Too Clever By Half


          Has this ever happened to you?  You make some brilliant play based on the bidding, or the lead, or the fall of the cards – only to find that your less-experienced opponents have misled you by making a mistake?  This kind of manoeuvre is called a Grosvenor – I have no idea why.  As painful as it can be, it is worse if your inexpert opponents helpfully explain to you where you went wrong.

          That’s what happened to me as a keen student in a campus bridge club some years ago.  I arrived in a contract of 3NT holding the hand below.  The lead was the ª6.


                   ª A2

                   © 982

                   ¨ AK432

                   § J109


                   ª 10975

                   © AK3

                   ¨ 76

                   § AQ843


          Even assuming I lose to the §K, I have nine tricks.  The only danger is if the opponents can take four spade tricks.  Luckily, I have read some bridge books and know how to handle this kind of suit.  If left-hand opponent has led from a five-card suit, such as KJxxx, I can block the suit by going up immediately with the ªA:  if RHO unblocks from Qx, my ª10 will be a second stopper, while if he does not, the defenders cannot run the suit.

          Preparing a postmortem lecture on the theme of my own cleverness, I whisked the ªA onto the table, followed by the §J.  This lost to the king, but I shot my partner a confident smile.  My smile gradually vanished as LHO laboriously played off the ªKQJ and finally the ª3. 

“Why didn’t you lead the king?” I weakly asked. 

“It’s usually better to lead your fourth best from your longest and strongest suit,” he told me.  Leaning in discreetly, he added, “You know, if you had played second hand low on the first trick, I think you could have won the ten in your hand and saved your ace for later.”

          Another hand appeared when I was playing with the late Sam Baney.  Picking up


                   ª AQ764       © K97           ¨ AK4          § 97


I chose to open 1NT, which Sam raised to game.  The §4 was led, and to my dismay, this was the dummy:

          ª 9832

          © A4

          ¨ 952

          § AK63


          ª AQ764

          © K97

          ¨ AK4

          § 97


          With such a weak major suit, Sam had chosen to skip Stayman, and I couldn’t really blame him, although we had missed our best fit.  Of course I didn’t expect to go down in 3NT, but since we were playing matchpoints, I knew that we would lose to all those pairs playing in 4ª, who would make an extra trick by trumping a heart in dummy.  The only way to salvage a good score would be to make an extra spade trick.

          It would be no good to me to find ªKx onside, since at matchpoints the room will take the finesse and lose no spades, +680 against my +660.  It seemed better therefore to make the safety play of low to the ace, followed by a low spade from dummy to the queen.  I would do as well as the other players if the ªKx(x) were on my left or if ªKxx were on my right, but I would gain substantially if there were a singleton king on my left.

          Putting this plan into operation, I won the club and led a low spade.  The ª10 appeared on my right.  Hmm.  Looks like RHO has ªK10 or J10.  I saw I may as well finesse, then, since playing the ace cannot gain.  LHO won the king and returned the §2.  I won in dummy and advanced another spade.  RHO played the ª5!  What was he doing?  Of course, if he had the missing ªJ, I could finesse the ª7, but surely he wouldn’t have played the ten in second seat from J105.  I finally decided to win the ªA, figuring I couldn’t stand the look I would get from Sam if LHO won the ªJ and peeled off three more clubs.  Of course, under my ace, RHO discarded a diamond.  Arghhh!

          Having lost two spade tricks, I just limped home with my contract, scoring the only +600 in a sea of +620’s.  Turning to my right I said,  “Your ª10 got me.  I wasn’t going to finesse the queen.”

          RHO was expansive after his top board.  “Yes, well I figured it must be right to force out an honor.”

          “But you nearly gave me the whole suit!  If I play the ªA, dropping your partner’s king, I can finesse against your jack.”

          “Too bad you didn’t think to do that, then.  Never mind,” he consoled, “It’s always easier to think of these plays afterwards.”