Best Played Hand of 1998?
In case you are wondering, Botswana borders South Africa on the North-Western front. Botswana is famous for escorted hunting expeditions, primarily for overseas visitors, who carry $'s. Botswana boasts an energetic campaign to introduce Bridge to the youth, and is an extra curriculum subject in many centres already!
The Botswana Open was won by 2 husband/wife combinations - Botswanian Diniar and Nancy Minwalla, and South African Paul and Eileen Mestern. The first hand reported was against the team lying a close second, and this hand decided the outcome. Yes, the situation was tense, but Nancy Minwalla came through on both counts. Have a look:
All Vulnerable, Nancy became declarer in a reasonable 6 as South.
J 6 4
K 10 8 7
A 7 5 3
A Q 9 5 3 2
|The lead was the J from West. Nancy won this in hand with the ace.
The contract looks safe enough unless West has all four trumps, and indeed it was so when East discards a club at trick 2 on the play of the trump ace. What now?
It looks like two certain trump losers, but declarer saw a chance if West's distribution was exactly 4-2-4-3 - not impossible after the lead, and from East's choice of discard. She played 3 rounds of diamonds ruffing the third, crossed to dummy with the Q and ruffed the last diamond while West followed suit. The A and K were now cashed and a heart to the king followed, producing this end position:
The 10 was played and ruffed with the Q. West resigns.
This was worth 17 IMPs as declarer at the other table, also in 6 Spades, received a less informative diamond lead, and following much the same line of play tried to ruff a third heart a trifle early, instead of the fourth diamond. Yes, Nancy knew that the hearts were breaking 2 - 5 from the lead.
Well played, Ma'am!!
The other two hands were:
K 10 8 7
Q 8 4 2
10 7 2
and - -
Q 9 6 4 2
J 10 6
J 9 6 5 4
Leif Stabell, originally from Norway and now residing in Zimbabwe, continues his narration: "If you think that was impressive, take a look at this hand from another match: ..."
North Dealer; N/S Vulnerable. Diniar and Nancy Minwalla were seated North and South respectively.
A Q 9
A Q 7 5
A 8 7
7 4 3
J 10 8 5 4 2
A K 8 5 2
1NT was 15-17, 4 and 4 were cuebids, and 4NT shows further slam interest without a club control. After 2 more cuebids, South reasonable jumped to slam, hoping for a doubleton club opposite.
West leads the K against your 6 contract.   How would you play it?
The straightforward plan is to cross to hand with the K and take an immediate spade finesse. Another possibility is to play East for the trump king (not unreasonable since he has only the QJ in his suit), and try to endplay him on the second round of trumps after eliminating the other suits. That may work if East is 2-2-7-2, 2-3-7-1, or 2-3-6-2 distribution, but you have to guess which order to cash your side suit winners. For example: A, diamond ruff, K, A, A, Q, diamond ruff, A, K, and a spade. East is endplayed into giving you a ruff and discard if he started with 2-3-7-1 or 2-3-6-2, but if started with 2-2-7-2 he will ruff the Q with the trump king, and exit safely in either minor. Ouch.
So the spade finesse is probably the best chance after all, and after considerable thought, Nancy won the lead of the K with the ace, ruffed a diamond at trick 2 (safe, with a non-vul East overcalling 3 only), cashed the K, and played a spade inserting the nine.
Remarkably enough, this sequence of play was the only way to make the contract, as the full deal will reveal:
| After a spade to the nine, declarer cashed the A, Q, ruffed a heart low, cashed the A, K, took another spade finesse, and ended up in this position:
Now came the 8 on which declarer discarded her 8. East won this trick, but with 2 cards left, West's "sure" trump trick suddenly disappeared!   Wow!
This hand has been forwarded to the IBPA (International Bridge Press Association) who gather in material from all tournaments and publish worthy hands, and rate them accordingly. Leif adds "...since particularly the last one must be a strong candidate for the best played hand of the year."
Indeed, indeed.... what a hand, what a play!!
Leif concludes: "A remarkable hand, and certainly the best played hand in our part of the world this year."
All I can add is "True!"
(This article has been edited in parts)
Published here on January 17, 1999