Avoiding the Avoidance

John Carruthers’ book, “Bridge with Another Perfect Partner”, was published in 2022 and won the International Bridge Press Association’s Book-of-the-Year award. In this original article, Carruthers continues with the style and theme of the book and the characters in it.

Selby, having just won the Life Master Pairs at the NABC in Chicago with his daughter Gail, decided on a family affair for the Spingold, the most-prestigious of the ACBL’s events: Selby and Gail were to be joined by Basil, Selby’s brother, and me, their willing victim. In our first-round match, we faced a team of mid-westerners better-known than us but, according to Selby, no more skilled. This was the decisive deal, near the end of our sixty-board match. Being proud of my defense on the board and, since we’d won the match by a narrow margin, I innocently (or perhaps ingenuously) asked Selby, “What happened on Board 58?”

I led the ten of spades. Declarer ducked, and ducked the spade continuation to Basil’s jack. When Basil continued with the spade queen, I had a problem: a diamond discard could have given declarer four tricks in the suit if he held the ace-queen. If declarer held both red-suit ace-queens or the jack of clubs, a club finesse would see him home with nine tricks, so I had to assume Basil had at least one of the key red queens. Since declarer had not made a negative double, I could assume that he did not have four hearts, so a heart discard was probably safe.

“I thought I made a great play,” I told Selby and Gail, a trifle immodestly. “On the third spade, I discarded the king of clubs. I needed Basil to hold a red queen in any case, and then the jack-third of clubs would have been enough to defeat the contract. Additionally, If declarer had held both red queens, he’d have had eight top tricks and would surely have won the second spade, cashed his red-suit winners and exited with a spade to endplay Basil, whether he had the club king or not.” (you can replay the hand by clicking on the arrows)

“Yes, that was a competent defense,” Selby replied. Competent? Was he needling me? Was that play merely ‘competent defense’? “Now, do you want to hear what happened at our table?” Selby continued testily.

Remembering that I’d initially asked him precisely that question, I was a bit chastened. “Sure.”

“At our table, with that indifferent diamond suit, I preferred a cue-bid, despite the poor club support. If Gail could have rebid two notrump, that would have been perfect.”

“The play started similarly, except that I did not give our West defender the chance to make the same play you did. Without the diamond or heart queen, I definitely needed West to hold the king of clubs, so I planned to lose a club trick to him while taking four tricks in the suit. I won the second spade lead with my ace since, if East had overcalled on a four-card suit, with West holding another, I was in no danger as long as the clubs were favorably distributed. At trick three, I led a club to the ace in case East had started with a singleton king. Had West followed to the first club lead with the king, I had planned to let him hold the trick.”

“When the ace of clubs gathered a low one from East, I returned to hand with a diamond to lead a second club. When West played the king, I had my contract, whether East followed suit or not.”

What could I say to that? “Well done.”

Selby was uncharacteristically generous: “It was a team effort.”

At the Summer US Nationals last month, John Carruthers was inducted to the ACBL Hall of Fame. The ACBL Bulletin wrote: “John received the Blackwood Award, traditionally reserved for talent and service away from the table, although he possesses an impressive tournament resume. A four-time NABC champion and 13-time Canadian champion, Carruthers won a silver medal in the World Senior Pairs, and he was inducted into the Canadian Bridge Federation Hall of Fame in 2015. But Carruthers is equally well known as a writer, editor, coach, teacher and administrator. Carruthers served 21 years as the editor of the International Bridge Press Association Bulletin, 16 years as editor of the Ontario Kibitzer, and has been a contributor to bridge publications in more than a dozen countries.”

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