Ross Taylor

My partner, the perfectionist

I am privileged to have reunited with my partner of yore, Keith Balcombe – a very talented “amateur”, who incidentally won the gold medal at the IOC Grand Prix in Salt Lake City in 2002 and also the Commonwealth Games Gold Medal that same year in Manchester. Those who have played with Keith know that he has an incredibly focussed approach to all hands – treating each one as if it were to win a NABC – which causes the local club patrons a fair amount of exasperation on occasion. That said, he is widely respected and admired locally for his talent and unswerving drive for perfection.

We played in a compact KO this past weekend – a handicapped event – a format I have never entered before – a bit disconcerting to spot the largely capable opponents 9 to 12 imps in a twelve board match I must say.

The following hand was in our victorious semi final match – we were defending a lowly 1NT contract. The dealer opened 1NT strong, and played it there. I led the ace of diamonds, from AKQ8. Here was the layout:



Dealer: South

Vul: NS

Ross Keith
xx 109x
9xx AKxx
AKQ8 6x
KJ8x 9xxx



Keith played his highest diamond under my ace, so I knew he had two or one initially, as declarer followed suit with the nine. Next I cashed the diamond queen, catching the remaining two diamonds from Keith and south.

I switched to the two of hearts. It happens we play 3rd and 5th in the middle of the hand, so Keith knew I had exactly 3. He won the king, and stewed for some time before continuing with a low heart.

Double dummy, we can see a club shift from Keith’s hand would have been perfect at this point, but all things considered, his low heart play seems very reasonable. It maintained communications with me, and we would be well placed to score 7 tricks on defense – unless, as is the case here, declarer had five running spade tricks for his 1NT opening bid.

So of course declarer ran off his spades, and then threw Keith in with the heart queen. Here were the cards as south played the HQ.





Ross Keith
void void
9 Ax
K void
KJ 9x


It was obvious declarer was making his contract now, but rather than simply win his heart and cash the last winner in hearts, Keith could see I would be squeezed by the last heart (a fraternal squeeze I suppose) as I could not protect both the guarded club king and the diamond king. So without much of a pause, Keith ignored his heart winner and switched to a club, ensuring I do not get squeezed and holding declarer to only 1NT making.

We rarely, if ever, comment at the table, but I could not resist saying “Nice play partner”.

Of course, Keith was having none of this praise. Instead, he was berating himself for not shifting to a club at trick 4.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how very good players think. They play all out on every hand, big and small, and they are tough to beat.


Dave Memphis MOJOApril 26th, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I’ve heard that chess players say this: If you see a great play, stop and see if you can find an even better one. Does Keith play chess?

Judy Kay-WolffApril 26th, 2010 at 7:09 pm


What a beautiful tribute! Keith seems to be quite a unique player, setting himself aside from the masses by his self-designed modesty and for reproaching himself for his earlier option which would have turned out for the better. That is an attribute possessed by few at the less-than-expert level because their egos need stroking. It takes a ‘big man’ to admit he could have assumed an alternate line of play or different call — eventually leading to a happier ending.

I was indeed privileged to witness that reaction with Norman (and of course more recently with Bobby) who, when things would occasionally get out of kilter or could have gone better, would personally assume the lion’s (or should I say wolf’s) share of the responsibility. It is a quality rarely visible in the repertoire of most bridge players.

I hope one day my path will cross with Keith’s. He sounds like my kinda guy!

John GowdyApril 26th, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Ross the question is would you shift to a H from 92 and the answer is no. Then from 952 your shift should be the 9. Keith was correct to play you for the H Q and better to take blame in the post mortem ! Nice hand !

Ross TaylorApril 26th, 2010 at 9:09 pm

John thanks for the feedback, but I don’t think that thinking applies for our partnership.

Keith and I are not slaves to the defensive principle that low cards mean an honour when breaking a new suit. I believe Keith was very much alive to the possibility I had no heart honour, notwithstanding the heart 2 from me.

And the nine could turn out to be a very silly card from my hand if Keith has either of K10x(x) or Q10x(x)

MichaelApril 27th, 2010 at 11:56 am

Nice blog.

Good partner always asks what he could have done better.

John is right, if you lead low from interest in the middle of the hand Keith may have better chance to get the hand right.

Also there is suit preference implication with your DQ play at trick 2. If you would like a higher suit return you may have played the DK instead.

Ross TaylorApril 27th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Yes Michael, that was Keith’s main source of angst – he felt the DQ play was sufficient to point him in the direction of the winning play.

John GowdyApril 27th, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I was not promoting mud or top of nothing leads but rather comunication between the defenders. On this hand you know your partner has at most 7HCP. If they are the heart king and spade ace or some combination thereof it will be tough to find a hand that you can beat 1NT. He knows you have at least 4 points …the question is where are they?

The DQ could be SP for C’s or possibly just not S. Then your heart 2 could be Qxx H’s and Qxxx in C’s.

At least the H9 says 100 % C’s. A great hand for partnerships and I’ve given this hand more thought over the last day than I’ve given most. Keep them coming !

Leave a comment

Your comment