Bridge opens worlds. Literally.

Back in the mid-aughts, college classmate Sandy Shapleigh returned from the foreign service to Holyoke, the childhood home of his wife Cathy. “I hear you’re into bridge,” he emailed me. “Let’s get together and play.” (Our winter home is in Northampton.)

We not only played but became fast friends. The Shapleighs hosted us in South Africa, and we attended their daughter’s wedding in Barcelona.

The least we could do was invite them to the Vineyard. Playing bridge on our porch last weekend, Cathy executed a tour-de-force contract. She was sitting North and dealing, with no one vulnerable:

                       ♠️ Q 3
                       ♥️ A K
                       ♦️ A K Q J 6
                       ♣️ Q 10 3 2

WEST                                              EAST
♠️ A 10 9 7                                    ♠️ K 8 6 4 2
♥️ 7 6 3 2                                       ♥️ 9 5
♦️ 9 5                                             ♦️ 8 7 4 2
♣️ 8 6 5                                          ♣️ A 7

                     ♠️ J 5
                     ♥️ Q J 10 8 4
                     ♦️ 10 3
                     ♣️ K J 9 4

The bidding proceeded as follows:

North               East             South             West
2NT                  Pass             3NT               All Pass

Opening lead: ♠️4

The Shapleighs weren’t using transfers; hence, the immediate raise to 3NT.

West won the opening lead with the ace and returned the seven to partner’s king. Back came a spade for tricks with the 10 and 9. Channeling Omar Sharif, Cathy discarded the heart ace and king!

With spades blocked, West guilelessly returned a diamond. Whereupon Cathy ran off nine diamond and heart tricks to make the contract. That would not have been possible if she hadn’t discarded her top hearts.

Was there a way to defeat the contract? Yes, by unblocking the spades. At Trick Two West should play the ♠️10 to partner’s king. Another spade to the 9, followed by the 8 overtaking the 7, and East would cash the 2 for the setting trick. That strategy is awfully hard to see. There was another trick available if East cashes the ♣️A at Trick Three or if partner leads clubs at Trick Five. Again, only obvious in the postmortem.

Cathy described how bridge opened up her social contacts from Quito to Colombo. So the next time you’re on a plane, bring a deck of cards with you.