For most bridge players, defence is the hardest part of the game. Not only do you need to visualise declarer’s hand, you also need to visualise your partner’s — and then you have to make sure you’re in step with each other. What if he inadvertently sabotages your plan? Worse, what if you sabotage his? Nothing stresses me so much at the bridge table as when I’m partnering a top-class player who, midway through defending, stops to think for ages. I quickly lose confidence in whatever plan I had formulated; my job now is to try and figure out what on earth he’s plotting. The longer he thinks, the worse it’ll be if I botch it up.
Luckily, a brilliant defence doesn’t always require much from your partner. On this deal — which has won the bridge press association’s prize for Best Defence of 2018 — the Norwegian expert Geo Tislevoll pretty much defeated the contract by himself.
South led the ♠A, and North (Tislevoll) gave suit preference with the ♠2. South duly played the ♣A and a club to his ♣K. Three tricks were in the bag. What now? A trump shift would appeal to many, given dummy’s spade shortness. But Tislevoll paused. If his partner had a natural trump trick the contract was off anyway. He couldn’t have the ♦A as he was a passed hand and had already shown up with two aces. Nor could he have three spades or he’d have bid 4♠.
There was one hope: that declarer was 3–7–1–2 with the bare ♦A. A trump shift wouldn’t work as declarer would win, unblock the ♦A, ruff one spade and discard the other on the ♦K. If declarer held ♠Jxx, playing the ♠K, ruffed in dummy, would set up the ♠J. So Tislevoll played a low spade at trick 4! The ♠J won — but it was a Greek gift: when declarer now tried to ruff his last spade, South simply ruffed in front of dummy.