The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part LII: The Man Who Counts
By Ray Adams
The player who counts in bridge has a big advantage over those who do not. Porczouk Nograwowicz counts.
After an extremely contentious auction, Nograwowicz ended up in 5♣ and West led the king of hearts. Nograwowicz was upset with himself when he saw the dummy. He had two natural diamond losers and if clubs did not split 2-2, he might easily go down when 4♥ doubled would surely fail by at least two tricks. Nevertheless, he gave the contract his best shot, winning the ace of hearts at trick one and immediately ruffing the eight of hearts as East followed to the second trick with the nine. This apparently useless play was actually the key to what followed later in the hand.
At trick three, Nograwowicz cashed the ace of trumps, noting the fall of the jack from the East hand. This card made him think of the possible distribution based on the bidding. Surely, West had seven hearts. Since West had not led a diamond, it was also possible he had no diamonds, leaving East with seven of the other red suit. It was also possible that spades divided 3-3, meaning West would have started with seven hearts, three spades, and therefore three clubs to the queen. This fit with East’s possible hand of seven diamonds, two hearts, three spades, and therefore, only one club.
Nograwowicz’s reasoning left him with two choices: he could bang down the king of clubs and hope that clubs were splitting and therefore spades were 4-2 or he could try for a more elegant line of play. Readers will surely guess that Nograwowicz chose the more elegant line.
He abandoned trumps and cashed the top two spades, both opponents signaling an even number of spades. Nograwowicz chuckled at the defenders’ antics and ignored them. He then played a third spade to dummy’s queen, as both opponents followed. He was now certain he had correctly guessed the East/West distributions. Now declarer led the two of hearts and tossed a diamond. West had to win this card, but had no good exit. If West exited with a heart, Nograwowicz would ruff in dummy, tossing another diamond. He would then cash the top spade, shedding his last diamond. West would win one heart and one club, but the contract would be safe.
Likewise, if West exited a club, declarer would be left with no club loser and would gain access to the dummy to toss another diamond on the high spade. All roads led to Nograwowicz making this minor suit game simply due to good technique and counting.
Pas was down two doubled in 4♥ at the other table, meaning Team Porcupine picked up a valuable seven imps on this hand. This counted for a lot to the team, for if Nograwowicz had banged down the king of clubs at trick four, they would have lost nine imps instead.