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I know bridge players who pride themselves on rarely making a mistake, but even if their pride were justified I would not choose one of these paragons as my partner. The reason is that such a player never risks doing anything very bad—which can only mean that he also never risks doing anything very good. Yet errors of omission are just as costly as errors of commission, even if they are not quite as apparent on the score sheet.
All of this is a somewhat roundabout way of introducing my friend Peter Leventritt, who brings off some of the finest coups ever seen at a bridge table. He is willing to take a chance on a snap decision when delaying would mean he could not try the play at all. There are some plays that simply cannot succeed if they are reached only after long thought.
Let me illustrate with a hand that Peter defended recently in the Knickerbocker Championships in New York City. If you would like to better appreciate what he succeeded in pulling off, cover the East and South hands for a moment and pretend that you are West defending against a contract of four spades.
South showed a strong hand by his jump rebid of three diamonds and an unbalanced distribution when he insisted on a suit contract by taking North out of three no trump. I am sure that you would have decided against a heart lead as possibly helpful to the declarer, and no doubt you would have opened your singleton club, just as Leventritt did.
Dummy's queen won the first trick when East refused to cover, and declarer led dummy's 5 of diamonds. East put on the jack, declarer played the queen and your problem hour has arrived. If you win with the diamond king, what do you return?
The answer is that nothing you lead can defeat the hand. Probably your best chance is to return a diamond in the hope that East's jack is a singleton, but it is not. His 10 is taken by South's ace, and as you can see if you now remove your thumbs from the concealed hands, declarer's diamonds are high. He merely cashes the two top spades and leads a third spade, hoping that the suit will break, but can afford to be philosophical when it doesn't. The defenders can do no better than win two trump tricks in addition to the king of diamonds, since when East wins his last trump, he must return a heart or a club, either of which enables South to take the second club finesse he needs to make the contract.
But Leventritt beat the hand. Without giving the matter any obvious thought, he let declarer win the second trick with the queen of diamonds. Now put yourself in declarer's place. When your ace of diamonds dropped East's 10 on the next diamond lead, wouldn't you confidently lead a third round of diamonds, expecting to ruff out East's king? That was what declarer tried, and look at the dividends Leventritt collected by throwing away the trick he might have won with his king of diamonds.
East overruffed dummy on the third round of diamonds and then returned a club for West to ruff. West led the king of diamonds and East overruffed dummy again. Then East led another club for Leventritt to ruff and the defense had four tricks. By taking a chance that he might lose a trick through failing to make his king of diamonds, Leventritt set an "unbeatable" hand. The play would not have worked, of course, if he had sat and thought about it.
It would not have helped declarer, by the way, to make a club discard on the ace of hearts after winning the first trick in dummy with the queen of clubs. After ruffing the fourth round of diamonds, East would lead a third club. If South tried to stop the ruff by trumping high, East would later win the setting trick with his queen of trumps.