ACBL Bridge Beat #105: The Early Reading

Alfred Sheinwold, one of the all-time great bridge writers and analysts, and Ed Manfield, ACBL Hall of Fame member, were voted the winners of the 1986 Bols Brilliancy Prizes. Sheinwold’s description of a deal excellently played by Manfield during the 1986 Rosenblum Cup final was selected from a slate of 10 candidate hand.

Here is the write-up by Sheinwold that appeared in the World Championship Daily Bulletin on Sept. 23, 1986:

The early reading
By Alfred Sheinwold

During the home stretch of the Rosenblum Cup finals, one of our new world champions picked up 10 IMPs by reading virtually the entire hand at trick two. He also had to play the hand with great finesse; there’s no advantage in an early reading if you then muff the opportunity.

Board: 118

Dlr: E ♠ K 6 5 3 2
Vul: E-W K 3
♣ 10 9 6 4 3
♠ 8 7 ♠ A J 10 4
J 6 2 A 10 8 7 5
10 9 8 4 2 Q
♣ K 7 5 ♣ A Q 2
♠ Q 9
Q 9 4
A K J 7 6 5
♣ J 8
Woolsey Fazli Manfield Mahmood
West North East South
1 1NT (1)
2 2♠ 4 All Pass

(1) Comique
(2) Sometimes Kit Woolsey has more than a King and a jack for his raise.

Zia Mahmood led the A and continued with the7. Fazli ruffed with the K, and Manfield knew virtually the whole hand.

The diamond position was obvious, and North had started with only K-3 or K-4 of hearts since with K-x-x or K-9 he would have ruffed low. North didn’t have the singleton K because with 11 black cards he’d have bid more. South probably had doubletons in both black suits since with a singleton and a strong six-card diamond suit he might well have bid 2 or 3 over 1 instead of employing the comic notrump.

Armed with the knowledge, Manfield overruffed the second diamond with the A and led the ♠J. Zia stepped up with the ♠Q and led the K after some consideration. The panel wondered if Zia would lead another low diamond, hoping for another useful uppercut, but South couldn’t be sure if Fazli had another trump.

Manfield ruffed with the 7 (a crucial unblock) and led the ♥5. When Zia played low Manfield backed his reading by inserting dummy’s 6. (You were forewarned that Manfield played the hand with finesse.)

The deep finesse kept the J in the dummy and allowed declarer to return a spade to finesse the ♠10.

The fall of the ♠9 confirmed Manfield’s reading of the spades. Besides, Zia wouldn’t have stepped up with the ♠Q if he had started with Q-9-x. Since this reading also confirmed Zia’s club length, Manfield took the ♣K and ♣A, coming down to this five card ending:

♠ K 2
♣ 10 9 4
♠ — ♠ A 4
J 2 10 8
10 9
♣ 7 ♣ Q
♠ —
Q 9
J 6 5
♣ —

Manfield now lead the ♠A, and Zia was thoroughly pickled:

If Zia discarded, Manfield would discard dummy’s club and lead the ♣Q. If Zia discarded again, Manfield would discard dummy’s 9. Manfield would then lead the ♠4 to ruff with the 2 and return the 10 to ruff with the 10. South would get the Q, but dummy would win the last trick with the J.

If Zia ruffed the ♠A with the 9, Manfield would overruff in dummy with the J, and return a club to the queen. Zia would make the Q by ruffing, then or later.

If Zia discarded on the ♠A but ruffed the ♣Q with the 9, Manfield would overruff in dummy, ruff a diamond and lead the ♠4. Zia could take the Q at the 12th or 13th trick.

Actually, Zia quickly summed up the position and ruffed the ♠A with the Q. He then returned the 9, hoping Manfield didn’t have the ♣Q. But Manfield had the top club and claimed the rest.

*After the Bols Brilliancy Prize was awarded and since this is a complicated deal, several bridge journalists suggested that declarer’s play (not to mention the defense) could have been improved.

Hugh Kelsey wrote that a trump or club switch by South at trick two would have been more effective. Also, Kelsey wrote, declarer’s lead of the 5 was a slight technical error. Zia in fact could have beaten the game by rising with the Q and returning the 4. Now declarer cannot take all of his tricks. But if Manfield had led the 8 instead of the 5, he could not have been defeated. If South returned a trump, declarer could win in dummy with the 6, ruff a diamond, cross to the ♣K, draw the last trump and finesse the ♠10.

The comments of several writers appeared in the Bulletin of the International Bridge Press Association. Great Britain’s Derek Rimington noted that the unblock in the trump suit was actually not needed, since declarer could reach dummy with the ♣K to finesse the ♠10, arriving at the same position at trick nine.

Roy Griffin of Swansea wrote that South could defeat the contract by continuing the K at trick two, then switching to a club when in with the ♠Q. He also noted that, assuming South ducks the first heart lead, the contract is made whether or not declarer has retained the 7.