Nice Defense, Partner

Playing in the finals of the North American Swiss, I deal and hold
 S:A872 H:J1072 D:C:KQ987
I'm generally not fond of 5440 hands, but I like my spots and partner believes in opening light distributional hands, so I open 1C:. Partner bids 1D:, and I have an easy 1H: rebid. Partner rebids 2S:, which we play denies four spades and creates a game force. I'd prefer not to suggest a balanced hand and have notrump played from partner's side (a double for a diamond lead looms) so I try 3C:. Partner rebids his diamonds and I end the festivities with 3NT, suspecting that it's not a good contract, but there's nothing else I can do. The opening lead is the S:5 after at least a two-minute study. Dummy is rather a disappointment.
S: 1064
H: A63
D: AQJ852
C: 6
S: A872
H: J1072
C: KQ987


Partner chose a poor time to overbid; I had already done so myself, and we have a pretty bad misfit. At least we are not doubled. On the other hand, 3D: would not be a glorious contract, either.

3NT is not just a bad contract, it's a disaster. I have three tricks off the top and no entry to either hand. It looks as if they found the only lead not to give me a trick, too. I play low from dummy and RHO inserts the S:Q. I win with the Ace and, for lack of anything better to do, continue spades. LHO flies with the S:J and goes into a major trance. After at least three minutes, he plays a small diamond. That's good! Now I have at least four tricks! I insert the D:Q from dummy, which loses to the D:K. RHO cashes the S:K, so spades are 3-3. She continues with a small club and I try the C:K. It loses to the C:A and another club comes back. I'm up to six tricks so far! I top RHO's C:10 and cash the 13th spade, pitching diamonds from dummy. On the spade, LHO effortlessly pitches a diamond and RHO a club. What's going on? Spades were 3-3. I am pretty sure RHO has the last club honor and at least four diamonds. The opening leader was probably 3433. The last few cards are probably

H: A63
D: AJ8
H: Kxxx
D: 9
C: x
H: Qx
D: 10xx
C: J
H: J1072
C: 98
I'm not sure about the high diamond spots or the heart honors, but this looks about right. I have two ways to generate a seventh trick now. I exit with the C:9 to which both follow, while I pitch a heart from dummy. RHO makes it easy; she continues with the H:Q. I win the H:A and cash one high diamond, then continue with another heart. LHO wins but must lead to my hand, which is now good.

In the endgame, I could have alternatively led to the H:A, cashed one diamond, and continued with a heart. If RHO wins, she can cash a club, but must give me the last two tricks with the D:J8. If LHO overtakes the heart, my hand is good. That's an odd sort of winkle against a minor tenace. The same position would have arisen if RHO had exited (as I expected) with a low heart.

Taking seven tricks at notrump with these cards is not exactly a triumph, but it seemed pretty miraculous to me. Partner was impressed with the ending and was about to say, "nicely played" when RHO complimented her partner on the defense. After the match, partner says, "I couldn't say anything after that hand. After all, there can't be both good play and good defense!"

Copyright © 2001 Jeff Goldsmith