It cost Felix Springer the Barb Shaw trophy.
If you play enough bridge, occasionally a hand comes up that is so startling that you absolutely must talk about it with someone. On this occasion it was the very last hand that we played in the sectional in Hamden on Saturday. My judgment had been faulty all day long.
Sitting East with both sides vulnerable, I picked up this unusual set of pasteboards:
♠ ___ ♥ Q J 7 5 4 3 ♦ A Q J 8 6 5 3 ♣ ___
I decided to open 1♥. I was only looking at ten points, and someone must have a lot of black cards. Therefore, I expected the bidding to be vigorous. I did not want to lose the heart suit.
After the next two players passed North made the surprising bid of 3NT. He probably had a suit that he expected to produce at least six or seven tricks and stoppers in the other three suits. I immediately placed the ♦K in his hand. He also certainly had either the ace or king of hearts. Making that bid with two kings would be pretty risky. If my partner had one of the aces, and I found it with the opening lead, the contract might be down before he took a trick. I strongly suspected that he held the ♥A. In fact, if I were a betting man, I would have laid the usual 8-5 odds that he held all three aces that I could not see.
I considered letting North play this contract, but if he had what I thought he had, and if he really had a runable suit, there was nothing that I could do to stop him.
I felt that I needed to try to get my partner involved. I bid 4♦ to try to rouse him from his reverie. That would tell him that I had a two-suiter.
My bid had the desired effect, but upon the wrong player. South, my left-hand opponent, played the 4♠ card, which was followed by two passes. I wasted no time in adding the 5♦ card to the red stack in front of me. Once again, there were two passes.
North went in the tank. He obviously was disconcerted by the turn that the auction had taken. After at least a minute of mental agita he bid 5♠, which was the final contract.
My partner, Felix Springer, led the ♥10. Declarer lost two spade tricks, but he managed to take the other eleven. If Felix had led a diamond, declarer would have had to lead up to the ♠9 on the first round of trump in order to make it. This would have been a highly unusual play, and he did not find it with the heart lead. However, the bidding was certainly bizarre, and perhaps he would have played it differently if the first trick had been pointed towards us.
The -650 score was a very bad result. If we had set them, I think that Felix would have gotten just enough points to win the trophy that went to the top player in Flight C.
I have been second-guessing myself for three days. What puzzled me the most was why South did not mention his six-card spade suit. I suppose that he feared the vulnerability and hoped that he might be able to take advantage of his nice heart suit.
Suppose that I had opened 1♦ instead. That would have removed the defensive aspect of South’s hand. He might have bid 2♠. If so, what would North have done? I would have bid 4NT with that hand. The only other reasonable possibilities are 3♦ and 4♠.
In any case I would need to mention the heart suit at that point. Who knows how the opponents would have reacted? It is possible that they would have found their best contract, which is 6♣. If so, they would have needed to negotiate a mine field to make it. It is also possible that they would have ended up in spades, and Felix might have chosen to lead my first-bid suit, diamonds. It is also possible that they would have stumbled into 6♠, which is only makeable on a heart lead, and even then requires the declarer to play Felix for both spade honors. It is futile to guess as to what would have happened.
Suppose that I had bid 5♦ over 3NT instead of 4♦. Would South have had the temerity to introduce the spade suit at the five level? That would have been a bold mood. I think that he would have passed. Would he then have pulled North’s inevitable double to 5♠? I suspect that he would have. The question then would turn to Felix’s lead. Would the jump in diamonds impress him more than repeating diamonds had?
My favorite aspect of bridge is competitive bidding. In this case I hoped to get some information out of my partner, but that would never happen. I don’t see how I could have ever realized that the defensive aspect of my hand – one or two diamond tricks if Felix led diamonds – was the critical one.
What lesson is to be learned? The only one that I can think of is that bridge is often a cruel game.