Ross Taylor

A pair of cowboys

You’re cruising along as South in a local Imp League match, when you’re dealt 64  Q75  KJ953  1082. East and you pass, and the auction continues


West North East South
1 H 1 S 2 H pass
2 S * 3 S pass pass
4 H pass pass pass


Partner leads the  spade ace, after finding out the 2 spade bid asked West’s partner to bid the 1st suit in which he would accept a game try. (An interesting, albeit unfamiliar treatment to you)



Dummy is                                                                                         S   K85

                                                                                                        H   643

                                                                                                        D   104

                                                                                                        C   QJ653

And you have                                                      S  64

                                                                           H  Q75

                                                                           D  KJ953

                                                                           C  1082


Declarer follows with the 7, and partner presses on with the spade queen. Dummy’s king wins, as declarer pitches the king of clubs.

West now plays a heart to his ace, dropping your partner’s king, and leads out the jack of hearts. Partner pitches an unhelpful club 7, and you win the queen. Now what?

You’d better play a diamond – preferably the jack, enveloping the ten, though any diamond should work in this case. Partner has A87 of diamonds, and if you don’t play the suit now, it’s curtains for the defense.

The full layout was as follows :


Dealer: East

Vul: NS

Gabriel Nita-Saguna                 

Mike Neagu
7 K85
AJ10982 643
Q62 104
AK9 QJ653


Declarer, Gabriel Nita-Saguna, made a beautiful play when he dropped his club king under the spade king. He recognized a diamond pitch would not help him in the slightest, as he would still have two losers there, so he decided to create some confusion, and it paid a huge dividend for him.

South, not seeing a screaming suit preference signal from his partner, decided he should eliminate a potential diamond ruff in dummy, and thus played back his last trump. All declarer’s diamonds went away on the dummy’s clubs. +450 thank you very much.

Pitching from a suit where your partner knows your every card can be useful on defense, since the particular card you pitch is very often a suit preference signal. So North could pitch a high spade (like the jack) to indicate a high honor in diamonds and help out her partner.

There is a problem with that though – what if declarer had KJx of diamonds? An honest jack of spades will eliminate the diamond guess. So sometimes you have to give false suit preference or play neutral cards as in here, and hope partner will do the right thing regardless.

South may have got this right anyway, inferring no diamond ruff was needed as declarer tackled trumps first, but who knows – maybe declarer was simply playing for a 2-2 trump split, and did not want a nasty over ruff.

The fact is the spectacular pitch of the club king gave South fits – had Gabi simply pitched a diamond and played hearts next, the winning defense would be easier to find.

Gabriel (Gabi) and his partner Mihai (Mike) are Romanian ex pats now living in the Toronto area. With plays like this one, they won’t remain our team’s secret weapon for much longer.

{In poker parlance, kings are cowboys, hence the blog title – “a pair of cowboys”}


Cam FrenchJanuary 23rd, 2010 at 4:45 pm

The declarer’s play was the classic misdirection, but I am not sure South did his counting.

Declarer is marked with 1-6 in the majors, and if he has but one club, that leaves 5 diamonds, in which case he might have bid them instead of his 2S multi-suit game try inquiry. Still, a nice gambit.

My favourite poker expresssion came from an Englishman who called AK in the pocket “Anna” short for tennis star Anna Kournikova, easy on the eyes, but don’t bet the stack on the expectation of drawing a matching card to win.

Thanks for sharing.


Ross TaylorJanuary 23rd, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Yes you are correct Cam – it took me a week to decide if the hand was blog worthy – since the winning defense was there to be found.

But the fact is, this was a nice play, and is indicative of an alert mind with situational presence, who is aware of the benefit of making life as difficult for the defense as possible.

Many hands are made by some combination of deceptive declarer play; ambiguity in the cards, or defenders failing to act on all available information. The deciding criteria for me is (a) is a hand entertaining on some level and/or (b) does it serve some instructional purpose.

Tom DawsonJanuary 23rd, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I did like the CK play. Enjoyable hand. Hello to Cam whom I have seen live or on the net for several years.

Daniel KorbelJanuary 24th, 2010 at 12:05 am

If declarer wanted to ruff a diamond he would have done something with diamonds before playing hA, heart (which he could do at any time). Since declarer is an expert you can take that inference to the bank and confidently return a diamond regardless of partner’s discard on the heart.

ross taylorJanuary 24th, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Thanks Daniel – which is why an expert defender in this type of situation will not make a transparent suit preference play on the second heart. There is no need with an alert partner, and the cost outweighs the benefit.

Having said that, professional players, playing with their sponsors, often go out of their way to make the defense easy for their partners – in these cases they will eschew subtle misdirection, and make as telegraphic a pitch as possible for their partner.

In this case, that would be the spade Jack. And if their diamond holding was A82, (and not the actual A87) they would pitch the diamond 2 (playing upside down) since that is even more in-your-face than a message-sending-pitch in an offsuit.

So depending on your level of ability, the lesson here is you should either (a) make life easy for each other on defense with your first discard serving significant importance to the defense, or (b) apply discretion to all key defensive situations, with each partner having to independently evaluate whether the hand in question warrants truth and plain disclosure; misdirectional carding; or random neutral carding. (b) is far harder to play but much more rewarding in a serious partnership

Dave (Memphis MOJO)January 24th, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Cute hand – thanks for sharing.

Ross TaylorJanuary 27th, 2010 at 1:31 pm

After the match, Gabi felt there was a superior way to play the hand, after the initial king on king play. I quote an email he sent…….

“I think there might be even a better way to play it, based on the assumption North has only 1 heart (which becomes quite likely since she must have a pretty spade suit to bid like that).

So, after the lead of spade ace followed by spade queen and the same club king discard, being in dummy I could just hook the heart, playing small to the jack.

North wins with the stiff king and, in case she only has the diamond king (rather than the ace, as she had in real life), she might be afraid to play this suit,as I may have AQ.

So she would probably continue spades. Now I ruff with the 8 of hearts, win the ace of clubs, play the small club to the queen in dummy and continue playing good clubs (again, this is based on the assumption North started with one heart only).

At a certain moment South will have to ruff a good club, which I would over ruff, extract his last trump, and then enter the dummy with the carefully preserved low trump to the H 6.

Now I can cash the remaining good clubs and still claim the game. The line will fail when South is 2-3-6-2, as he will discard a club on the 3rd spade and then will ruff my second club. However, it is more likely he started with 3 clubs, as he is short in spades.

The following tricks might be won as declarer: 5 hearts, 4 clubs (1 gets ruffed and over ruffed) and the king of spades.

So this line seems to be better if you read the trump position, as it is more difficult for North to play a diamond than for South.

The deuce of hearts is a ‘golden’ card!


Gabi “

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