Sit where you choose—and lose

March 06, 1967

When you cut the highest card, the International Laws of contract bridge give you the right to choose your seat and the color of the deck with which you will deal. However, nothing can give you an inkling of which seats will get the best hands in the next rubber. But, whether you hold the belief that the cards will continue to run as they have or you follow the idea that the luck will average out and the winning seats will begin to lose, the fact is that your luck is never going to be much better than your skill.

If you do not believe this let me offer you your choice of seats on this deal after you have seen all four hands. Would you rather be declarer, South, at a contract of three no trump, or would you prefer to defend and sit East?

As declarer, having won East's 9 of spades with the king, did you spot your chance to make the contract if East holds the ace of clubs? You cross to dummy with a diamond, lead a club, which East ducks to your queen, go back to dummy with another diamond and lead through the club ace again. Whether East takes his club ace now or decides to wait until the next round, he cannot continue spades without making dummy's queen a second stopper, nor can he put partner in the lead in time for a second spade play through dummy's queen. Thus, with East holding three clubs to the ace, South is a cinch to win four clubs, three diamonds, two hearts and one spade.

So you chose to play South? Wait a minute. What if East does not hold the ace of clubs? Yes, I know he has it—but he also has a chance to get rid of it on your second lead of diamonds. If he throws it away, you can never set up your clubs without allowing West to win a trick with his jack. When he does, he will lead through dummy's queen of spades, and the defenders get one club and four spade tricks to beat you.

Did you spot this defensive opportunity and choose the East seat? I congratulate you on having seen the chance for a brilliant play, but wait another minute. Throwing away the ace of clubs on that second diamond lead will not defeat the game if South comes up with the right counter-play. Declarer can now see that he will lose the contract if he lets West win a trick with the club jack, so he abandons the club suit and leads a spade. Now East has two choices. He can refuse to cash all his spade tricks—in which event South can afford to concede a club trick to West's jack since East has no reentry. Or East can subject his partner to a suicidal squeeze that ends up like this:

WEST
[Spade] ——
[Heart] Q 5
[Diamond] J 8
[Club] J 9

NORTH
[Spade] ——
[Heart] 10 8 6 3
[Diamond] Q 4
[Club] ——

EAST
[Spade] 7
[Heart] J 9 7 4
[Diamond] ——
[Club] 8

SOUTH
[Spade] ——
[Heart] A K
[Diamond] 10
[Club] K 7 6

When East cashes his last spade, South gives up a club and West pitches a heart, as does North. East returns a club. South wins and cashes his two high hearts. West must part with the jack of clubs or unguard his jack of diamonds. Either way, declarer wins the rest and proves you were right if you picked the North-South seats—provided you play as well as South.

EIGHTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS ILLUSTRATIONNORTH ILLUSTRATIONWEST ILLUSTRATIONSOUTH ILLUSTRATIONEAST

North-South vulnerable West dealer

WEST
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH
PASS
3 N.T.

EAST
1 [Spade]
PASS

SOUTH
1 N.T.
PASS

Opening lead: 5 of spades

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)