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The Indian fakir throws a rope into the air. Mysteriously, it suspends itself. A little boy then climbs the rope until he is out of sight. The rope descends limply to the ground and the boy has disappeared. Baffling? Perhaps. But put yourself in East's seat on the deal shown below and I will reveal for you how a similar trick is performed at the bridge table.
Holding the guarded K-Q-J of clubs behind dummy's ace, East sees three sure trump tricks, enough to defeat South's doubled five-club contract. But when South sends up his rope, one of East's "sure" tricks will disappear, despite anything East can do.
If I am not mistaken, the "wily old fakir" who performed his magic on this hand was the late Edwin J. (Bud) Smith of Detroit. Bud's death last year was a keen loss to bridge, for he was as fine a gentleman as he was a player.
South's second bid of one heart would be chosen by many of today's experts but, personally, I would prefer the time-honored sequence, bidding spades first and then showing the hearts, which better conveys the information that both suits are real. In the given bidding, South's spade bid might be read as a cue bid rather than as a real suit. However, let us return to the capturing of the king. The play was indeed the thing.
Declarer won the diamond opening lead with dummy's ace, discarding a spade from his hand, and immediately ruffed a diamond. He suspected from the fact that East had doubled in the face of such powerful bidding that East must have a trump stack, and he decided to play the hand accordingly. It required delicate timing.
South first cashed the ace and king of hearts, discarding a spade from dummy. Then he ruffed a heart in dummy and trumped another diamond in his hand. The fall of the cards thus far suggested that East had begun with four hearts, in spite of the fact that he had dropped the queen on the third round of the suit. So declarer cashed his ace-king of spades and trumped his fourth heart in dummy before leading a fourth round of diamonds.
By this time East was down to no cards other than his original four trumps. If he ruffed low, South would overruff, and dummy's ace of clubs would remain as declarer's 11th trick. So East ruffed high, but it did not help.
Declarer discarded his last spade on this trick, and East was forced to return one of his two remaining club honors to knock out dummy's ace. On the lead from dummy at the 12th trick. East was presented with a second Hobson's choice. He could play high or low, but whichever he did, the result would be the same: South's 10 of clubs would capture the game-winning trick.
Note, if you will, that whether or not you agree with the actual auction the result was a triumph of bidding as well as of play. A number of North-South pairs played this hand at three no trump, assured by each other's bidding that they were covered in all four suits. But such knowledge alone is not enough to warrant a three-no-trump contract. Before you bid game in no trump, always ask yourself where the nine tricks are going to come from. As the cards lie, with a red-suit lead from either side of the table, the defenders are bound to score at least five tricks before North-South can win nine—unless the club suit breaks favorably. But when the hand is played at clubs, declarer can survive even the most unfavorable break and bring home his game.