Ted's Bridge World Dante's Infernal

Farewell to An Old Friend

For nearly forty years I have approached the bridge club by driving north on Howe Avenue, then turning right on University.  On each occasion I was treated to the sight of a splendid evergreen near that corner, standing askew with branches hanging over the sidewalk, almost into the street.  At its apex was a jaunty topknot that curled in the opposite direction in a seeming attempt to create a balance.  During my drive, I never was too busy studying system notes to take in this lovely sight.

But now the tree is gone.  In the past week, this icon of visual pleasure and its nearest companion were chopped and sawed into oblivion for reasons unclear.  Had my opinion been solicited, I would have pleaded that the woodcutters ply their trade elsewhere.  In a city known for its trees, my vanquished friend was the prettiest of them all.  Also regrettable is my failure to have captured a memorial photograph.

This deal from the Wednesday morning game was somehow reminiscent of my visits with the old tree; it served as a reminder to do what is necessary while the opportunity is at hand — this hand:


As south didn't value his soft honors as much support for a suit contract, he opted for a non-encouraging response in preference to a raise.  North was constrained to pass, as in their system a 2 rebid would have been an artificial game try.

The opening lead of the club deuce was ducked to the eight and jack.  Declarer tried a low heart to the six, seven, and jack.  East cashed the ace of diamonds, then switched to the eight of spades, covered by the queen, king, and ace.  A safety play of a low heart from dummy was rewarded when east discarded a spade on this lead.

Grabbing south's heart nine with the king (why do so many defenders habitually falsecard their partners in such situations, when there is no possible benefit?), west thought for too short a time before returning the ten of spades, thereby handing declarer a third trick in that suit, to this position:


At this juncture declarer could count eight sure tricks in the form of two clubs, three spades, and three hearts with the aid of a finesse; but he realized that he might do better than that.  Let's try it — heart to the ten, ace of hearts, diamond from dummy.  East, marked with the king, surely would grab it and — what?  If he were to return an uninspired diamond or spade, then declarer would have nine tricks even without a subsequent club finesse.  A thinking defender would lead back a club in this position; partner would play low, locking declarer in dummy with a sure club loser.  Making just 2NT would have been a good matchpoint score for the defenders, as most declarers collected nine tricks in heart contracts.

But our declarer, having apparently learned the lesson of his recent loss, did not play on dummy's longest suit at this time.  Instead, he finessed the club ten and cashed the ace of clubs.  Now a diamond play from dummy left east on lead, forced to serve as a stepping-stone to the south hand.  The heart finesse had become redundant as declarer now had nine top tricks — three spades, one heart, two diamonds, and three clubs.  This was the full deal:


Yes, the defense was poor, but that is the norm at Dante's Infernal.  West should have known not to squander her ten of spades, and east would have done better to play on that suit without touching diamonds at all.  Even the merit of an initial club lead is debatable; in fact, declarer could actually have been held to his contract by an opening lead of a low card in any other suit!  The fatal play, however, was the covering of the spade queen, which offered declarer several routes to a ninth trick.


A final note to those actually interested in improving their game:

One key to successful defense lies in partner's ability to rely upon your choices of plays.  If you presently subscribe to the widespread automatic-falsecard routine (and God only knows where you acquired the habit), then you should re-think your tactics on the basis of this maxim:

Good luck with this one, as such an adjustment would necessitate a change of mindset as well as due diligence.  Of course, your efforts will be wasted unless your partners are similarly motivated — and are paying attention at the table.

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