In tournament bridge there is only one permissible way for a player to pass his chance to bid, and that is simply to say, "Pass." Anything else, even "No bid," once quite acceptable, is frowned upon generally and banned in international competition.
Bidding wasn't always so strictly governed. In the early days of the game one of the politer forms of accepting the last bid was to say, "Content." This suggestion that partner remain quiet was banished for obvious reasons, but there are occasions today when a player might like to revive the quaint bid. Present-day bidders have the penalty double with which they can convey the same "keep quiet" message to partner. But the bid is not always satisfactory, as West unhappily discovered in the following deal, which was told to me by my new teammate, Boris Koytchou, the Parisian who moved to New York to join the faculty of the Card School.
Only a player with a pronounced aversion to being excluded from the auction would have ventured a raise to five clubs with the hand South held. But this particular South was the kind of competitor who was all but ignited by such pre-emptive tactics as East's jump to four spades.
And West, on this occasion, was a player who would have preferred that once-proper call "Content," had it still been available. He was so well pleased with the five-club bid that he wanted nothing to disturb it. Therefore he felt he had to double in order to warn partner not to rebid his spade suit.
Left undisturbed, this five-club contract would have been set, if only for the reason that East would have been on lead. After cashing two spade tricks, a third spade would have permitted West to overruff dummy for the setting trick.
However, West's double of five clubs had given South a chance to escape. So, uncertain of the quality of his partner's club suit (the opening bid could conceivably have been made on as few as three to the ace or king), South discreetly retired to five hearts. The only thing that justified West's double of that contract was his conviction that South was firmly in a trap.
Dummy won the opening club lead, cashed the heart ace and led a heart to declarer's queen. The jack of clubs was finessed, and another club lead established the suit. West's last trump was drawn with dummy's heart jack, and South's losing spades were discarded on the long clubs. In the end, declarer lost only one diamond trick.
Why didn't North redouble? Would East have gone on in spades if West hadn't doubled, or if North had redoubled? At five spades doubled, would East have gone down two tricks? (This would have demanded a perfect defense with North overtaking the jack of clubs opening, cashing the ace of diamonds and underleading the heart ace to allow South to lead a diamond for North to ruff.) All of these questions are academic—and unanswerable, which is probably just as well.
One question, however, South himself volunteered to answer. "The ice-cold slam was not biddable," he contended, "as West refused to tell us in advance that he did not have a spade to lead."
When you think you can set the opponents, don't double if there is any possibility of their escaping to something safer. Just say, "Pass."