My friend the retired English professor gets annoyed when people use words such as "may," "might" and "can" indiscriminately.

"I've seen worse," I told him. "Some bridge players think `didn't' means the same as `couldn't.' "

South counted 11 tricks: three spades, five hearts, at least one club and at least two diamonds. He took the ace of spades, led a club and offered his king when East played low; but since West figured South wouldn't be leading to an unsupported king at the second trick, he was ready with the five of clubs.

DOWN TWO

South rather naively assumed that West hadn't taken the ace of clubs because he couldn't. So South led a heart to dummy and returned another club to his queen; and West produced the ace -- and the jack and ten. Down two!

West's duck of the first club gave South a chance to go down. If instead West takes the ace, South will know he has only one club trick available. He'll then finesse with the jack of diamonds to make the slam.

DAILY QUESTION

You hold: S Q J 4 H Q 10 6 D K J 8 3 C K Q 7. Your partner opens one spade, you respond 2NT and he next bids three hearts. The opponents pass. What do you say?

ANSWER: Partner has unbalanced distribution; his pattern may be 5-4-3-1, for example. Since he'd like to know about your three cards in his first suit, bid three spades. If you insist on 3NT, you'll tell the same story twice and may miss four spades when that contract is better.

North dealer

N-S vulnerable

NORTH

S A K 3

H A K J 8 4

D A 7 5

C 8 3

WEST

S 9 8 7 6

H 7 2

D 10 6 4

C A J 10 5

EAST

S 10 5 2

H 9 5 3

D Q 9 2

C 9 6 4 2

SOUTH

S Q J 4

H Q 10 6

D K J 8 3

C K Q 7

North East South West

1 H Pass 2 NT Pass

6 NT All Pass

Opening lead -- S 9