When in Rome

Robert Hamman 

YOU'VE been there before. The contract is Four Spades. You lead your singleton club, which declarer wins in hand. At trick two declarer takes a losing trump finesse through you. Excellent! You've got two other tricks, so while you silently congratulate yourself on your fine opening lead, you contemplate your matchpoint score or your IMPs for one down.

But wait! Partner has started thinking! Where is that club return? Is he kidding? In your mind your lead was so obviously a singleton, partner must have been in a coma if he didn't recognise it! How could he consider anything else!?!

If partner fails to return that club, chances are the defence will go up in smoke. There may be a way to defeat Four Spades even if you don't get that ruff, but you'll never find it in your emotional state. You're too busy with recriminations and frustration. Your mind is clouded with thoughts that have no place at the bridge table.

I WAS involved in a crucial deal at the United States bridge championship in Memphis a few years ago that was the perfect illustration of this kind of trap.

It was the last deal of the whole event and our team was behind by 7 IMPs. We didn't know it, but the contract had been Four Hearts in the other room - making.

  North Dealer J 7 4 3    


Love All

 A 8 4





 K Q 8





 K J 8









A Q 9 2     10 8 6 5

 10 6 3


W                          E

 K 9

 10 7



 J  4 2

 A 10 9 7



 Q 6 4 3














 Q J 7 5 2





 A 9 6 5 3





 5 2























1 checkback for 3-card heart support


Against the game I chose to lead the ten of diamonds. Declarer won with the king in dummy. Obviously, at this point he can play ace and another heart, hoping to guess right in clubs if it comes to that. However, declarer decided that his chances of stealing the king of spades - in addition to the possibility that I had a singleton diamond and three hearts to the king plus at least one black ace - justified winning the lead in dummy and playing the three of spades at trick two. Declarer was doomed at this point. I took the king of spades with my ace and returned the seven of diamonds. Declarer ducked in dummy and took my partner's jack with his ace.

The jack of hearts came next and my partner, Bobby Wolff, won with the king. Being the careful, thoughtful player that he is, Wolff began to think about his return.

It was at this point that my energy became misdirected. I was rooting so hard for Wolff to return a diamond that I'm afraid that I might have failed to find the defence to defeat the hand even without the diamond ruff.

Say Wolff had chosen to return a spade, the only logical alternative to a diamond. Declarer would ruff and, knowing I had started with a doubleton diamond, would have been forced to play me for the ace of clubs. Pulling two more rounds of trumps and then unblocking diamonds would be a certain one down. He would have to use his last trump to return to his hand to run diamonds, and the defence would be waiting with the ace of clubs and queen of spades.

Therefore, declarer would have to play a club immediately after ruffing the second round of spades. He would reason that if East had the ace of clubs, a diamond would surely be returned and he would be one down as before. Therefore, if I ducked the club, declarer would go up with the king, pull trumps, unblock the diamond suit and return to his hand with a spade ruff. Making ten tricks - and his team would have gone to Salsomaggiore instead of mine.

I could still have defeated Four Hearts without the diamond ruff, however. On the spade return, declarer would have ruffed and been forced to lead clubs at the next trick. The winning defence is for me to rise with the ace of clubs and play the queen of spades! Look what happens to declarer on that defence. Forced to ruff, he would be down to two trumps in each hand - with the diamond suit still blocked. If he draws trumps he has no chance. If he draws one more round of trumps before playing diamonds again, hoping I started with only two trumps, I still get my ruff. If he plays a club to the king and ruffs a club, I will get my ten of hearts.

Admittedly defence of this type - deliberately establishing dummy's jack of spades - is tough to find. You will surely never find it if you sit there pining for partner to return a diamond. I was wasting my time rooting for partner to defeat the contract on routine defence instead of thinking about how to beat it if he didn't make the right play.

The reality of bridge is that your partners will vary from great to bad - and even the great ones will not always see the defence that is obvious to you.

The same thing applies in other settings. When your opening lead turns out to be a bad one, don't sit there saying 'Gee! I wish I had made a different lead.' Spend your energy searching for ways to recover. There may still be time - and ways - for your side to prevail.


My BOLS bridge tip is:

When in Rome , do as the Romans do, 

i.e. when you are playing bridge think about bridge.

Concentrate on what cards you should play or bids you should make rather than expend your energy worrying about what your partner should or should not do.