Ted's Bridge World Dante's Infernal

The Heart of the Matter

This year featured my 42nd consecutive appearance at the Chico Sectional, which was delightful as always.  Those folks have the best hospitality to be found anywhere!  In fact, I won my first-ever Sectional event in the single-session Board-A-Match Teams at that tournament, in April of 1966.  My brother and I had endured a four-hour blizzard all the way from Reno, and at night we threw down our sleeping bags in Upper Bidwell Park — back when that sort of activity still was legal.  Between sessions on Saturday, players were treated to a dinner replete with Cornish game hens; I ate three!

This year your usual gang is trying for a third straight win in the Sunday Swiss Teams.  Against your principal competition — four gentlemen would-be spoilers from Sacramento — you find yourself in 3NT as South with this heart suit:


As is best overall, you try a low heart to dummy's jack; west plays the seven-spot and east contributes the deuce.  Needing not to lose a heart trick, what is your next play in that suit, and why?  There has been no bidding to help you, no clues have accrued in the play, and First Overall in the event rides upon your decision!


Skip ahead with me for a moment to the very next match, in which a remarkably similar situation arose for declarer:


South was declarer in 4.  She led a low trump to the queen, as west played the four-spot and east followed with the seven.  How should she have continued at this juncture?


Now that you have decided, let us return to the first hand.  Having done your reading about such card combinations, you are aware that a knowledgeable east player always would play his middle card from 10-x-x in this situation, attempting to make it look as if declarer might be able to smother the ten-spot by leading the queen on the second round.  That would be the only way for the defense to win a trick in the suit.

At your table, RHO did not play his middle card.  Judging that he certainly should know the deceptive play, you subsequently advance the queen from hand and luckily smother your RHO's ten-spot, thereby fulfilling your contract and winning the match by six imp.


In the next match, our declarer might not have been keeping up with her studies.  In any case, she returned to hand, led the trump jack, and — left-hand opponent showed out!  A pair of heart losers cost her the contract.

In this case, declarer could have afforded a single loser in trumps; she would have been well-advised to take one of those book-learned safety plays on the second round of hearts, by leading low from dummy toward the jack, or (better) low from hand toward dummy's nine-spot, going up with the ace when if shows out.  This would have guaranteed no more than one loser in trumps.

Sitting east, I had been waiting more than forty years for that coup, which is right out of Chapter 12 of the quintessential classic on defensive strategy — Master Play, by Terence Reese.  It seems somehow fitting that I had read that book just after it first was published — in that memorable year, 1966.

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