Bridge By The Lake
By Ken Masson
Good defenders are always looking for ways to make unexpected tricks for their side, especially when it results in a defeat for a seemingly impregnable contract. Such was the case in this month’s hand where East and West combined to take advantage of a minor error on declarer’s part.
South dealt and opened 1 heart. To my mind, this North had a clear-cut 2 heart bid but he chose 1 spade instead. The problem with the bid of 1 spade is that when you eventually support partner he will expect a better hand from you, not a rock-bottom minimum.
In any event, South chose to rebid 3 hearts, the classical way to show an intermediate hand with six hearts. Now North made his second bad bid of the auction by raising his partner to game when he barely had a response in the first place. Still, bidding blunders or not, North-South found themselves in a contract that was a favorite to make on the lie of the cards.
West got the defenders off to a good start with the lead of the club king. East played an encouraging 10 and West continued with a low club to his partner’s ace but declarer ruffed the third round of the suit.
South could see he only had one sure entry to the dummy so he set out to maximise this opportunity by cashing the spade king, crossing to the queen and cashing the ace to pitch a diamond from his hand as East and West followed to all three rounds of spades. Only now did he tackle trumps by playing a heart from dummy for a finesse of his queen. West won the king, and not seeing much chance of defeating the contract, exited with the spade jack, expecting declarer to ruff and draw the outstanding trumps.
But East had been watching proceedings carefully and saw the possibility that his now bare heart 10 might be put to some use so he promptly played that card at his turn. It just happened that that play was precisely what his side needed as it forced declarer to over-ruff with his ace and in the process his partner’s jack became the setting trick.
Now it might seem that playing the trump ten in this situation would be superfluous as declarer was already being forced to use a trump to win the trick. In fact it was a no-cost tactic as the 10 was about to fall on declarer’s next play of the trump suit but if West just happened to hold the jack it could prove to be catastrophic to declarer’s goal. And that is exactly what transpired.
This is known as an uppercut, a defensive play that happens more frequently than you might expect. The trick is recognising and acting on it in the heat of battle at the table.
What about that minor error by declarer? If he had anticipated the potential uppercut (admittedly a difficult proposition) he could have spurned the trump finesse and simply played ace and another heart and later used the spade entry to dummy to take the diamond finesse. But perhaps that is just hindsight rearing its ugly head!