Neither side vulnerable

NORTH

{spade} 6 4

{heart} K Q J 3

{diam} Q 10 5

{club} A J 9 4

WEST

{spade} J 9 8 3

{heart} 9 8 6

{diam} K J

{club} Q 8 7 2

EAST (D)

{spade} K 10 5

{heart} A 7 4 2

{diam} A 9 8 4 2

{club} 5

SOUTH

{spade} A Q 7 2

{heart} 10 5

{diam} 7 6 3

{club} K 10 6 3

The bidding: EastSouthWest North1 {diam} Pass 1 {spade} Pass2 {spade} Pass Pass DblPass 3 {club} All Pass Opening lead: {diam} K

Beginning players often credit experts with magical powers. I frequently hear comments such as, "I bet you know what everyone at the table has right away." I have to admit that on most deals I don't know exactly what cards everyone held even when the deal is over.

Reconstructing the concealed hands is usually a deliberate process, like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Even a good declarer can seldom figure out the whole deal before the play is halfway done -- but suppose declarer must draw trumps early and faces a guess in that suit. Then he must build a picture of the deal by inference.

In today's deal, East-West stop at two spades, and North balances with a double. South takes out to three clubs, and the defense starts with three rounds of diamonds, West ruffing. West then shifts to a spade: four, king, ace.

South must pick up the trumps to make his bid. Since East opened the bidding, South may be tempted to play him for the queen, but first South tries to infer the shape of the East-West hands. South knows West had two diamonds. West bid spades and had at least four, but East needed three for his raise.

As for the hearts, South can place East with four; neither defender can have five, but if West had four hearts and four spades, he'd have responded one heart to East's opening bid, showing his major suits "up the line."

So South places West with 4-3-2-4 distribution: South takes the king of trumps and finesses with the jack.

(c)2004, Tribune Media Services