The Netherlands, which will represent Europe in the next World Bridge Championship, was not the only small country to do well in the recent European championships. Ireland, which for years had been entering both a women's team and an open team with no real hope of finishing close to the top in either class, scored a success second only to victory. Not only did both teams finish well up in the ranking, they both defeated Great Britain in matches that had much to do with knocking the English out of the lead.
The Irish open team was led by Jack Kelly, who, in addition to being a fine player, is one of Europe's leading bridge journalists. I am indebted to him for drawing my attention to a most unusual playing situation.
You will notice that East and West each holds 12 cards and one question mark. This is part of the problem. Each has another club. One has the jack, the other the 7. But, as sometimes happens if you have nightmares about bridge, no matter which way you guess, the jack will be held by the other player. In other words, to make this hand, you've got to play it so that it won't matter which opponent has the jack.
But first a word about the bidding. North's hand is considerably short of opening two-bid quality on this side of the Atlantic, but it qualifies as a two-bid in the Acol system, which is widely used in the British Isles. The two-bid is forcing for only one round and a simple rebid of the same suit may be passed. Many players using Standard American also allow partner to pass if the opening two-bidder merely rebids his suit after a two-no-trump response. In this deal South found his dislike of the heart suit and his strength in the two minor suits sufficient reason to carry the bidding to three no trump.
East won his partner's opening diamond lead with the ace and returned the 8, covered by the 9 and won by the jack. West shifted to the queen of clubs, and it is now time for you to plan your play—knowing that the pesky jack of clubs is going to be offside no matter which way you guess it.
If you could make four heart tricks by means of an end play, it would give you nine tricks even though you were able to win only two tricks in clubs. But you cannot play the hand at double-dummy—that is, looking at all 52 cards. You are just trying to win the hand against any distribution of the unknown cards, given the first three tricks as they were played.
Give up? The solution is tricky but unbeatable. Play dummy's king of clubs on the queen and overtake it with your ace! Now lead the 10 of diamonds to force out West's king. It doesn't matter what West shifts to, nor does it matter who holds the club jack. You win the shift to a heart, for example, with dummy's king, lead the 9 of clubs and overtake it with the 10. Either the 10 of clubs on this trick or the 8 of clubs on the next round of the suit gives you a sure reentry to your good diamonds. The opponents can take only three diamonds and one club trick before you are able to win two diamonds, two clubs, two hearts and three spades. And that's that. Just a routine, ho-hum play you see once every thousand years.