The GOAT?


Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 03/01/2019
Level: Intermediate to Advanced

In Sports, the "GOAT" refers to the "Greatest Of All Time." The Greatest (or certainly one of the top few) of All Time in bridge went wrong on this deal. Can you spot the clear mistake? In the finals of the 2018 U.S. Team Trials, he held:

♠ QJ53  
♥ AK5  
♦ KQ104  
♣ KQ.


In second seat (favorable vulnerability), he opened 2NT. His partner bid 3♠, a form of Stayman (that asked for 4- or 5-card majors). He responded 3♠ to show a 4-card major(s), but not a 5-card major. Partner now bid 3♠ (showing 4♠), and it was doubled (for the lead). Having spades well-stopped (and not 4 hearts), opener tried 3NT, which bought the contract.

The ♠4 was led and dummy tabled:

♠ 2
♥ QJ94
♦ J98752
♣ A6
 
♠ QJ53
♥ AK5
♦ KQ104
♣ KQ

As you can see, 5♠ (reached at the other table) would have been much easier. Also, without this revealing (allowing the LDD) auction, there would have been a club lead and the contract would be laydown.

Anyway, the spade lead went to the ace and the ♠6 was returned. Declarer's jack lost to the king and another spade came back. This was the Real Deal:

 

 

 

Vul:E-W
Dlr: East
♠ 2
♥ QJ94
♦ J98752
♣ A6
 
♠ K94
♥ 8632
♦ --
♣ J108532
  ♠ A10876
♥ 107
♦ A63
♣ 974
  ♠ QJ53
♥ AK5
♦ KQ104
♣ KQ
 

As you can see, the contract was down one. After the third round of spades (East overtook the 9 with the 10 to drive out the queen), declarer had to play diamonds and East set the contract with the ♠A and 4 spade tricks.

So, what went wrong? Declarer could have and should have made the contract. He should not have played a spade honor at trick 2. Even if the doubler held ♠AK10xx, he couldn't also hold the ♠A (review the auction, noting that East was a Passed Hand). So, letting the defense win the second spade cheaply has to be the winning play. With the actual layout, West can't set up his partner's spades.

This time, the GOAT was the goat.