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Make no mistake about it, playing winning bridge is a science. In the long run, the luck of the cards has to balance out and the best man finishes on top. The player who claims his finesses never work is one who has either a very bad memory or a very poor understanding of when to finesse. But if luck can't influence the cards themselves, it can influence other things at a bridge table, and there are occasions when even the most experienced bridge player has every right to claim he was just unlucky.
Take, for example, something that happened to me during my Caribbean bridge cruise last winter. I was playing South with a hand that, once the opening lead had been made, looked to be as simple and pleasant as sipping a planter's punch.
The bidding was classically routine. North's nine points were just right for a raise of my opening no-trump bid; my 17, plus a good five-card suit, were ample to justify continuing on to game.
West's opening lead, however, requires explaining. As sometimes happens when the light is dim or when a player ought to be wearing glasses but isn't, West had viewed her red queen as being a heart instead of a diamond. She was making the normal lead from what she thought was a five-card suit headed by the king-queen-10. She recovered from her error in time. I was never able to recover from it.
Upon winning the first heart trick with the ace, I crossed to dummy's jack of spades to lead the diamond 9 for a finesse. East and I played small, and it was at this point that the lady discovered her supposed queen of hearts was able to win the diamond trick. I give her credit for doing so without any telltale gesture whatever. What's more, her return of the 10 of hearts made it impossible for me to recoup even if I had been able to guess the situation.
I, of course, fully expected dummy's jack to hold the heart trick. But East won with the queen and continued hearts. The defense took three heart tricks and two diamonds, putting my three no-trump bid down one.
"Sorry, partner," West apologized to East. "When I sorted my hand, I thought my red queen was a heart."
It seems to me that West was apologizing to the wrong player. It was I who was the injured party. No lead but the high heart could threaten my three no-trump contract. If West had properly sorted her cards, her normal heart lead would have been the 5. Letting that run to my hand would insure a double stopper, as the cards lay. If East played an intermediate card, the 9 would win the first trick; if East played the queen to force the ace, dummy's jack would provide a second guard. The defenders could collect two hearts and two diamonds but they could not get another trick.