What kind of a bridge-player are you? If you were to choose, what would you prefer: winning a match without doing anything remarkable, or having a memorable performance and still lose the match? You see, at the bridge table -just like in real life- there are cases when virtue is its own reward. If you want some examples, read on.
The hand that follows was one of the favourites of the late Terence Reese. He had played it during the 1955 World Championship, when the British team unseated the Americans from the throne of world champions.
East dealer, game all
A J 9 3 K J 8 7 4 3 A 3 4 10 8 7 6 K --- Q 9 6 5 2 K Q J 10 9 7 5 8 6 4 2 8 2 Q 5 3 Q 5 4 2 A 10 --- A K J 10 9 7 6
The 9 of diamonds was led. Reese ruffed the opening lead and spurning the trump finesse he cashed the ace and king of clubs. He then cashed ace and king of hearts and led the 7, covered by the 9 and ruffed. He then exited with a low trump. East won and was obliged to give dummy the two entries needed to take the ruffing finesse in hearts and establish discards for South's spades. Compared with a trump finesse, this line of play has the extra chance of finding the trump queen singleton or doubleton offside. The key play was ruffing the diamond at trick one; the A is needed as an additional entry to dummy.
How many points (not IMPs: total points were still used at that time) do you think Reese gained for his team with his brilliant play? Well, not that many. Actually, the board was flat. At the other table Rosen played the same contract for the US team. He won the ace of diamonds in dummy and took an immediate trump finesse. The lady was docile so the board was halved, declarer losing only the K.
In the Reese example, the brilliant play turned out to be superfluous because of the friendly (or should we call it unfriendly?) lie of the cards. In other cases, however, the brilliancy is neutralized because the situation that calls for it never arises in the other room. Witness this deal from the China v Brazil match for the quarter-finals of the 1993 World Championship:
East dealer, E-W vul.
The auction was:
K 9 4 3 K 9 5 2 A 8 3 10 3 Q 5 8 7 J 10 6 3 8 K Q 6 4 J 10 9 5 K 7 6 A J 9 5 4 3 A J 10 6 2 A Q 7 4 7 2 Q 2
West leads the K which you duck (East playing the jack) and then another diamond. You win and draw trumps (they mercifully are 2-2). Now what?
The Chinese declarer cashed just the A, crossed to dummy with a spade to ruff the last diamond and then exited with a club. Defenders cashed their two club tricks but then had either to give a ruff and discard or concede the heart trick. This line only loses when hearts are 4-1 with West having a small singleton (the 6 or the 3); in any other case of 4-1 division it gains.
It was a very neat play and a potential swing for the Chinese team. The same contract was reached at the other table as well, but declarer was never put to the test. We can imagine the discussion when scores were compared at the end of the set.
If the contract is not the same in the other room, there is still more scope for unrewarded brilliancies.
It is a well-known bridge saying that in high-level matches the bidding, rather than the play, becomes the decisive factor for a swing. In fact, many a play brilliancies have been invalidated because the opponents won the bidding battle.
Take for example this hand from USA v New Zealand, for the Round Robin of the 1974 World Championship. You are sitting East and the opponents reach a slam after a hotly contested auction:
Partner's 4 promised a heart fit.
Partner leads the two of diamonds to your ace, declarer contributing the three. This is what you see:
K 7 5 --- 10 8 6 5 A Q 10 5 4 2 6 A K 6 5 4 3 2 A J 9 J 9
What do you play at trick two?
The full deal was:
K 7 5 --- 10 8 6 5 A Q 10 5 4 2 10 9 8 3 6 Q 10 9 7 A K 6 5 4 3 2 K Q 7 4 2 A J 9 --- J 9 A Q J 4 2 J 8 3 K 8 7 6 3
Marc Blumenthal returned the only suit to beat the slam: a club for partner to ruff. He knew that partner had the essential of his meagre values in diamonds, so the two-spot was a clear suit-preference. The heart void in dummy removed any lingering doubts. Not an excruciatingly difficult play to find, but still a remarkable defence.
