Every cloud has a sooty lining

March 19, 1962

You will not find Murphy's Law in any bridge book; yet it certainly belongs there. Indeed, its omission is an oversight I plan to correct in my very next opus. I first encountered this advanced principle of science in a farcical Broadway theatrical production called The Golden Fleecing. Briefly stated, Murphy's Law affirms: If anything can go wrong, it will.

After I got through laughing, it dawned on me that Murphy's Law is a perfect and entirely serious explanation of the way a good bridge player plans the handling of even the most innocuous-looking contract. One good method of training yourself to think this way is to tackle bridge column and book hands accordingly. As an example, here is a hand contributed by a friend, Ewart Kempson, the very literate Yorkshireman and bridge authority.

Contributions from my British friends do not always set forth clearly the bidding sequences, but this one did and I do not agree with it. I would prefer a two-no-trump rebid on the South hand, exactly expressing a balanced 19-point holding. However, North's nine points are easily worth the raise to three no trump and the final contract is entirely normal.

But let's get back to the play. East puts the king on the first heart lead; you win it with the ace and proceed according to Murphy's Law.

You count five sure tricks in hearts and spades. Clubs will furnish the four more you need only if West holds the king with fewer than three small guards. Diamonds, however, will fail to provide the tricks you need only if that suit breaks badly. How badly? Well, you can survive West's holding four diamonds including the 10-spot because you will be able to take a proved finesse of dummy's 9 of diamonds on the third lead of the suit. The danger you must try to offset is four diamonds in the East hand.

Still following Murphy's advice, you assume that East holds four diamonds. This leaves West with only one and makes the odds 4 to 1 that East will hold the ace. That's pretty good odds, so you should plan your play accordingly.

You lead a spade to dummy's queen and play back a low diamond. Sure enough, East has four, including the ace-10, but there isn't anything he can do. If he puts up the ace, you can bring home the rest of the suit. So he must duck, and you win the trick with your jack.

Now the numbers have changed. With one diamond trick already home, you need only three clubs. Still operating on the theory that things will go wrong if given a chance, you abandon diamonds and establish the clubs that bring game.

Note what happens if South tries to establish the diamonds in the usual way, leading an honor from his hand. East wins with the ace and knocks out declarer's queen of hearts. South cashes the jack of diamonds and gets the bad news too late. His only hope is to win two club tricks. But the club finesse fails and East's heart return gives the defense three more tricks to set the contract.

EXTRA TRICK
When things look hopeless, you must try to find a distribution that will permit you to make your contract. When they appear brightest you must protect against any distribution that might lead to your defeat.

Neither side vulnerable South dealer

[Queen of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[7 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

WEST

[10 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[Jack of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[8 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[4 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[Ace of Spades]
[King of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Queen of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

EAST

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

SOUTH

1 [Club]
3 N.T.

WEST

PASS
PASS

NORTH

1 [Diamond]
PASS

EAST

PASS
PASS

Opening lead: jack of hearts

TWO ILLUSTRATIONS

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)