After a Long Layoff

Once in a long time, I allow life to interfere with bridge. Looking for a quick game one evening after a month's layoff, I found a computer bridge game with an apparently capable partner and unknown opponents. Our system discussion is ``12-14 notrumps, Lawrence 2/1, 2-way checkback, and seat-of-the-pants.''

We get to 3NT after one of the few conventions we've discussed comes up:

S: AQ543
H: 8654
D: K10
C: J4
S: 108
H: KQ2
D: AQ96
C: A1095
1NT promised 15-17 HCP; 2D: asked about distribution; 2NT showed nothing much to say. After this auction, West led the C:3.

We have 26 HCP and no 8-card fit, therefore 3NT is the normal contract. We are playing matchpoints, so my goal ought to be to obtain the most tricks I reasonably can. I don't know what my goal is, yet, but perhaps I shall be able to judge better a little later.

The opening lead is the three; the two is still missing. That suggests that West has led from a 5-card suit. If so, East might well have honor doubleton in clubs. If so, I shall have three club tricks if he puts it up, which seems likely. I duck trick one and East complies, inserting the Queen. I now have three club tricks, three diamonds, one heart, and one spade, for eight sure tricks. Either major might provide me with another trick, and I might be able to acquire a fourth diamond trick.

Since their leading suits will likely be helpful, I begin by establishing my club tricks. I lead the small club towards the C:J and West, without apparent thought, wins the trick with the King. East supplies the C:2 to this trick. That suggests that clubs are 4-3, which is good, I suppose.

West, after some thought, shifts to the H:7. I cover in dummy, East plays the H:10, and I win with the King. That could be bad; West may have shifted from H:AJ97, in which case, if I lose a trick to East, they will be able to take five tricks. I think the best technical line now might be to cash three diamonds and take the spade finesse if the D:J does not drop. I'll have to cash the clubs before taking the spade finesse, too.

I don't fancy that line. I think I'd rather take the spade finesse now. The opponents do not play Smith Echo, so East will not know that it is wrong for him to continue with his third club. He can easily imagine his partner's having the C:9 and not be able to continue the suit profitably. In any case, I doubt these opponents are imaginative enough not to continue clubs, so I take the spade finesse not without some trepidation.

East wins the S:Q with the King, and without much effort, continues with another club, and I pitch a small heart from dummy. West contributes the C:8 to this trick, which gives me some pause. East was just a little too fast to continue clubs, and that 8 is suspicious. I think West led a 3-card suit. What does that mean? He probably has some broken heart suit that he was afraid to lead for fear of length in dummy. He is probably 3433 or 2443. If he has the S:J, I can force him to lead a red suit for me. This may not help due to the blockage in diamonds, but if I lose a trick to East, he'll surely play a club, so it cannot cost to continue with the S:10. West follows small and East wins with the Jack. That's unfortunate, but he doesn't hesitate before ``cashing'' the fourth round of clubs. I win while West pitches the H:9. I am pretty sure now that West is 2443, but I don't care. I cross to the D:K and cash the S:A, pitching my low heart. West pauses (I can almost see the frown on his face) and pitches the H:J. To resolve the diamond blockage, I cash the Ace and exit with the H:Q to West's now stiff Ace. I get to win the last two tricks with the D:Q9 to make exactly nine tricks, for what I imagine will be a fine score.

Partner exclaims, ``that was very nice!'' while West grumbles, ``you were lucky!'' Yes, I imagine so. With both spade honors offside, the suit breaking badly, the hearts wedged, the D:J not falling, and clubs not well-placed, the cards did not lay in a friendly way, but the defense lost its way several times, and I was rather lucky that the first hand I played in over a month was interesting and successful. I can't wait to play some more.

Copyright © 1995 Jeff Goldsmith