A Phantom

Playing in a cash prize matchpoint tournament, we are fighting for first place when we reach the table of an ex-world-champion, who is sitting West and playing with a strong partner. They are hoping to win $2500, but it doesn't look good for them at this point.

They bid game and we sacrifice white vs. red, so I am trying to hold down the damage.

S: 1086
H: A6
D: K754
C: A984
S: 7
H: KQJ8532
D: 10963
C: 10
West leads the trump Ten. I have no play for the contract. Against 4S:, most will lead hearts. If hearts are 2-2, many will be beating 4S:, because the club ruff is easy to find at trick three. 5H: doubled is a good save, though, if hearts are 3-1 and diamonds 4-1. Since a diamond ruff is very likely, I win the first trick in dummy and draw trumps ending in hand. Too bad; hearts are 2-2, so our save is phantom. I suspect I shall still get a few matchpoints for holding this to down one, but -300 is likely to be terrible. What can I do?

The opponents are playing a natural system. That means diamonds are certainly 4-1 or 5-0 since West had two hearts. He doesn't know anything about the hand yet, though. If I can convince him to take his D:A on the first round of the suit and an honor drops, I'll win a trick by force. My 109 may be a threat for a single suit endplay-squeeze, too. It must be right to try to get the D:A out. In order to encourage this, I play the D:6 at trick three. Joy! West hops with his Ace, but it drops only the deuce. He shifts to the S:3. East wins with the Ace and continues the suit and I ruff.

What is West's shape? East probably does not have S:AQJxxx, so it appears that West is 4-2-4-3. I have him. I run off all the hearts save one and watch his discards. He discards the King and Jack of spades first, so now I am certain about the end position. Before I cash my second to last trump, these are the cards around the table:

S: 10
H: ---
D: K75
C: A9
S: ---
H: ---
D: QJ8
C: ???
S: ---
H: 53
D: 1093
C: 10
When I cash my penultimate trump, West discards a club and I pitch the spade from dummy. I cross to the C:A and ruff out West's last club. The D:10 is covered and allowed to hold and I claim down one.

If West had kept a spade in the position above, I would have discarded a club, ruffed out his last spade and endplayed him.

Copyright © 1995 Jeff Goldsmith