[Ace of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[9 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[8 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
South was declarer at six spades. Shorty (West) opened the queen of diamonds, which South won in his hand. Then declarer led the king of spades, keeping his hand hovering over the table in such a manner as to leave no doubt that his king was a winner. He was visibly shocked when I took the trick with my ace of spades. He peered into his own hand and conspicuously moved a card from the end of the hand to the middle. Now everybody at the table knew what had happened: he had misplaced the ace of clubs at the head of his spades. He had thought he had seven spades to the A K Q and a singleton queen of clubs.
No better lead suggested itself to me, so I led back a small club. South took it with his ace and laid down the queen of spades. Both outstanding honors dropped, and the slam became a laydown. Shorty said later, "Sorry, Charlie, I could have beaten the hand. I should have led the king of clubs." South would have played his queen "singleton" on the trick, and by the time he discovered that his ace of clubs was in the wrong pew, he could never have regained that lost trick. Even sadder for our side, South probably wouldn't have bid the slam if he had sorted his hand properly, because he might well have feared the loss of two spade tricks.
Another thing to avoid is the prolonged hesitation, the trance, or, as it is sometimes called, the huddle. There are several types. There is the deliberate trance aimed at throwing off the opponent, as, for example, when a player holds a singleton and wants opponent to think that he has more than one. Some inexperienced players are not aware that this is downright shady. I once asked an opponent why it took her so long to decide to play what turned out to be a singleton. She answered naively, "Why, Mr. Goren, I was trying to fool you." But the practice is grounds for expulsion from most clubs, as well it should be.
Another type of trance occurs when the player is trying to figure out, or count, the hand. For a reasonable length of time, this trance is perfectly permissible. On important plays like the opening lead, it is even recommended. But after that reasonable length of time is over, I say play a card, even if it's the wrong one. Nothing at a bridge table is so important that every other player should be forced to sit in squirming ennui while a great thinker thinks.
The worst trance is the informative one, a fraternity brother of the double that tells declarer where all the outstanding honors are. The informative, or Western Union, trance comes up most frequently when the player to your right is finessing against you, you have the finessable card and you're trying to figure out whether to play it or duck. Once you have hesitated, it makes no difference: declarer knows where the card is and can play accordingly. But if the declarer leads the jack through your king-deuce toward an ace-queen on the board, why spend five minutes puzzling over your play? You should have known the instant the dummy went down that this was going to happen, and you should already have decided whether to cover or duck. If you now play the deuce crisply and unhesitatingly, the declarer at least has been given the opportunity to go up with the ace in hopes of dropping a singleton king. A poor play on his part? Probably. But you've at least given him a chance to commit the error.
You should be able to play your cards at least one trick in advance, whether you have that mysterious quality known as card sense or not, and whether you have as bad a memory as mine or not. As defender, you should have a general idea of what you're going to do when it finally comes around to, say, that ticklish ace-queen of hearts on the board. As declarer, you should have some idea whether you're going to lead up to that king of spades in your hand or lay a trap for the opponents to lead up to it. These may be general guidelines in your head, but specifically you should always be one trick ahead of yourself. When you take a trick, you should have a definite idea of what you are going to lead next. And during the development of that trick you should be figuring out what to do on the following one. If I can do this with my inadequate memory, anybody can do it.
But not everybody does it. Consider how many times you've seen a player begin a finesse by leading low from his own hand. Next hand plays low, and now declarer goes into a long trance trying to figure out whether to go through with the finesse or play his ace on the board. This is outrageous and should call for a five-yard penalty for delaying the game. When this player started his finesse, he knew there were two possibilities to his left: the player would either come up with the missing queen or he wouldn't. So why should the finesser be completely taken aback now that one of those two eventualities has come to pass? But all too frequently he is, thus marking himself as the type of player who can't think one trick ahead, or even one card ahead. Apparently he has led low from his hand with a single idea: that it will force the queen immediately. What if it doesn't? He hasn't figured that out yet. A glimmer of brightness in the picture is that you will not need any advice on how to win from this hapless fellow. Just follow suit and don't revoke, and the rest will take care of itself.
There is one type of player against whom it is often wise to go into a slowdown, even when you really have nothing to think about. This is the speeder and, like most of his ilk on the road, he, too, knows he's being naughty, but he pretends that it's all in the game. He takes plenty of time to figure his line of play, then pounds his leads down on the table with assembly-line rapidity, hoping to dazzle—and confuse—you. He seeks to give the impression that it's ridiculous to try to defend against this contract; but if you insist, let's get the boring thing over as quickly as possible. And down come his leads one after another, while his hand lingers over the center of the table waiting to scoop up the trick and play his next winner.