I hadn’t realised quite what a thriving bridge scene Manchester has until spending a weekend there recently. I went with Sally Brock and Barry Myers for the annual mixed pivot teams held in memory of Michelle Brunner. It’s a wonderful event: Michelle, who died of cancer four years ago, was one of England’s top players and a much-loved teacher at Manchester Bridge Club. The room was packed with her friends and former pupils, as well as many of Manchester’s bridge stars, like Alan Mould and, of course, Michelle’s husband John Holland. John Holland is not just a world class player — he’s also one of the speediest analysts I’ve ever come across:
Sally Brock and I bid easily to slam (my 2NT rebid showed 25-27 points, 3♦ was a transfer to hearts and my jump to 4 ♥ showed super-acceptance). West led a spade into my tenace, and I wrapped up 13 tricks. But we got a bad score because our opponents had bid to 7♥ (not quite sure how) and our teammate had made the same lead.
Afterwards, we were all discussing what a tough lead West has: even a diamond presents the 13th trick (dummy’s ♦J wins). A club, we agreed, was the only lead to beat 7♥. Not so, said John Holland — dummy’s ♣7 makes the grand slam unbeatable. If West leads a club, East plays the ♣J and you win with the ♣A. You draw trumps, cash ♠AK and ruff a spade, then cash the ♣K, and cross to dummy with a heart. Now dummy holds ♥Q, ♦J7, ♣7. You hold ♦AK9, ♣10. West holds ♦Q105, ♣Q. On the play of dummy’s last heart, you discard the ♣10 from hand and West is squeezed: if he discards a diamond the ♦9 becomes good, if he discards the ♣Q, the ♣7 is a master. Wow — and that after just a moment’s perusal of the deal!