You are South holding:

S 9 7 3 H K J 10 9 7 4 D 5 C J 10 7

South dealer, E-W vul.


(1) Major two-suiter (2) Game force, asks opener for further description

Pass, double, or bid 5H? Should you elect to defend, what do you lead?

Scroll down to see what was the decision of the French star

The reigning French world champion, Christian Mari, made his first attempt at a world title back in 1975, partnered by Michel Lebel. The French team lost a close semifinal match against the USA, who subsequently bowed to the legendary Blue Team. The result of the semifinal might have been different but for this deal.

Michel Lebel chose to defend and led a spade. His lead was excellent, but not his bidding decision. This was the full deal:

S A Q J 10 4
H A 8 6 5 2
D 3
C 5 4
S K 6
H Q 3
C A 9 8 6 3 2
S 8 5 2
H - - -
D K 10 9 8 7 6 4 2
S 9 7 3
H K J 10 9 7 4
D 5
C J 10 7

As you see, 5D is cold. Without a spade lead, declarer will make all 13 tricks, drawing trump and discarding spades on the clubs. This happened in the other semifinal match, when Manoppo scored 1150 for Indonesia at 5D doubled, after the king of hearts lead by the Italian defender. The spade lead only served to restrict the losses to 750 (Mari had doubled 5D, and who can blame him).

Note that the West hand is a bit off-center for a notrump opening bid, and also note the cunning 2NT bid by Hamman, who masked his extreme distribution. Still, Lebel should had bid 5H. Partner having promised a major two-suiter, the double fit (EW minors, NS majors) has come to light. The South hand is defenceless, but it is very promising in offence. Moreover, 5H rates to be a cheap sacrifice.

As the cards lie, 5H will go one down. Not only that: it is very likely that EW will bid on to 6D. This is what happened in the other room, when Boulenger, East for France, bid 6D over 5H. North doubled and South, Eddie Kantar, led an unerring spade to beat the contract by one trick and gain 14 IMPs (200 plus 750) for the USA. Incidentally, the final margin was just 12 IMPs for the US team...

Special thanks to Yvan Calame for the HTML conversion!

Nikos Sarantakos,
Luxembourg, June 1998

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