Reasons to split a pair

June 16, 1963

In last year's world bridge championship an unusual move by John Gerber, nonplaying captain of the North American team, retrieved an all-but-lost match against Great Britain. Badly needing big-point swings, Gerber broke up two of his long-standing partnerships and had G. Robert Nail and Lew Mathe play together. Tinkering with established partnerships is as risky as breaking up a smooth double-play combination. But when you need some heavy hitting, you cannot stand pat with slick fielders. With world championship play beginning in Italy this week, Gerber is prepared to make the same kind of move again. In fact, he has had Nail practicing with a new partner, Howard Schenken. Here is a hand they played recently.

At first glance, it would seem that Nail's five-heart bid was presumptuous since he could tell that the trumps would be stacked against the four-spade contract. But he was acting on the sound principle that with a freak hand it is always better to bid one more than risk a doubled contract being made. It also seemed that he might have a chance to make five hearts. Nail trumped the opening ace of spades, led the jack of hearts, which held the trick, and then tried to cash the king of diamonds. West trumped and shifted to the queen of clubs. After considerable thought, Nail elected to let the lead ride, discarding a diamond from dummy. East played the ace and returned another club, hoping for a two-trick set. South took the king, successfully finessed the queen of hearts and led the queen of spades. East played the king. Nail trumped and returned to dummy with the ace of hearts, drawing West's last trump, after which he cashed two good spades and the ace of diamonds, discarding three clubs. This still left declarer with a club loser, and he was down one, for a loss of 200 points.

But this loss was a gain against the probable result of the four-spade contract. Assuming the normal opening of the heart jack, dummy (West) ducks, and East ruffs. The next four tricks are alternating diamond and heart ruffs. The third round of hearts fells North's ace. A third diamond ruff puts the lead back in dummy and the high heart is led, forcing North to trump. East overruffs with his king of spades, trumps another diamond in dummy and makes the spade ace, discarding a club from his hand. Now comes the lead of dummy's queen of clubs, and North is helpless. Declarer has already scored nine tricks. If North fails to ruff the club, East makes the ace for his 10th trick. And if North ruffs, eventually he must concede the game-winning trick to East's queen of diamonds.

Since four spades doubled would have been worth 590 points to East-West, Nail's vulnerable "save" at the five level was well worth it.

ILLUSTRATION

North-South vulnerable West dealer

NORTH

[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[——— of Clubs]

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

WEST

PASS
DOUBLE
4 [Spade]
[DOUBLE]

NORTH
(Schenken)

1 [Diamond]
2 [Heart]
DOUBLE
PASS

EAST

PASS
2 [Spade]
PASS
PASS

SOUTH
(Nail)

1 [Heart]
3 [Club]
5 [Heart]
PASS

Opening lead: ace of spades

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)