Hedging your losses

November 21, 1960

How much should you trust your partner? A classic example of two who didn't at all is the deal in which both partners rescued each other from doubled contracts, beginning at three no trump and ending at five spades. The final bid was set exactly one trick. Not one of the previous contracts that the balky partners so obligingly took each other out of could have been defeated. The hand has become the standard illustration for teaching, rightfully, that you should trust your partner a lot.

Still, there are times in bidding when it is obvious that one partner had gone off so far in the wrong direction that only a quick move to a new suit will hold down losses. In such a situation, it is worth risking going down an extra 200 or 300 points. You might even end up a winner, as did the partners in the following hand.

Obviously, both North and South's early bids were designed to find a profitable sacrifice against the vulnerable opponents. Little can be said for North's free bid of three clubs on a weak hand that included the glaring defect of a void in the suit partner had bid. Such a hand promises defensive strength, especially if partner opens the suit he has bid.

South's four-spade bid was also rather desperate, but he had some reason to expect that North's club bid included at least neutral spade support.

However, even though their earlier bids were wrongly reasoned, both North and South were justified in trying to leap from a sure frying pan into what might not be so hot a fire. North would fare better at five clubs than South would at four spades. And South's five-diamond bid, if it failed to find backing in North's hand, couldn't cost more than an extra 200 points even if North had to go on to six clubs. Unless North had an eight-card suit, South could reasonably expect to find at least distributional support for diamonds.

South won the first trick with the heart ace, ruffed a spade in dummy, returned by trumping a club and ruffed another spade with the jack of diamonds. A second club ruff let South lead a third spade. He could have played for a one-trick set by trumping this low and leading dummy's king of clubs, but he decided to go all out.

The third spade was ruffed with dummy's diamond queen and a low diamond led. South finessed his 10, cashed the ace to drop East's king and led a fourth spade, conceding a trick to East's ace. The defenders collected a heart trick, but South remained with the last trump and two good spades, and so brought home his doubled contract. This was worth 550 points, whereas North would have gone down at least 300 at five clubs. South's decision to go all out in the play was based on shrewd visualization of the opposing distribution. He placed East with four spades, five hearts (since he had bid that suit rather than spades), two clubs (proved by the fall of the ace on the second lead of that suit), and consequently two diamonds, which, considering West's failure to double, probably included the king.

EXTRA TRICK
I don't mean to imply that bidding duels between partners are usually profitable. The opposite is more apt to be true. But there are no "nevers" in bridge.

ILLUSTRATION

East-West vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

[6 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

WEST

[Queen of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[Queen of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[9 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

EAST

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[Jack of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

NORTH

PASS
3[Club]
PASS
5[Club]
PASS
PASS

EAST

1[Heart]
4[Heart]
DBL.
DBL.
DBL.

SOUTH

1[Spade]
4[Spade]
PASS
5[Diamond]
PASS

WEST

2[Heart]
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: king of hearts

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)