The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVI: The Phantom of the Sacrifice
By Ray Adams
One of the most dreaded nightmares a bridge buff can have is that of the phantom sacrifice. This occurs when a pair chooses to sacrifice against a game contract that would go down against perfectly normal defense. And few players choose to sacrifice at a high level when they are vulnerable and the opponents are not. Stanislaus Kowalski of Team Porcupine would be one of the few exceptions, especially when he knows his partner, Porczouk Nograwowicz, will be playing the hand.
East’s two spade bid was weak and Kowalski’s 4NT bid was unusual (to say the least), showing ten cards in the minors. West had no trouble doubling, and in fact, must have been expecting a huge penalty of at least 800 points. Kowalski, on the other hand, was clearly hoping that his partner could hold the contract to down one for minus 200 versus the presumed plus 420 EW would earn for four spades making.
West led the ace of spades, ruffed in dummy. Nograwowicz saw he had no easy job in front of him and indeed, he could easily lose control of the hand and go down three or more. He decided to embark on a crossruff, trumping two diamonds in his hand and two more spades in the dummy. He next played the ace of clubs, dummy’s last trump. Declarer then ruffed a third diamond and led his last trump, hoping the suit divided 2-2 and that West would have to win the trick, as East would have had several spades to cash.
Declarer’s hopes came true when West took the king of clubs as East’s jack dropped. A very interesting end position had now been reached. Dummy remained with the king and ten of hearts plus the ace, ten and nine of diamonds. West had four hearts to the ace and the singleton king of diamonds, while East held the queen doubleton of hearts, and the king, ten, and eight of spades.
West was an excellent player and saw what was about to happen. He tried his best by leading the nine of hearts, but Nograwowicz calmly played dummy’s king and quickly cashed three more diamond tricks to make his doubled contract. This was plus 750 for Team Porcupine. At the other table, Konejwicz tried his best to make four spades, but lost a trick in each suit for down one and minus 50 for the team. Still, this was a 12 imp pickup for Team Porcupine in a match they won by 9 imps.
Since the spade game had gone down, Kowalski’s sacrifice had indeed been a phantom. But the phantom had turned into much more than an enticing apparition created by Kowalski’s mind when Nograwowicz’s sterling play brought it home.