Zia Mahmood

the guardianThursday 10 February 2011

Agony and ecstasy in the far east: A dramatic deal played out at the NEC Cup

The NEC Cup is held in Yokohama each January and always attracts many of the world’s best players, together with teams from the host country. Today’s deal must have been an agonising business for those who watched it live via Bridge Base Online.

Game all, dealer West.

extasis y agonia 1

extasis y agonia 2

(1) The Chinese North showed 5-5 in spades and another suit by cue bidding, whereupon the Japanese East

(2) raised to four hearts to create pressure in the auction – slam was possible, but not very likely.

(3) Nobody knew whether or not this would make; the Chinese hoped that it would while the Japanese hoped that (a) it wouldn’t and (b) someone would double it, because

(4) everyone could see that five hearts doubled would not make, and might be a phantom sacrifice.

This seemed a promising start to the new year for China, while Japan was plunged into despair.

However, the drama was just beginning.

North led her singleton queen of diamonds against five hearts doubled, and West won with dummy’s ace and played a trump. On winning with the ace North underled her ace and king of spades, hoping to put partner in with the queen to deliver a diamond ruff. But South didn’t have the queen, so dummy’s singleton jack of spades held the trick. Japanese misery had turned to joy in a heartbeat, because declarer could now succeed in various ways.

Simplest, guided by the bidding and the defence so far, was to draw trumps while eliminating spades, cash the two top clubs and exit with a diamond. On winning, South would have nothing but diamonds left, and would have to establish a trick for East’s 10 on which declarer would discard a losing club.

Declarer unfortunately lost her way in the endgame, and went one down for 200 to China.

Gloomily the Japanese viewers switched to the other table, where somebody did double four spades by South. The play in this contract is highly complex – it was making after trick one, down after trick six, but when a Chinese defender made a fatal error at trick nine, the doubled game succeeded for 11 IMPs to Japan.