Brian Glubok

Slam Dunk
by Brian Glubok

You turn up at the rubber club on a late Sunday afternoon to while away a few hours with your friends. The game looks pretty juicy, the one bridge star outnumbered by the several titans of industry.

A quick turn for the worse. The Israeli-American superstar tears himself from the televised Elite Eight to cut in with you.

"Don't ask me for my hockey sides anymore," he warns you, "We take half a puck the other night, we are winning whole game till Detroit ties in last seconds of regulation, they win at end of overtime, you bring too much bad luck."

"How'd the other games do?" you ask him.

"They all win," he tells you. "We win every bet except when you ask."

You cut for partners, draw Zia. It's good on paper, but you never seem to get the most from the cards with him; coincidentally, your latest article in Bridge Today features several disasters you've had with him at this very rubber table.

"If you get seven hearts to the ace-jack, just settle for a small slam," Zia warns. "I would think you'd want that hand buried."

"Ahh, you read my article," you say, pleased. He must have just got his issue in the mail, for you haven't seen it yourself yet. "Sam's in it, too," you remark, anxious not to leave anyone out. But why is Zia being so cordial? Did the editors delete your most veiled insults? Perhaps they were too veiled. Curiosity eats away at you but you can't frame the question. Did they leave in the terrible things I said about you, Zia? you want to ask, but you can't get the syntax right.

The game goes from bad to worse. Harry the Horse arrives; he sizes up the situation, sees you, Lev and Zia at the same table, and decides he'd just as soon play for one dollar than two.

Great this is not. Now you're stuck playing four-handed with two of the three toughest rubber bridge players in the world, and Jack, a brilliant competitor and all-around genius. It occurs to you to stream for the exit, but you can't bear to leave them three-handed.

You decide to gut it out and play for a while. Maybe you'll have really good cards, maybe someone else will show up; you can always quit after you get stuck 30 or 40 points. Worst case, you figure, you can probably cobble an article out of the experience.

The day goes pretty well, except for the critical detail of these three slams bid against you. Take a stab defending. Try not to bear in mind that if you let any of them through, you'll be out the price of five lifetime subscriptions to BT. While you're at it, 10 bucks says you can't read this sentence without thinking of pink elephants.

Exhibit One

You hold:
S A865 H Q875 D 642 C 75

It starts one diamond on your right, one spade on your left. Two hearts on your right, reverse, three diamonds, support, on your left. Three notrump on your right, five diamonds on your left. Six diamonds on your right. What do you lead?

Try a trump. Dummy tables:

              S  K J 9 3 2
              H  9
              D  A T 7 3
              C  9 6 3
  S  A 8 6 5
  H  Q 8 7 5
  D  6 4 2
  C  7 5
Partner's D8 forces the king and the inevitable low spade comes through. Do you duck smoothly, take your ace, or hesitate and get lost?

You duck the spade. Where will the second trick come from if you grab your ace? Declarer wouldn't have bid six off three aces, and while it's conceivable partner has the king-queen of clubs, it still looks right to duck. If you take the SA, the spade suit will come in for three discards. You duck and declarer misguesses, playing the jack, which loses to Zia's queen; Zia returns a trump, a pleasant surprise; it didn't look like he had another. They wriggle around a bit, but Zia scores the 13th trick with the CJ to defeat the slam.

"Nice lead, Gluby," he exults. "I take back half the horrible things I said about you." The full deal:

             S  K J 9 3 2
             H  9
             D  A T 7 3
             C  9 8 6
  You                     Zia
  S  A 8 6 5              S  Q T 4
  H  Q 8 7 5              H  J T 6 2
  D  6 4 2                D  8 5
  C  7 5                  C  J T 4 3
             S  7
             H  A K 4 3
             D  K Q J 9
             C  A K Q 2

  You     Lev     Zia     Jack
  -       -       -       1 D
  pass    1 S     pass    2 H
  pass    3 D     pass    3 NT
  pass    5 D     pass    6 D
  (all pass)
Lev shakes his head unhappily. "You should know he has the ace of spades, Jack," Lev tells him. "He led a trump."

You lose a big rubber, even after beating the slam. You cut Zia again 20 minutes later, play well as a pair but lose more. Your early plus is wiped out and you're going backward, stuck.

"Why am I losing so much?" Zia wonders as we start again.

"You haven't cut Jack yet," you point out. "He's the only winner."

