A Bridge Phantasmagoria
LE COUP DU DIABLE
The play known in France as Le Coup Du Diable but more vividly known to us as The Smother is of rare occurrence. There are many who believe that such play only happens in books, but I can give you three examples from actual play.
Frenchman Guy Dupont reports a Coup Du Diable executed by Roger Barnabou in the French Championships.
North-South game: East deals
West led the heart six and dummy’s ace was followed by a heart ruff. This was good technique and as it turned out later, this trump reduction was the key play. After unblocking the club ace, a trump was led and when East discarded a heart, a trump loser seemed inevitable, but if the club jack could be dropped, three diamond discards would be available. No jack came down and the fourth had to be ruffed.
At this point most players would concede, but Barnabou was not one to hoist the white flag prematurely. He cashed the ace and king of diamonds and played a second trump to dummy. On the jack of hearts covered by the queen, Barnabou simply discarded his remaining diamond and the ending had become:
South ruffed the heart from East and West exclaimed “Mon Dieu, Le Coup Du Diable. An overruff would lose to the ace and an underruff would see a diamond discard from dummy.
Famous Swiss player Jean Besse also achieved the feat in a hand from an earlier European Championship
Besse at South arrived at the good contract of Six Spades and received the lead of the nine of clubs and won the ace. He led a trump and when the ten appeared, he won the ace and finessed the nine on the way back, prepared to lose a trump provided they were split 3-2. When East showed out, he tested the diamonds by playing the king and queen only and when they too failed to break, most players would surrender, knowing that if a heart were ruffed, it would not be possible to capture the queen of spades.
Besse was made of sterner stuff and led a club from hand. West realised that a ruff would avail him nothing and so he discarded a heart. Now came the ace and king of hearts and a heart ruff in dummy and, with the king now singleton, the queen of spades seemed inviolable. The ace of diamonds was cashed and we were left with: -
A club was led and the diamond loser was discarded. It mattered not whether East continues with a club or heart, as Besse would ruff either with the eight.
West’s queen was trapped and again The Smother had achieved the impossible.
The final example comes from a Scottish Cup Tie of many years ago. The declarer in a part score contract, killed off West by smothering after a slip up in defence.
Love all: South deals
West led the four of diamonds and declarer put up the king. This conceals the holding better and might lead to a third round diamond from a defender to give a ruff and discard.
East won the ace and continued the suit and South’s queen won. South led the ten of hearts and West stepped up with the ace and returned the four of hearts taken by dummy’s six.
A club finesse was followed by the ace and another spade. Rather than ruff a loser, West discarded a diamond and the spade king took the trick. The ace of clubs and another threw the lead to East. East had carelessly discarded two spades and ending had become:
East cashed his queen of spades and West threw the jack of diamonds. Now on the diamond from East, South ruffed with the eight and West was fixed. An overruff with the queen would be taken with the king and last two tricks would be won on a cross-ruff and on an underruff the spade in North would be discarded and the last two tricks were there on a finesse for the queen.
Modesty would have it that the declarer be not named but “modesty” never has been one of my strong points.