The process of throwing losing cards on your partner's winners in another suit is one of the basic plays in bridge. But the art of discarding losers on losers is not so well understood. In fact, sometimes the disappearance of the losing trick when this play is employed seems to be a major feat of legerdemain.
Here is a remarkable example of the success of the loser-on-loser play. It did not, to tell the truth, emerge as the result of a well-planned operation, but was evolved on the spur of the moment because declarer could see that there was no other way to bring home 10 tricks. The deal turned up in one of those impromptu team games that have supplanted a great deal of rubber bridge in places like New York's Cavendish Club.
Until South was assured of finding a fit with partner, his one spade bid was as much as his hand was worth. In fact, whenever you hold some length in an opponent's suit you must be careful about overcalling since the likelihood is increased that both sides have misfit hands and the profit will come from doubling the opponents. However, when North found a free raise of spades, South was amply justified in jumping to game. The auction and final contract were the same at the other table. But making game was something else again. One South was successful, the other was not.
The opening lead of the king of hearts received mild encouragement from East, who knew from the fact that West had not led a low heart that partner's holding was either king singleton or doubleton. The heart suit was continued and East took the ace and returned a third round. Although West was unable to ruff with a higher card than dummy's 10, East consoled himself that he had killed one of South's heart winners. South, meanwhile, was glad to see this evidence that East must have the spade queen. Up to this point, the play had been identical at both tables, but now the paths diverged.
At one table declarer overruffed in dummy, led a spade to the jack for a successful finesse against East's queen and ducked a diamond to East's jack, giving East an opportunity to make the mistake of leading a club. This would allow South to ruff, cash dummy's diamond ace, come to his hand with another club ruff and cash the good heart, on which he could discard dummy's last diamond. Then he could ruff his last diamond with dummy's last trump. But East alertly returned the spade queen, and declarer could not avoid losing a second diamond.
At the other table the successful declarer's thinking went further than merely rejoicing that the spade queen was favorably placed. He slopped to investigate the chances of making 10 tricks and came up with a loser-on-loser play. Had his heart 10 not been trumped, South would, of course, have discarded a diamond from dummy on the winner. When West trumped the heart 10, South saw his best chance—possibly his only chance—was to discard a diamond from dummy anyway, so he let West's trump win.
West continued by leading a diamond. Dummy's ace won and a trump lead was taken by the jack. With the queen, the only opposing trump, located in East's hand, it was a simple matter to stop drawing trumps and discard dummy's last diamond on the fourth heart. Two trumps remained in dummy to take care of South's two diamond losers, and to reward his good play declarer needed only to find that East must follow suit in diamonds while dummy ruffed.
By his lead of the third round of hearts, East had made one of South's winners disappear. But the successful declarer managed to make a loser disappear at the same time.