As a fascinated kibitzer of the following deal, I found myself, at the conclusion of the play, deploring the absence of pari-mutuel facilities for wagering on the outcome of bridge hands. With my predilection for buying a $2 ticket on the longest shot in each race, I'm sure I'd have "got down on" declarer in this contract of four hearts, and collected a record price when declarer brought his forlorn hope home under quite a ride.
Opening lead: Ace of spades.
The final contract of four hearts is hardly sound, and the fault for reaching it is entirely North's. There was no justification for his raise with a hand so lacking in trick-taking power. Without a ruffing value or any face card outside the trump suit, North should have passed.
The requirements for a single raise in a major suit are 7 to 10 points. This hand falls far short of that requirement. It is unlikely that a game will be missed by failure to keep the bidding open. Despite the powerhouse that South held, there was really no play for the contract. Or so it would seem merely by examining the North-South hands. Even if the club finesse succeeds, declarer has three losing spades and a losing diamond and, short of tearing up the cards, no visible way of getting rid of a single one of them.
Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending upon the players' point of view—West selected the only lead to give declarer a faint chance of running room. The preferred lead would be a trump, but on the actual lead of the ace of spades East dropped the queen. When the suit was continued, East won with the king but could not reach partner's hand to cash the third spade. He exited with the queen of diamonds. Declarer won, entered dummy with a trump and took the club finesse.
Next, South drew the outstanding trumps, cashed the ace of clubs, reentered dummy with a trump and ruffed North's remaining club. Then he played the ace of diamonds, followed by the 9 and a prayer that East would have to win the trick. This East did. With nothing left but clubs and diamonds, East was obliged to make a lead that permitted declarer to ruff in one hand as he discarded the losing spade from the other.
In order for declarer to win the hand, 1) the ace of spades had to be opened, 2) the spade suit had to be blocked, 3) the club finesse had to win and 4) East had to have all three of the high diamonds—that's quite a parlay. But give South credit for spotting that glimmer of daylight along the rail.
Extra tricks: The player who passes a weak hand like North's rarely loses the opportunity to reveal his meager assets later on. Unless partner holds as good as an opening two no-trump bid, nothing will be lost by playing at one heart. But the opponents will seldom permit that.
In this situation, for example, it is permissible for East to shade a reopening takeout double, and that is probably East's best course if North should pass. South might redouble to show his powerhouse, West would bid one spade, and now a free raise to two hearts exactly expresses North's hand. South might bid as high as three hearts if pushed but, warned by partner's initial pass, he would avoid the "hopeless" game bid and I would be looking for another deal to write about today.