Some expert players are known for their table feel. Table feel is that ineffable ability to know where the cards are with a minimum of evidence. As a defender it is hard to use; one must ensure that no unauthorized information from partner contributes to your ``feeling,'' but as declarer, free reign is available. One junior expert calls it his ``radar.''

Playing in a weak matchpoint field against inexperienced opponents, my LHO deals and I pick up:

 S:A10743 H:65 D:KJ C:A943
The opponents are silent; partner opens 1C:. I respond 1S: and he rebids 1NT. We have New Minor Forcing available, which means that 2D: asks partner to describe his hand, which he does with 2S:. That shows three spades and a minimum hand. His minimums are pretty trashy, but I like the club secondary fit, so I bid game in spades and buy garbage in the ``kitty.''
S: Q52
D: 973
C: Q52
S: A10743
H: 65
C: A943
So much for the club fit. I wish he had some decent spots; the C:8 or the S:9 might be helpful.

West leads the H:4 without much difficultly and it is up to me to make this one. I have nearly certain losers in spades, diamonds, and clubs and lots of work to get even there. Two lines seem worthy of consideration. I can hook the heart, pitch a diamond on the third heart, and hope for clubs 3-3 with the King onside. I do not need to guess diamonds in this line, but it does not leave much room for defensive ``cooperation'' or interesting endpositions. The alternative is to go after trumps immediately, guess diamonds, and try to avoid losing two club tricks. I like this plan better, but it needs a lot of good things to happen. I think I can guess diamonds after a few tricks, so I shall try that line. Since I do not want to go down before I start, I win the H:A, East playing the deuce, and play a trump to the Ace and a trump towards the Queen. Good news: West hops in with the King and continues with the Jack, East pitching, without much thought, the D:4. One hurdle passed. It seems as if now is the time to play diamonds, but before I do, I shall try to reconstruct the hand.

It looks as if the H:Q is onside. The 2 at trick one suggests that, and so does West's failure to continue the suit when in with the S:K. If the C:K is onside, I need only to guess diamonds to make this hand with four spades, three hearts, one diamond and two clubs. If the C:K is on, then the D:A must be on my right, otherwise West would have opened the bidding. My radar disagrees. I do not believe that the D:A is on my right. East might have spared a higher diamond or West might have led the suit at some point if he had only the Queen. I am playing him for the H:Q, so there is a restricted choice argument that suggests that he did not have identical holdings in the red suits. More importantly, I just do not think that the D:A is on my right.

Can I make this hand if the clubs are wrong? If the King is doubleton, I can drop it. It looks as if diamonds are 3-5 from the early pitch; I know spades were 3-2; and West has at least three, probably four, hearts. It is possible that West has four clubs if he is 3-3-3-4, but that seems unlikely. Alternatively, West could have C:J10 and I can manufacture some sort of squeeze using my C:9 as a threat. Or I can have four heart tricks if West has Q10x. None of these positions are very likely, but I think they are better than the diamonds being opposite to my instinct. Oddly, I feel very strongly about that suit. I do not know why.

What the heck---I shall go with my feelings this hand; we are losing anyway. Perhaps the anti-field play (if this were a good field) will hold down the losses. I lead a diamond and when East follows with the Five, finesse the Jack. I was ``right;'' it loses to the Ace. After some deliberation, the D:2 comes back to the 7, Queen, and my King. Now the C:K cannot be onside, so I try to drop it by ducking a club in both hands. No one does anything special and they continue with a third diamond, which I ruff, West contributing the Ten. What now?

West was either 3-4-3-3 or 3-3-3-4, assuming that I have diamonds right. If the former is correct, I need to play for a club/heart squeeze by cashing the last trump now. If the latter is right, I should cash the C:A next. Which is best? The squeeze requires West to have the C:J10x, which he might well have led at some point. On the other hand, why did he not lead clubs on the go from J10xx rather than Qxx of hearts? Nobody seemed surprised or upset when I ducked the club, so I shall guess to play for a pretty squeeze. I cash the last trump, West parting with the C:10. I toss the fourth heart from dummy, take the heart finesse and lead the C:Q from dummy at trick 12. When East covers and the Jack drops, my Nine beats the Eight for the game-going trick.

During the hand, I took a number of anti-percentage plays all because I felt that the cards were not lying right for the technical line. The only justification I have for my line is that I was right.

Copyright © 1995 Jeff Goldsmith