The Third Time Is the Charm
Henry's team was doing pretty well in the local Swiss Teams, so it was inevitable that his foursome would draw a match against the event leaders. The excitement commenced on the first board of the set:
Even before dummy appeared, south was regretting his horrible overcall. Henry, sitting west, having dutifully led his partner's suit, couldn't help feeling good about his own trump holding, which looked like a sure trick for the defense. If partner can come up with a winner, he thought to himself, we'll beat this thing. Relaxing somewhat, Henry sat back in his chair to watch the play unfold.
His contract in dire straits, declarer grabbed the ace of diamonds and promptly led a club to the jack, his best shot. A finesse of the jack of spades was followed by another spade to dummy's queen, revealing the bad news in the trump suit.
Prospects still being poor, declarer continued with a club to the ace, and
was heartened by the fall of east's
The king and ace of hearts followed; then dummy's king and ten of clubs were cashed,
south discarding a heart and a diamond, to this position.
A heart ruff with the spade six served to set up dummy's long card in that suit. Now it would have been a simple matter to cross to dummy with a trump and dump the diamond loser on the established eight of hearts; the defense would win only a trump trick. But that's not what happened. Having full knowledge of the layout, and being anxious to earn his "style points", declarer did not play on spades; instead, with a wry smirk on his face, he led the queen of diamonds!
West's eyes lit up, for he knew that his partner would be able to win this trick. They soon glazed over, however, when east helplessly led another diamond at trick twelve, and the "sure" spade winner mysteriously vanished. Making six.
Crestfallen, Henry grumbled to his partner, "At least you could have ducked the diamond for me; then I would have gotten my trump trick." East responded, "I didn't know it was that important to you." But Henry wasn't finished. Somewhat upset because he realized that south had been toying with him to some extent, he blurted, "If you had discarded a heart on the second trump lead, you wouldn't have been endplayed, and I would have gotten my king of spades." East promptly retorted, "Yes, but that would not have defeated the contract. Man does not live on trump tricks alone."
A couple of boards later, Henry once again found himself on lead against a slam, this time in diamonds:
4♣ was Roman Gerber, and
4♥ showed all the
aces. It being too late to transfer the contract to the strong hand, south gambled
it out himself. Although dummy had a lot of key cards, the hoped-for seven
winners had failed to materialize.
Once again, Henry followed the instructions indicated by partner's
double. At the sight of dummy, the similarity between this combined visible trump
holding and the one from the prior slam made him uneasy.
Declarer won the ace of hearts and ruffed a heart. Then he ran the queen of diamonds, and everyone noticed the fall of east's ten-spot. Henry's spirits rose; for he had learned from the prior slam that in order to execute a smother play, declarer's trumps would have to be reduced to the same length as his own, meaning that four ruffs would have to be negotiated here.
But that's exactly what happened. A spade to the ace, another heart
ruff, spade king, heart ruff. Then two rounds of clubs and a club ruff
produced the requisite
Declarer's eight of spades ran to east's queen, and once again west's trump holding was squelched. Poor Henry was beside himself. "If you hadn't made that risky double, I would have led the ten of spades; then you would have known to unblock your honors. I could have taken the nine of spades and a trump trick!" This was true enough; but east, undaunted, observed, "Had you played your ten on the first spade lead, I would have known anyway." Having no counter to that, Henry slumped down in his chair, gnashed his false teeth, and reached for the next board.
On the final deal of the match, Henry's worst fears were realized. A feeling of dread overcame him as he sorted his hand, revealing a spade holding identical to the one with which he had defended the first slam contract. As the auction ended, he would have been willing to wager that the ace-third of trumps was lurking to his left again.
Henry briefly considered simply leading the king of spades and settling the matter quickly. Reason prevailed, however, and he detached a club from his hand. But just then, he remembered that the last two leads suggested by his partner didn't work out at all well; so in a desperate move Henry flung his king of hearts upon the table!
The prophesy proved correct; for the
♠Axx did indeed
appear in the dummy. More importantly, however, Henry's unorthodox play had a
effect — it guaranteed the defense a trump trick!
Forced to use a dummy entry before the ace of clubs could be played off, declarer
lacked the communications to ruff two clubs in hand and arrange a suitable ending for
yet another coup. The
heart-sacrifice, however, served to solidify the
offensive holding in that suit; so south immediately played the ace and another spade,
thereby guaranteeing his contract against any lie of the cards.
In the postmortem, south congratulated Henry for his brilliant
Merrimac Coup "in the blind". Then he showed that on a club lead,
the hand could have been reduced to:
Given an opportunity, the smother play would have performed its magic once again after south exited with a third round of of hearts. East, perhaps miffed because partner hadn't led clubs for him, suggested that an initial trump lead would have enabled a discard from his pesky heart sequence, making an endplay in that suit impossible. But declarer maintained that he could have handled any contingency and fulfilled his contract regardless. As he began to elaborate, the other table finished play; so the discussion ended.
Henry didn't care in any case; for his mission was complete. The likelihood that three negative slam results would leave his team bereft of victory points in this match was immaterial. Henry had his trump trick, and that was all that mattered!
A detailed analysis of this final complicated deal is available here: <Hand #3 Solution>. There is more to it than you might think.