“Defense is the name of the game, you are likely to defend on two of every four hands. That's twice as often as you are declarer.” Poppa Jake was delivering the final pep talk before the players were seated for the last segment of the Delta Swiss Final, when Big Rube broke in.
“That's true, Poppa, except when partnering you,” he said, trying to maintain the respectful tone expected of the first-born. “You seem to end up as declarer on at least three-quarters of the hands our side plays.”
Poppa Jake frowned. “I hope you're not questioning my dummy play, Reuben.” He never addressed his senior son by his full name except when angry. “In all modesty, I don't think that there's a better declarer east of Suez – or west of it, where we currently are located.”
Perhaps. But even Poppa Jake's prodigious prowess as declarer didn't help against this neat bit of defense from Fatma, who was seated East in tandem with Pharoah at the desert tribe's home table.
His Royal Highness thought better of leading the doubleton king of his partner's bid suit, suspecting that might give up a trick. Instead he chose the classic fourth from his longest and strongest, the ♦5, for his opening lead.
East followed with the ♦J and Poppa stopped to ponder. West's lead of the ♦5, plus East's play of the jack, seemed to indicate that suit divided 6-1, which might provide a clue as to the distribution of the club suit he needed to bring in for no losers to make sure of the contract. But Fatma had already established a reputation as a wily sort, and the Ruler of the Land of the Nile had also proved himself capable of some elementary false-carding. So Poppa Jake cashed two top clubs, bringing the bad break to light. As he had feared, a finesse against Fatma's jack would have been the winning decision.
Having nothing better to do, Poppa cleared the clubs. On winning the fourth club trick, Fatma made what appeared to be an unusual shift to the ♥J. Poppa went into a long trance, the kind local holy men made when they were about to perform some amazing magical feat, and then folded his cards.
Poppa turned to Fatma. “Congratulations,” he said. “You have found the only play to defeat the contract. Had you led a low one I could duck and West would win his ♥K, but he would have no winning followup. A heart to his partner's ace would establish my ♥Q as the ninth trick, allowing me to access the ♦A as well. A spade to dummy would allow me to do the same thing.”
Poppa Jake smiled wryly as he continued. “But the ♥J killed me. If I were to cover, Pharaoh wins with the king. A heart to your ace and another low heart would endplay dummy. Were I to duck the ♥J, you could continue a low heart. West would win the king and return a spade and I'm finished. The defense must win four major suit tricks – either three hearts and a spade, or four hearts.”
Fatma was certainly an astute defender. Poppa Jake hadn't seen that level of defense in years, since his beloved son Joseph vanished in the desert. Could it be...
(to be continued)
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