Bridge World Extra! Newsletter


This series presents disasters of expert pairs, judged by a panel of 10 experts who express their views on how the blame should be apportioned and their opinions as to which was the worst call or play.

The 1961 Spingold was run as a double-elimination event, and it came down to a final among three once-beaten teams, CRAWFORD, GOREN and KANTAR, each playing a 36-board match against each of the other teams. Miles-Kantar, Root-Gabrilovitch won both their matches--this was the first, but far from the last, big team championship for all of them.

Our second problem deal gave KANTAR 11 imps against CRAWFORD, the exact margin by which the match was decided:

South dealer
Neither side vulnerable

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

At the other table, Gabrilovitch-Root were pushed to five hearts, a hazardous contract; with the rounded suits splitting gently, they scored 450. At this table, Miles-Kantar defended stodgily for once, cashing their aces for plus 50.

(a) What percentage of the blame do you assign to West?

(b) Which was the worst single action?

Question (a)

Six of our judges gave nearly all the blame to West, while four judges thought it close, two of them blaming East more, though reluctant to point the finger at anyone.

BORIS KOYTCHOU: "West 40%. Nobody seems to have done anything dramatically terrible. West's double is off-shape, of course, but what is one to do? East's last call was a bit pushy but does not deserve anathema. Blame North-South."

Boris, who was on the GOREN team in that '61 final, added a complaint that this problem was too close to call.

Kantar, the other '61 finalist on the panel, echoes Koytchou, saying, "I find this hard to adjudicate, because nobody really went berserk." Mostly, though, our experts had no trouble at all judging that West was culpable. There was even considerable agreement on the exact percentage.

GAIL GREENBERG: "West 95%. East's 5% is probably unfair. I can fault him only for a poor guess, but it probably was in the selection of a partner, not in the choice of call."

ROBERT LIPSITZ: "West 95%. West misbid his hand at every opportunity (it was just an accident that five hearts may have been the best spot). East doesn't really get any blame, except that the raise to six wasn't 100% clear-cut."

LOU BLUHM: "West 95%. East gets some blame for settling for six when seven was possible (he should try six clubs). West was out to lunch--he had a clear three-heart overcall, and a clear pass of five diamonds doubled."

ERIC KOKISH: "West 95%. West's five-heart bid suggests that his double of three diamonds was incorrect in his partnership. It's not easy to say anything good about five hearts. This is a classic 'stay fixed' position, particularly after the unusual first action--there is risk of conversion to spades, risk of overstating values, risk of losing the plus score. East gets some blame, for not straightening out this sequence in advance."

Question (b)

No one really liked West's takeout double (though Ewen did plead in mitigation that West's hearts are rather weak, and his doubleton spade very strong). A few panelists considered it the worst action.

MICHAEL BECKER: "West's double, which was asking for trouble. After the unprepared double, any advance from East gives West a horrible problem."

LOU BLUHM: "West's double. This call paved the way for disaster."

However, the majority directed their fire at West's second action.

ERIC KOKISH: "Five hearts. Whether it was acceptable for this West to double three diamonds is not our business. I hate that double, but I can't begin to compare it to the five-heart bid, which hung East out to dry. It's hard to blame East for placing West with a diamond void and a better all-around hand."

ROBERT LIPSITZ: "Five hearts. Double was a bad call, but West survived that--five hearts was the real killer. I can't conceive of a single good thing that could happen after that bid, and some really tragic things could happen--like partner's converting to spades, maybe at the six level.

Greenberg put the same thought more succinctly, saying that the double was merely nauseating, while five hearts was obscene and sick. Far more moderate was:

ROBERT EWEN: "Five hearts. The heart bids were much worse than the double. West should pass five diamonds doubled, taking the plus score at IMPs instead of fishing around at the five level for a nonvulnerable game. And East should pass five hearts--after the North-South preemption, West should play East for a little something even if he passes, so East's double of five diamonds promised 9 points or so; he certainly has nothing extra. It's close, but I think the five-heart bid is the worst."

A small minority judged that the six-bid was worse.

JOHN SWANSON: "Six hearts. West's speculative removal of five diamonds doubled might, just might, have been successful, but East ruined those chances by rebidding cards he had already shown with his double. The odds against East's six hearts are slightly worse than those against West's five hearts. The takeout double formed the base for the entire fiasco, but it would not have cost had either partner made a correct choice later."


The panel covered all points quite thoroughly here. We agree with John Swanson's comment quoted above, but we come to a different conclusion. Yes, West's five hearts was a doubtful decision, which could have worked well but didn't figure to. Yes, East's six hearts represents a rosy view, although he should expect a much better hand opposite. Becker suggests that West might hold:

S A J x H A Q x x x x D -- C A x x x,

which supports Bluhm's opinion that East should not give up on a grand slam. We go along with Swanson when he says that the double was the basis for the fiasco. That wasn't a questionable decision, or an optimistic view--it was a blunder. To us, it stands out as the worst action.


(a) West's
% Blame
(b) Worst
Michael Becker80W's D
Lou Bluhm95W's D
Robert Ewen605 H
Gail Greenberg955 H
Richard Kahn755 H
Edwin Kantar60W's D
Eric Kokish955 H
Boris Koytchou406 H
Robert Lipsitz955 H
John Swanson456 H
Consensus74.0%5 H