Have you ever wondered whether all those hands you see played so brilliantly in the bridge columns were actually played that way at the table? To tell you the truth, so have I. But good bridge hands are not always easy to come by, so I accept what I am told and do not press my correspondents as to whether or not they actually played the cards with such deftness.
It is, therefore, with a little extra pleasure that I tell about a contract that was not made by my friend Dick Frey recently while playing with Omar Sharif. Frey discovered too late and to his considerable chagrin that there was a play which could have saved the hand. I have since presented the problem of the North-South hands to half a dozen of the country's top players and they did not make the contract either, in spite of the fact that when you ask an expert about a hand he knows there is a difficulty with it and is on guard. So here is your chance to beat the experts. Cover the East-West cards and decide how you would play as South in five clubs after a trump lead.
Four hearts might have succeeded, but the five-club contract was a good one that would have been simple enough had West not hit upon the trump opening. This cut the total of obvious tricks to 10 and forced Frey to seek some other way to build an 11th. He won the first trick with the 8 of clubs over East's 7 and began to establish the spade suit by taking a first-round finesse of the 10. This wins against both honors or one honor only twice guarded in West's hand, and the other experts all selected the same play. But this was not the crucial point.
East won the trick with the queen of spades. He could have ended declarer's chances by returning the king of diamonds and forcing dummy to ruff prematurely, but he made the normal play of continuing trumps, leading the 3 to West's 9 and dummy's 10. From here on, can you make the contract?
Frey cashed dummy's spade ace, discarding a low heart. Then he ruffed a spade, cashed the ace of hearts and led to dummy's heart king. A fourth spade was ruffed with declarer's last trump, while East discarded the 7 of diamonds. The fifth spade was now established, but declarer had to get to dummy by ruffing a diamond. North still had a high trump with which to pull West's jack and the good spade could now be cashed, but when a heart was led West won and gave his partner the last, and setting, trick by leading a diamond to the ace.
South's mistake was the discard of that "losing" heart on the ace of spades, a play which might have been worth an extra trick if the king of spades dropped in three leads, but, as the cards lay, cost the contract. If South discards a diamond instead of a heart he is home. When he ruffs the fourth spade, instead of crossing to dummy by ruffing a diamond, South leads his third heart and lets West take his winner in that suit. This sets up dummy's last heart while there is still one trump to use for ruffing a diamond and another to pull West's last trump.
Did you figure it out? I must confess, neither did I.
Opening lead: queen of clubs