A mental block

by Chris Jagger

One of the funniest defences I have had the pleasure to be involved in recently was the following - as usual, with some instructive points. Please spot the errors as they occur - bearing in mind that West was being paid to avoid East's errors!

Dealer S
S AJ65
D 107
C 10962
E/W Vul
S K32
H J1042
D Q962
C Q5
W         E
S 1084
H 85
D AJ843
C A74
S Q97
H K976
D K5
C KJ83

A Stayman auction led to South declaring 2NT on the d2 lead. East won and returned the d4 to the king, West following with the six. Declarer crossed to a heart and played the c10. East rose with the ace, and returned the dJ. West overtook and cashed d9, declarer pitching two spades from each hand.

The defence had brilliantly blocked the suit, so now West led s2. Declarer rose with the ace, and confidently finessed the club, losing to the bare queen. East now cashed his sK and put partner in with s10 to cash his fifth diamond, for three down, and no doubt two tricks more than anybody else in the room!

Before reading on, decide what mistakes were made.

Declarer played the hand pretty well, but made one error, He was correct not to finesse the spade, which might have led to one down in a cold contract had the king been offside. Where he erred was in throwing the second spade from dummy, as it could never cost to throw a club instead. Following the defence's lead, he too had a mental block as to the lie of the hand, and was careless as a result.

What of East? He actually committed three errors - the second was rising with the cA, which could have dropped his partner's queen. The third was the blocking play in diamonds. The first though was at trick two, when he should have returned the d3. Conventional wisdom is that you return your original fourth highest in the suit. However, this is completely wrong. In this case the four leaves partner uncertain as to whether you started with A4, A43, AJ84, or AJ843 - not a very useful card! Returning the lowest is less confusing - admittedly he will still not know whether you have two, four or five cards in the suit. But he does know that you don't have three, so he can cash his top one when he gets in, which will be what you want him to do.

And West? I admit to being West - and I considered unblocking the d9 under the king. It felt as though partner probably had five, and it would cater for partner's spectacular play of the jack. On the other hand it would look particularly stupid if partner had A43, and if he had AJ84 there would be some hope that I might be able to cash the fourth diamond retaining the lead, and then have a better chance of finding the right switch. My view at the time was that it was right not to unblock, but I leave that for you to decide.

Finally let's award some `results merchant points' (the biggest crime in bridge!) Two for anybody who thought declarer ought to have dropped the doubleton cQ, and one to those who thought he should have taken the spade finesse.