So you cut Jack, against Zia and Lev. You hold:
S KQT4 H QT972 D 652 C 7

Zia, on your left, opens one spade. Jack passes and Lev responds two diamonds. You pass, Zia raises to three diamonds, Lev continues three hearts, Zia bids three spades, Lev bids six diamonds. You get to lead.

Partner is unlikely to have a minor-suit ace, so the chance for a club ruff is modest, but you lead your singleton club anyway. It's not impossible that partner has the CA, and maybe declarer will need the club suit for communication, leading to a ruff for you. Besides, it's the unbid suit.

Dummy tables:

             S  A J 7 5 2
             H  J 5
             D  A K 8
             C  8 5 2
  S  K Q T 4
  H  Q T 9 7 2
  D  6 5 2
  C  7
Lev plays low from dummy, then changes his mind and covers the 7 with the 8.

"You played low!" your partner, Jack, complains.

"I'm sorry, Jack," Lev says. "I was thinking about basketball. I must bet some more Georgetown before they tip."

"Oh, OK then," Jack says. He covers the club with the king.

Lev wins the ace, plays DA-K, all following, then the C5 from dummy. Partner plays the 4, Lev the 3, and it's up to you.

Zia stands over your shoulder, hovering between Lev's hand and yours. Do you find the winning defense, or do you find yourself the fool in Zia's next article and an early leader for the '96 BOTYA?*
[*Boner of the Year Award]

Naturally, you ruff and return a heart. From the early play, you place declarer with 5-5 in the minors. A heart must be safe. Even if declarer has the ace-king third, it will be a meaningless discard.

The full deal:

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

  You     Zia     Jack    Lev
  -       1 S     pass    2 D
  pass    3 D     pass    3 H
  pass    3 S     pass    6 D
  (all pass)
"Nice play, Gluby," Zia says, gracious. "You return a spade, he makes it." The extra dummy entry would permit declarer to ditch a heart on the SA, repeat the marked club hook, and discard at least one heart from dummy on either of his two long clubs.

"Darn," Lev says. "I should play only one round of trumps, then I have an entry back to table after he ruffs."

Being in such a poor slam doesn't bother him.

"It all worked perfect," Lev broods. "I put him on the club lead, but then I messed up the hand."

You cringe, aware you're only a pawn in his game. This guy is so good he can "put" you on any lead he wants; you're his prize stooge. You vow never again to lead the unbid suit against him, no matter the cost.

Lev's betting buddy comes in from the TV room. "How much did we go over in that Mississippi State game, one-forty-five or one-forty-six?" he asks.

"One-forty-six and a half, why?" Lev replies.

"We missed three foul shots at the buzzer and lost by half a point."

"So unlucky," Sam mutters, reviewing the hockey scores on his sports beeper.

You play another rubber, win six points, then six more, battling your way back to even. The sun is heading down over Jersey and you know the game will be over soon.

You and Zia make two games to start the last rubber and you've finally hit the front. One deal remains, both vul. You hold:
S 43 H KJ842 D AJ C 6432

You pass in first position, Lev opens one club on your left, Zia passes, Jack responds one diamond on your right. You chime in with one heart. Lev rebids one spade, Zia raises you to two hearts. Jack cuebids three hearts, you pass, Lev leaps to five clubs - he must be at least 6-4 with very good clubs. Jack kicks him to six. Zia leads a heart. Jack tables:

        S  K 7 5
        H  A T 3
        D  K Q 8 6 5 4
        C  K
                    S  4 3
   HQ               H  K J 8 4 2
                    D  A J
                    C  6 4 3 2

  Zia     Jack    You     Lev
  -       -       pass    1 C
  pass    1 D     1 H     1 S
  2 H     3 H     pass    5 C
  pass    6 C     (all pass)
Two nice bids by Jack, three hearts and six clubs. Lev fans his hand:

H 5
D 3
C A Q J T 9 8 5

"I overtake king of clubs," he announces proudly. "I have nine-eight."

Six clubs with a hundred honors, vulnerable. You lose again.

"Why didn't you jump raise hearts?" you ask him in the doorway, once you realize he had a four-card fit and a singleton.

"I didn't want to find the queen of clubs for them," he explains.

Find it? you think. How did you know they were missing it? This game's too tough. The Israeli puts me on whatever lead he wants and the Paki knows they're missing the queen of trumps before they've even found a fit.

Who needs Roman Keycard?