Bridge tournament reporting usually emphasizes the brilliant coups of the best players, leaving forever unpublicized their not-so-stimulating errors and the stumblings of their opponents. But you can learn a lot by looking at the hands that never made the news. The American Contract Bridge League has made this possible by publishing what happened at every table in all 340 deals played in the recent American Team Trials in San Francisco. The hands, assembled in a set of nine booklets, are available only through the ACBL, at $2.50 per set. The deal below—but do not peek at it yet—serves as a good example of what you can expect to find.
Two of the pairs that made the 1966 team, the West Coast twosome of Lew Mathe and Bob Hamman and the Canadians, Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela, finished in an exact tie when they played each other in the Trials. But, as must be the case when two aggressive pairs meet, they achieved their 30-30 score via a series of large ups and downs.
To tackle the same problems that you might have had playing against Mathe and Hamman, cover the East-West hands. First, consider this bidding situation. East has passed. Your partner, South, opens the bidding with one club, and West jumps to two spades, showing intermediate strength, including at least three defensive tricks. As North, what would you bid?
Always a bold bidder, Murray chose to raise to three clubs with the North hand. He felt this might pave the way to a profitable save against a vulnerable game for the opponents. Half the time such a bid would gain points, and rarely would it be doubled. So it is not a bad bid. But on this occasion, if you decided to pass you were right.
Now pretend you are South and play the hand. After making his ace of spades, on which East dropped the 2, Mathe led the spade 4. East trumped with the 2 of clubs and, in obedience to West's suit-preference signal—the lead of the low card to point to a reentry in the lower suit—he returned the 6 of diamonds to West's ace. West continued with a medium-size spade. Do you ruff in dummy, and, if so, with what card? Kehela elected to trump with dummy's 8 of clubs, was overruffed with the queen, lost the club continuation to West's ace and eventually had to lose two heart tricks for down three, minus 500.
Did you make the better play of discarding a heart from dummy on the third spade lead? The clue was there. The only reason for ruffing is the hope that you can force East to overruff with the ace. But West needed one of the two missing aces to justify his spade jump, and East had to have the other to justify his double. West could not have the ace of hearts, because he would surely have signaled for a heart return, not a diamond. The heart lead, if West held the ace, would trap one of South's honors. The diamond that West actually asked for was sure to set up dummy's king.
So, on this reasoning, dummy should discard a heart on the third round of spades. As soon as declarer gets in, he can draw the outstanding trumps with one lead, and thereafter, by discarding another of dummy's hearts on his last spade, he can save a heart loser. True, East can circumvent that if he ruffs the spade and underleads the ace of hearts. But that would have been quite a defense, one that would have made the news reports.