This is a story from a couple of years back which makes an interesting parallel with the article which featured as number one in this series. It took place in the regular Friday Butler at a London club quite close to Olympia, and, once again features a set of three deals which, taken together, constitute an event which is totally unique in my experience. Indeed, I should not be surprised to learn that it has never happened to anyone before, and I am prepared to wager quite heavily that it will be an extremely long time before it happens to me again. The solution to the mystery is here.
The action started on the first deal that we played:
The auction started quietly enough:
(a) I am aware that some readers will have assumed that my pass was a misprint! As it was my first action of the evening, perhaps they will be charitable, and assume that I had not yet warmed up!
(b) 3 might be better. But I couldn't face the possibility of partner's caustic comments if we missed a vulnerable game on the very first board! Some players I know would have used Blackwood!
(c) Nothing to add, obviously.
(d) Personally I think that North's double was correct, but the analysis below may persuade you that it ain't necessarily so.
The first thing that the hand illustrates very neatly is the proposition that you can not expect to do the correct thing over aggressive pre-empting every time. As it was, N/S took a small loss by settling for 800 as against the 980 that they could have made in 6. But suppose that South had held A1087, giving East KQJ instead of her actual holding. In that case, I do not suppose that the auction would necessarily have been any different, but 6 would still have gone for only 800, with N/S cold for a grand. (Admittedly North would have some uneasy moments after a club lead, but as the cards lie, either plausible line of play would prove successful.) And, interestingly, the LTT (the Law of Total Tricks (ed.)) does not seem to be of any real help to North here. Suppose (s)he assumes, tentatively, a 7-2 fit in spades, and that E/W have a 5-5 fit in hearts. In that case, there should be 19 tricks available (not allowing for any "adjustments" to the crude count, since I do not profess to understand them; indeed, most of my partners claim that I don't even understand the basic Law anyway!). So, according to the Law, if N/S can make seven, E/W should be going for 1400 in 5, while if they can make only six, the penalty should be 1100. In either case, double looks like the best option, given that the numbers are at best imprecise. The problem on the actual hand, of course, is that while N/S have the postulated 7-2 fit, the E/W heart fit is actually 7-5, supposedly making 21 total tricks available. If North had known that, he might have been inclined to bid on on the actual deal. But suppose that we alter the cards in the club suit in the way that I suggested previously, making the full deal as follows:
Now there are still 21 tricks available, and N/S have 13 of them. Certainly E/W can only take eight tricks against competent defence, and from that point of view the Law seems to be working out satisfactorily. But the fact nevertheless remains that North has an impossible problem. If the cards are as originally dealt, (s)he clearly does better on the balance of probabilities to double; if they are as I have reconstructed them, then (s)he will take a quite substantial loss if (s)he fails to bid the grand. I am not sure whether it is appropriate to draw any firm conclusions other than the fact that this is an infinitely fascinating game!
[And there's much room for differences of opinion! I think it's clear for North to bid 5 - opponents aren't lunatics and have bid 5 unfavourable, and our 4 was a reluctant underbid. Having said which, E/W have clearly overbid. Note that the second version of this hand is a `5 or 7 hand' - it's unlikely that exactly 12 tricks will be made. (JM)]
Anyway, as it happened, the datum for the board was +855 to N-S, and so we gained a couple of IMPs for conceding 800.
A couple of rounds later, having inadvertently swapped positions so that I was now East, we hit the following:
The auction proceeded:
(a) I could not open a weak NT because (i) I don't play it, (ii) even if I did, I would not do so with a losing doubleton and a good alternative, (iii) even if I did I would not dream of doing so vulnerable at IMPs, and (iv) if I had, it would have spoiled the story! Some readers will no doubt quarrel with the first three reasons, but the fourth is conclusive, and anyway, it's my article, so I shall bid in it as I please!
(b) We did not have any fancy manoeuvres available to handle this position. In my opinion, even if we had, West's treatment is as good as anything. If the 1 bid does not provoke East into action over 4, then there is unlikely to be a slam.
There was nothing to the play of the hand. South led 9, which I neglected to cover, winning with the Ace in order to discard dummy's diamond on the second round of clubs. Thereafter, wriggle as I might, I was unable to avoid the loss of two spades, though it must be conceded that I certainly had an abundance of squeeze cards! This time the datum score was 280 to E-W, and so we gained 9 IMPs for making 650. I can only assume that some E/W pairs failed to bid the game and that some let N-S off for 300 in 5 doubled by failing to find their club ruff. Or perhaps, having taken the ruff, West failed to cover either or both of the high spades when they were led from dummy, allowing North to lose just one trick in the suit.
[Note that if North eliminates the side suits and leads the 9 to the 10 and J, then East must duck to avoid being endplayed. (ed)]
And finally there was:
A lively auction ensued:
(a) Our style in competitive situations is to limit the hand via a double unless quite strong. This could be regarded as an extreme example! But the bid does have the advantage of showing spades and implying heart tolerance, which is what West has, more or less.
(b) North is a well-known and much-loved joker.
(c) Perhaps slightly aggressive. But if I don't bid spades now the suit will surely get lost.
(d) Trusting soul! And rightly so, for North would have made all 13 tricks without raising a sweat if I had led a major suit without starting with an Ace!
(e) Values in reserve! Alternatively a well-judged sacrifice!
(f) Possibly inconsistent with his previous bidding, which would seem to call for a confident 4NT after his partner's raise! But at least it is a making contract...
(g) ...as is established beyond peradventure by the fact that I doubled it!
(h) No redouble because the 550 she is about to score beats the 500 she can get from 5X. But if she is not going to double 5 anyway, it is not so clear that it is wrong to redouble 5. My conclusion? No balls!
[I'd have said all the more reason not to redouble if you can't double 5! (JM)]
(j) By now totally unsure as to who can make what. But what a coup it would have been to bid and make 5NT (doubled possibly!). My conclusion? No flair!
(k) At last, an easy bid!
(l) Also totally unsure as to who can make what. But I think that double must be right. At worst she will concede an extra 200 as we surely don't have enough to redouble. At best it might be four or five off. The odds are clearly with a double. My conclusion? Neither balls nor flair!
There was nothing to the play of this hand either. I quickly conceded four tricks without the option in the minor suits, and was then favoured with a heart lead into the AQ. After taking two top hearts, I entered dummy with a heart ruff in order to finesse against the "marked" K. But South produced that card, and I was forced to concede 150, which of course was quite satisfactory, although the datum was only 200 to N/S, so that we gained a paltry 2 IMPs for -150. But it is in fact quite difficult for N/S to find their way to one of their making games with just 21 HCP.
Well there you are. You have all the clues. What was it that was unique about our experience that night? (Answer here.)