A substantial swing to the Americans? Not exactly. In the other room, after a more brisk auction that did not bring into light the diamond fit, Hamman elected to double the Kiwis' six hearts contract and, as it turned out, there was no way to beat it. It was 1310 to the NZ squad, and the great defence by Blumenthal and Goldman only served to restrict the losses to "merely" 15 IMPs. Beat a slam, lose a slam swing: it doesn't seem fair! (It could have been worse, obviously. When Italy met Indonesia, Belladonna-Garozzo made 6 doubled on the A lead, while Franco-De Falco made 6 doubled their way: it was a double slam swing, bringing 21 IMPs!)
In the 1996 Olympiad, Indonesia reached the final, after beating Denmark in the semifinal. It was an exciting match: after the 96 boards the two rivals were tied and extra boards were needed. This was board 91.
Love all, dealer South
K 7 7 J 10 9 7 5 2 A K 6 4 J 10 9 5 3 2 J 4 2 A K Q 10 9 5 3 8 A Q 3 Q 5 3 2 9 8 A Q 8 6 4 8 6 K 6 4 J 10 7
In the Open Room, the bidding went:
Lasut led his singleton spade. Declarer won in hand and played the 9. Lasut rose to the occasion. He went up with his ace and then he underled his AKQ of hearts, playing the 9, a suit-preference for the spades. Partner, bless him, did have the jack. He won and gave East a spade ruff for the setting trick.
Lasut probably expected a swing on the board. A swing it was, but not of the nature the Indonesians were hoping for. At the other table the Danes were at 4. This can be defeated, but it takes difficult defence. Watch what happened:
2 was weak with 5+spades and a minor. 3 was forcing.
Karwur led J, ducked, and he switched to a trump. Declarer won and played a club to the queen and king and Denny Sacul switched to the 7 to put Karwur in for another trump lead. But Karwur didn't read the position and tried to cash a second spade instead. Now Christiansen was home; +420. So, at both tables the Indonesian defenders underled their aces and assorted honours with success and despite of that they lost 8 IMPs for their pains. Two brilliancies in the play were not enough to undo the damage done at the bidding. This would need a third good play, by Karwur in the Closed Room, and even then the gain would have been a paltry 4 IMPs (100+50 points). One is free to draw conclusions from this instructive deal.
Which brings us to what probably is the utmost example of defensive brilliancy gone unrewarded. It arose in the 1979 Bermuda Bowl, when Chinese Taipei met USA.
South dealer, N-S vul
Sitting South, Kuo opened 1H. The bidding went:
Looking for a ruff, Kuo underled his ace of hearts, reasonably hoping that partner will have the king. He led the 9, to request a return in diamonds, the higher of the two suits.
The deal was:
J 5 2 K Q 4 3 8 7 4 2 K Q A K Q 10 9 6 4 10 6 5 8 A J 10 3 K Q 9 6 5 9 6 4 3 2 5 8 7 3 A J 9 7 2 --- A J 10 8 7
Huang had the hoped-for king, and he duly received the message. Not only that, but he returned the two of diamonds for partner to ruff, suggesting a possible entry in clubs. Message received by Kuo as well, for he underled his second ace, playing a low club. North won the king and a further ruff was the fourth defensive trick.
Truly a dazzling performance by N-S, who were justifiably proud of it. A handsome gain, too? You bet! This unique piece of defence was rewarded by... a loss of 15 IMPs! In the other room, Kantar-Eisenberg bid 5 over East's four spades and they were doubled. Due to the outrageous blockage in the spade suit, the apparent three spade losers were actually a mirage. Kantar made his doubled contract with an overtrick, scoring 850.
Because of the quirks of the IMP scale, Kuo's brilliant double underlead only served to restrict the losses from 17 IMPs (had he allowed 4 doubled to make) to 15. Yes, sometimes virtue is its own reward...
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