Many bridge tournaments nowadays include one session from which card fees are donated to charity, either the national beneficiary annually designated by the American Contract Bridge League or a local one. This year, for example, the league will turn over between $100,000 and $200,000 to the American Cancer Society.
Sometimes, as at the recent Bermuda Regional, the amount raised is augmented by auctioning off experts who agree to play in that session as the partner of the highest bidder. Long ago the late Fred Kaplan submitted to such a procedure and was bought by a lady whose purse was richer than her talent. After two hands the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang of bridge glared across the table and said, "Lady, I came to help cancer, not to get it." The experts do not always win, of course, but they usually give their partners full money's worth. Here, for example, is a hand that had East muttering, "That so-and-so expert gets to a borderline slam, my partner makes the best opening lead and he makes it anyway. I don't see how he figured it."
South's rebid of three clubs was on the aggressive side, but North's spade response promoted South's values and he wanted to ensure getting to four spades if North held a five-card suit. But when South next supported spades and North returned to hearts, it became apparent that North's earlier response of three diamonds, when he could have retreated to three hearts with a weaker hand, had been intended to show extra strength. South therefore checked on aces and bid the heart slam when North announced two.
Against anything but a diamond opening, declarer would have had time to surrender a club, ruff a third round of clubs in dummy, draw trumps and discard his diamond loser on dummy's fourth spade. But the diamond lead seemed to limit declarer's chances to a straight diamond finesse; indeed, had he taken it immediately, the contract would have failed.
Instead, South, realizing that if the king were onside he could always lead toward the queen later to set up a discard for his second club loser, put up dummy's ace of diamonds, and East signaled with the 6. Declarer next played ace, queen and king of trumps, allowing for a finesse for the jack if West showed out on the second round. Then he led a diamond toward the queen, and West put in the 9. Apparently East held the king, so South let West hold the trick, East echoing with the 3.
West shifted to a spade, taken by dummy's jack, and South was at the crossroads. He had to decide whether a low diamond lead would drop East's king, or whether West had led from J 10 9 alone, in which case the lead of the queen would force East to cover with the king and smother West's 10, establishing dummy's 8. Although the smother play is always tempting because it looks sensational when it succeeds, South resisted and led a low diamond. The diamond king was ruffed, the spade king was cashed and South overtook his spade queen with dummy's ace to discard clubs on the diamond queen and spade 9.
How did declarer know which way to play the diamonds? The answer lay in the card East had played on the first trick—the 6 of diamonds. Had East held both the 6 and the 7, presumably he would have played the higher of the two when he signaled. Thus South reasoned that East had started with K 6 3 rather than K 7 6 3.
Next time someone asks your opinion about a bridge hand and indicates the smaller cards with Xs, make him fill in the pips. Many a time, X does not mark the spot.