Zero doubled is no worse than zero

April 05, 1965

In rubber bridge it rarely pays to rescue your partner from a contract you are certain he cannot make, because chances are you will only get into even deeper trouble. Better to let him battle it out and keep the loss to a minimum. But in duplicate bridge you are able to act with the knowledge that you cannot score worse than a bottom. If your attempt to sidestep disaster costs another 200 points or so, who cares? You will still score no worse than the zero you were headed for anyway.

South operated on that principle in this hand from a recent tournament. Realizing that he had very little defensive strength, he bid four hearts over North's double of three spades. He was reasonably sure he would not make four hearts, but he was equally sure that the opponents would make the three spades his partner had doubled.

East unaccountably dropped the 3 of diamonds on the first trick—a defensive slip—and South was quick to play the 5. West continued with the diamond ace and South dropped his deuce, giving West the impression that he held only two diamonds while East had three. So West shifted to the ace and another club, East signaling with the 8 on the first round. Declarer took dummy's king of clubs and led the spade king to West's ace. West led a third club, letting East make his queen, but East had to return a spade, letting South dump his remaining diamond. West was marked for a lone heart, so declarer took dummy's ace of hearts and led a low one, putting on the 9 when East ducked. Thus East was held to a single trump trick, declarer won seven tricks in all and was down "only" three tricks for 500 points.

"Nice going," said North with mock enthusiasm. "Thanks to a defensive error and a good play in trumps, you managed to escape going down 700—but a bottom is a bottom. Why didn't you leave them in three spades and let them get set?"

"I thought I had good reasons. Among them, you might have had a different kind of hand—including the ace of spades and something more in diamonds for example. But my best reason was that you couldn't set them."

North replied that he would like to see West make three spades against the king of spades opening, but the fact is that three spades can be made against any lead. West ducks the king of spades and also the queen when North continues the suit. Now North can't lead a third spade without giving up a trick; a club lead would let East's queen win; and a diamond lead would give West the whole diamond suit. Presumably he would lead the ace and another heart, with West shedding a club on dummy's heart king. Next declarer plays ace, king and a third diamond, ruffed in dummy. West gets back to his hand by leading dummy's last trump to his ace of spades. He leads out his good diamonds, and if North ruffs he must lead a club; if he pitches on both the diamonds, declarer leads his last spade to put North in for the same end play in the club suit.

This is exactly what happened to another table. West made three spades doubled, so the North-South pair was minus 530. Going down 500 in four hearts doubled was, therefore, worth one match point. Not much, it is true, but not the bottom, either.

ILLUSTRATION

Neither side vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

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

WEST

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

SOUTH

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

EAST

[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Queen of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[4 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

PASS
2 [Heart]
3 [Heart]
PASS
4 [Heart]
PASS

WEST

1 [Diamond]
2 [Spade]
PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH

1 N.T.
PASS
PASS
DOUBLE
PASS
PASS

EAST

PASS
PASS
3 [spade]
PASS
DOUBLE

Opening lead: King of diamonds

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)