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A little bit of Zia’s magic

He didn’t start playing until he was in his early twenties – appreciably later than most other international superstars. Yet Zia Mahmood remains the inspirational player he has always been since he broke onto the scene over 30 years ago.

Zia and I always try to seek each other out at the big tournaments. Some players like to rest between sessions. We love to talk through the boards and extract every last ounce out of the game we both love.

On this deal from the European Open Pairs in Ostend, where Zia and partner Jan Jansma finished second, Zia looks certain to fail in 4  doubled. As so often, he managed to throw a smokescreen over proceedings, totally hoodwinking his hapless opponents.

West Deals
None Vul
J 9 2
J 6 5 4
K 9
A K 10 6
A Q 10 6 4 3
J 7 5
Q J 4
W   E
A 10
A 4 3 2
9 8 7 5 3 2
K 8 7
K 9 8 7 3 2
Q 10 8 6
West North East South
1  Pass 1 NT1 2 
2  4  Dbl2 All pass
  1. Not really quite strong enough for 2 .
  2. Two aces and a singleton in partner’s opened suit renders this a good double.
    Indeed such a double should suggest the singleton, requesting partner to lead ace
    (and another) of their suit for a ruff.

West led the ace of spades and declarer knew East held a singleton. Not only because West had bid and rebid spades; also because of East’s double of the final contract. Zia smoothly dropped his king under the ace (key play).

Now perhaps West should smell a rat, because it was unlikely his partner would have three spades and never support. But at the table West not unnaturally presumed Zia’s king was singleton. He switched to a diamond at trick two.

Declarer tried dummy’s king of diamonds, East winning the ace and returning a diamond. Declarer won the queen, ruffed a diamond (bringing down West’s jack) and cashed the ace-king of clubs, discarding his two spades (as East- West winced).

Needing to pick up hearts for one loser, declarer was confident West held no more than one card – East would not have singletons in both majors. The question was this: was West’s singleton heart the queen or the ace?

Can you see how declarer helped to resolve the issue? Instead of leading the normal low heart from dummy, he led the jack. Now any human East would cover with the queen holding  Q10. So when East played the ten, declarer knew to rise with the king, playing East for  A10. West’s queen was felled and the doubled game made.

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