A Losing Option

                                                                                   by Rich Colker


In the closing minutes of Friday's close quarterfinal Spingold match between Rita Shugart and Rose Meltzer, this little gem came along. It could only have happened against a top expert like Alan Sontag.


Board 58                    S  Q 9 7

Dlr: East                   H  Q 10 5

Vul: Both                   D  A J 10 6 4 3

                            C  9


              S  A 8 6 4                S  K J 2

              H  K 9 6 4                H  J 3 2

              D  Q 7                    D  9 8

              C  8 7 4                  C  A K Q J 3


                            S  10 5 3

                            H  A 8 7

                            D  K 5 2

                            C  10 6 5 2


          WEST         NORTH         EAST         SOUTH

         Sontag        Robson      Weichsel      Shugart

           -            -            1NT          Pass

          2C           2D            Pass         Pass

          2NT          Pass          3C           All Pass


After a mildly competitive auction Alan Sontag, by virtue of his earlier Stayman bid became declarer in 3C. Andrew Robson led the C9 and Sontag won and drew a second trump, Robson pitching a diamond.

Sontag then led a diamond from dummy and Shugart rose with the king to play a third trump, Robson pitching another diamond. When Sontag drew the last trump, pitching the DQ from his own hand, Robson had an answer --- not an obvious one, but one which had a chance to succeed only against one of the world's great players.


Robson could see that Sontag would have no alternative to taking the spade finesse for his ninth trick and that it was destined to win, with the queen-third sitting as it was in front of the king-jack-third. If only there was something he could do to tip the odds slightly in his favor and away from the winning line. Suddenly he found the answer. On the fourth trump Robson discarded --- the S7!


Just consider the possibility this opened up for Sontag. If North started with S1097, South's queen could now be captured by leading the SJ from dummy and letting it ride if Shugart ducked. If Shugart covered, Sontag would win with the ace, Robson's 9 (or 10) falling, and a second spade to the king would bring down Robson's other intermediate, setting up Sontag's 8.


Sure enough, Sontag worked this out and led the SJ from dummy (he could have led the SK first and Robson would have followed with the 9). When Shugart played low Sontag let it ride and Robson won his queen. He then cashed a second diamond and the defense eventually came to two heart tricks to add to the two diamonds and one spade they had already scored for down one, minus 100.


At the other table Chip Martel and Lew Stansby reached 3D on the North/South cards. When this failed by one trick (-100), Shugart picked up five nifty IMPs.


Meltzer won the match 124-119, the margin of victory being --- you guessed it --- 5 IMPs! If only Robson had had one more opportunity like this one.