It isn't often that you are offered a sure thing. When the chance comes, grab it—but carefully.