Luck always helps in a game of skill

March 08, 1965

Luck plays only a minor role in tournament bridge, since all contestants play the same hands. True, you can be unlucky enough to play difficult hands against strong opponents, but over the course of a full session this evens out. But in the International Team Trials in Dallas last November there was one instance of luck that played a major part in the final makeup of the U.S. team.

It occurred when B. Jay Becker and Dorothy Hayden, who finished third and made the team, played Sam Stayman and Vic Mitchell, who just missed qualifying. The schedule of play called for the two pairs to change positions from time to time, moving from East-West to North-South. Obviously, it was easier to remain seated and simply change the direction of the boards in which the cards are held. Then came the deal shown here. Stayman and Mitchell should have held the North-South hands, but the official in charge of placing the boards in the proper position made an error. Becker and Mrs. Hayden picked up the North-South cards and reached a conservative small slam at clubs, worth 940 points and a loss of two International Match Points, since most players scored 1,020 in six no trump. But had Stayman and Mitchell held the North-South cards, as they should have, they would most probably have reached a contract of seven no trump, for the hand (as shown in diagram) was made to order for their highly complex bidding system. I'll try to explain.

A two-club opening is artificial and forcing. A response of two diamonds is mandatory, regardless of strength. Two no trump then shows the equivalent of a normal two-no-trump opening. Now if South bid three clubs it would be a request for a four-card major; three diamonds or three hearts would be transfer bids, demanding that opener bid three hearts or three spades. And, since three spades would have no normal meaning in the involved molecular structure of their system, it has been drafted to show a minor-suit hand and ask partner to bid a four-card minor if he holds one. North denies four of either minor when he bids three no trump. Since South has already said he holds the minor suits, his bid of four hearts is a cue bid showing the ace. North would cue-bid spades in turn. South's five-club bid would count his hand for at least five clubs and four diamonds, and North's cards must now be recognized as filling every possible hole in South's hand.

South, in turn, can tell—knowing that his partner does not have a four-card minor—that North's bid must be based on top-card winners. Thus, while seven clubs would be an excellent contract, Mitchell would almost certainly have bid seven no trump. Had he done so, his side would have scored 10 IMPs instead of two and would have won the match 35-25 instead of losing it 27-33. This would have brought Becker and Mrs. Hayden's score down to 571½ and boosted Stayman-Mitchell into third place with 572—good enough to clinch a place on the 1965 team.

ILLUSTRATION

East-West vulnerable West dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

[Jack of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[6 of Hearts]
[8 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[7 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

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

EAST

[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[9 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

WEST

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH

2 [Club]
2 N.T.
3 N.T.
4 [Spade]
7 [Club]
PASS

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH

2 [Diamond]
3 [Spade]
4 [Heart]
5 [Club]
7 N.T.

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)