For the world's monarchs, these are perilous times. Even in a pack of cards, where one might assume a king would retain his old power, he is obliged occasionally to settle for something less than his accustomed authority. In "klob," for instance, the king of trumps ranks lower than the jack and 9.
In bridge, fortunately, when his power is not abused by freethinkers, he remains a potentate. He can force an ace; he can stop the run of an adverse suit; and he can, of course, win any card of lower denomination.
Seldom, however, has his majesty played so many roles as in the following deal which came up in a practice game between Mr. and Mrs. Howard Schenken and Mrs. Edith Kemp and John Gerber before my TV show.
The defense of this hand was so spectacular that I am both glad and sorry it was not played before the cameras—it would have been a splendid hand for the TV audience to watch but the deal was so unusual that viewers might have charged we had rigged it.
The bidding was governed somewhat by the conditions that usually apply in a TV match. Because of the pressure of the time limit, the team that is trailing must hope that it will become lucky fast and win.
On West's opening lead of the king of diamonds, South dropped the 7, trying to make East's 8 look like a come-on signal. But West wasn't tempted to lead another diamond because he knew that his partner would have played the jack on the trick if she had held it.
Dummy's spade suit looked threatening, especially with the ace of clubs as an outside entry, so Schenken's second lead was the king of clubs, thus killing dummy's entry to the spades.
It wouldn't help declarer to duck this card since a club continuation would force dummy's ace on the next lead. So the club ace was taken and South came to his hand with the queen of clubs to lead the 8 of spades.
Once again it was necessary to sacrifice a king. If West played low, declarer would pass the trick. And if East took his queen declarer would try another finesse at his next opportunity and bring in four spade tricks and his game. By playing the king on the first lead, West killed the spade suit. Declarer could have ducked the trick, hoping that West held the king and queen, but Gerber preferred to hope that two spade tricks would be enough. He took dummy's ace and led the jack. Not being sure South held only two spades, East ducked this trick as declarer had hoped.
Now Gerber shifted his attack to the heart suit. He finessed the queen and West made a more prosaic use of his fourth king to capture the trick and lead his third club, knocking out South's remaining stopper. Declarer still had hopes of a heart break or a diamond end play but neither of these prospects materialized. South took only three clubs, two spades, two hearts and one diamond before East got in to win the rest of the tricks and put the contract down one.