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by Martin Hoffman

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the story of this deal may be first to try it as a problem.

Rubber bridge
East dealer
North-South vulnerable
NORTH (dummy)
S A Q 10
H A K J 10 9 7
C J 2
EAST (you)
S K J 8 7 5
H 2
D 7 5 2
C 9 8 6 5

Pass1 D2 DPass
2 HPass4 HPass

Opening lead: spade nine.

Declarer tries the queen of spades from dummy, and you win with the king. You may assume that South is not one of those idiots who would bid two hearts with three small and a bad hand, so you must hope to make two spades and two clubs. It may not be quite as easy as you think.

Plan your defense. (Solution below.)


Directed by Eric Kokish

Matchpoints, both sides vulnerable.
You, South, hold:
S Q 8 H J 7 6 D A K 10 2 C A K 7 6

------3 H

What call do you make?
3 NT
4 NT
4 C
4 D

We could end this discussion before it begins by listening to one of our cybernetic-oriented veteran panelists.

JOHN LOWENTHAL: "Pass. I ran a 100-deal computer simulation of this problem, which showed that it is clearly right to pass (and to pass again if partner reopens with a double). Another simulation, with East-West nonvul., revealed that an immediate three-notrump overcall is best by a small margin."

As you can see from the vote, an overwhelming majority of the panel saw the problem through the same eyes as Lowenthal's computer. But before we let some of them explain why they believe it is right to pass, let's deal with this bit of harsh reality...

MIKE PASSELL: "Pass. Despite the fact that my partner in the GNP National Finals bid three notrump (which worked)."

No one doubts that three notrump might work out. We'll listen to the Optimists Club shortly. But first, a word from a quiet man...

ARTHUR ROBINSON: "Pass. I am a yellow dog."

The jury is still out determining whether those vulnerable premptors are the dog catchers or the dogs' dinner. A phrase that snuck into nearly every passer's comment was "play for a plus." Gabino Cintra noted that his love affair with the plus would induce him to pass at any form of scoring. Berah, who stipulated that his policy at matchpoints is to obtain a plus, no matter how small it might be, suggested that this was a good hand for the Fishbein convention. I'm not so sure about that, but it is a very appropriate situation for a Weiss double (strong-notrump values with no obvious reason to bid three notrump). Rubens estimates that the East-West hearts will not run more than half the time (with blockages, among other things), but he feels that this is not enough to justify a bid of three notrump. Quaintly (I think), he states that his "penalty pass" figures to spare him any future agony in the auction (North does not rate to reopen very often; Parker estimates this possibility as something like 10%), and that a plus might bring in a few matchpoints, even if his decision is wrong.

Miles goes so far as to state that a double will almost surely change a plus to a minus. I can think of at least six Italians who might not put their lira behind Marshall's position, but there is a natural North American antipathy toward a takeout double on hands such as South's; it is easy to understand the evolution to rhetoric along the lines of "almost surely."

Eisenberg fears that a takeout double might (disastrously) catch North with four spades and a longer minor, landing the partnership in the wrong strain (Haberman claims that those disastrous four-two spade fits have finally taught her to be patient). And Roth, who has been declarer in a few of those pungent memories, passes with an (!), and announces that he stays fixed.

LARRY COHEN: "Pass. I bid three notrump as much as anyone in these situations, but this hand has too many flaws: no trick source, poor spots, no place to run if doubled, no sure heart stopper--or even spade stopper! Double is silly--I would rather defend and collect 100's than hear partner bid spades."

MIKE LAWRENCE: "Pass. On this vulnerability, East isn't likely to be far out of line--i.e., three hearts may be a frequent action. Since bidding with this hand will get a lot of minus scores, I like the odds on passing, even though some of our plus scores will be embarrassing ones..."

Roth suggested that the real problem might well come later, after a direct pass and a reopening action by North. The only panelist to deal with this afterworld to any serious degree was Josh Parker, who gets my vote as (a) the neatest, and (b) the most conscientious panelist of all time...

JOSH PARKER: "Pass...if partner reopens...my votes go to (1) five spades over three spades, which should ask him to look at both his spades and his hearts (four hearts followed by five spades would ask about spades only, and five hearts would ask about hearts only), and (2) four hearts over double, intending to bid four notrump (for the minors) over four spades. I would pull in my belt a notch over the reopening double to compensate for the likely bad breaks, and the fact that we have no great source of tricks."

The tiny three-notrump group includes some very successful players, and I think it would be a mistake to dismiss the aggressive action as either impatient or patently ill-considered. Hamman, for example, thought it unnecessary to comment.

IRA RUBIN: "Three notrump. Had this occurred vs. third-seat preempt, three notrump would be much easier, and vs. second-seat preempt, three notrump would probably be much worse than pass, the only reasonable alternative. Here, pass figures to miss most reasonable contracts (other than three spades!).

JEFF MECKSTROTH: "Three notrump. I hate to put too much pressure on partner to reopen at this high level, and my spade holding rules out a takeout double. I think that three notrump, when right, will reap a higher reward than will passing, when that is right."

EDDIE KANTAR: "Three notrump. Best chance for a top...or a bottom. When strapped, why not go for the brass ring?"

JOEY SILVER: "Three notrump. I hope these boys are not sound preemptors, and that we can produce a combined heart stopper."

On a bad day these girls run the spade suit, but it's silly to waste your time worrying about the bad days.

The last word goes to someone who loves the last word...

BOBBY WOLFF: "Double. This hand should lead up to an article on 'how to react to adversity.' I'll listen to everyone, but I doubt if I'll be convinced by anyone! Three notrump 60, Pass 30."


S A Q 10
H A K J 10 9 7
C J 2
S 9 4
H 8 3
D K J 10 9 4
C A Q 10 7
S K J 8 7 5
H 2
D 7 5 2
C 9 8 6 5
S 6 3 2
H Q 6 5 4
D 8 6 3
C K 4 3

South plays in four hearts after West has opened one diamond in third position and North has forced with two diamonds. West leads the nine of spades; South puts in North's queen, which you win with the king.

Now you have a problem, though it may not seem so at the time. If you make the obvious return of a club, West will win and lead another spade. South will take the ace, draw two rounds of trumps, then lead the jack of clubs to West's ace. Dummy's ten of spades will go away on the king of clubs, and South will make the remainder.

When East wins the first trick with the king of spades, he must realize that a club return can only serve to set up a trick for the declarer. The winning play, well worth a brilliancy prize, is the singleton trump. Say that declarer draws the second trump, makes two diamonds, cashes ace of spades, and exits with jack of clubs. West leads a diamond now, and South cannot avoid the loss of two spades and two clubs.