From the point of view of the stamina required, if for no other reason, the European Championships may be the world's toughest bridge competition. The event is now being played in Warsaw, with teams from some 20 countries struggling through a round robin requiring two 32-deal matches daily, with only one rest day scheduled in the two weeks of competition.
The prize for the winner at Warsaw is the right to play in the World Contract Team Championship at Miami Beach next May. As in 1965, a berth could go to one of the countries other than Europe's top three, Great Britain, France and Italy. One reason is that Italy, as defending World Champion, is already assured of a trip to Miami. If Italy wins the European title the second-place finisher qualifies for the world event.
Britain is in trouble because its younger players have been surprisingly slow to develop, and France has not fielded anything like her best since 1962, when Pierre J�is and Roger Tr�zel, considered by many to be the best pair in the world, took the position that they should be appointed to the French team without having to go through time-consuming team trials. Nevertheless, France should do well because it still has three experienced pairs, including Jean-Michel Boulenger and Henri Svarc, who showed some of their aggressive bidding style and sound technique in the hand at right from the recent French trials.
North's bid of three diamonds was one of those "fourth-suit-forcing" affairs giving no information at all as regards the diamond suit but merely asking South to further clarify the nature of his holding.
After South's three-no-trump bid, which apparently promised a diamond stopper, North showed his distributional strength with a leap to five hearts, and South went on to the slam.
Other North-South pairs also got to the slam, and all received the diamond opening lead, but Boulenger was the only one to make 12 tricks. The other declarers decided that they had to take the club finesse. They won the opening lead, drew three rounds of trumps ending in dummy and led the club jack for a finesse. When this lost, the contract was defeated, for South had a spade loser.
The contract apparently was a 50-50 chance, good enough to justify the slam bid but not good enough to suit Boulenger, who saw a simple way to add an excellent extra chance. He won the diamond lead in his hand and drew only two rounds of trumps, ending on the table. Next he played a low spade toward his queen, hoping to find East with the king. However, West won the trick with that card and returned a diamond, forcing dummy to ruff. The spade ace was cashed and when the spade jack dropped, declarer did not need the club finesse. Dummy's high heart drew the last trump and the four remaining spade winners provided discards for four of declarer's clubs. If the spade jack had not fallen, Boulenger could still have tried the club finesse.
There is a simple principle displayed in this hand, but it is one that is often forgotten. The first trick-making play learned by a beginner is the finesse. The rest of his life, the more expert he becomes the more he looks for some way to avoid taking a finesse.