SI Vault
 
Never play for the impossible
Charles Goren
October 07, 1963
Alvin Roth, who is on the team that won both the Vanderbilt and Spingold championships this year, is a fine theorist as well as a top player. If he has any weakness it is a tendency to display what can be graciously called "partner intolerance." He delivers extended sermons after hands in which the results have been bad—and occasionally he does it even when the results are good. This is especially true when his partner is female. He has long claimed, in fact, that mixed-pair events should be abolished. Yet one of the hands he is proudest of (below) occurred in the 1953 Mixed Team of Four Championship—which his team won—even though it was his female partner who had the last word.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 07, 1963

Never Play For The Impossible

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Alvin Roth, who is on the team that won both the Vanderbilt and Spingold championships this year, is a fine theorist as well as a top player. If he has any weakness it is a tendency to display what can be graciously called "partner intolerance." He delivers extended sermons after hands in which the results have been bad—and occasionally he does it even when the results are good. This is especially true when his partner is female. He has long claimed, in fact, that mixed-pair events should be abolished. Yet one of the hands he is proudest of (below) occurred in the 1953 Mixed Team of Four Championship—which his team won—even though it was his female partner who had the last word.

Against Roth, who was sitting South, West took his club king and then led the ace. Roth ruffed and played the king of hearts. West took the heart ace and shifted to the king of spades, won by South's ace. Superficially, at this point, Roth had two possible plays for the contract. He could take a diamond finesse and, if it succeeded and the king dropped, he could make the rest of the tricks. Or he could play West to hold the queen of spades, since he had led the king, and lead up to the jack of spades in dummy, hoping to get a diamond discard on a third-round spade winner. Roth paused to take an inventory of the bidding.

West had already shown up with the ace-king of clubs, the ace of hearts and the king of spades. Since East-West were vulnerable against nonvulnerable opponents, it would have been unsound tactics for them to be trying to trap North-South, hoping they would overbid and be subject to a big penalty. So, if West held either the king of diamonds or the queen of spades, it was virtually impossible for him to have passed the opening heart bid. Roth therefore concluded that East must hold both the missing honors and that the best way to make the contract was by an end play. Roth expected to force East down to a blank queen of spades and the king and one diamond. Then he would lead a spade to put East in, and East would be forced to lead into dummy's diamond ace-queen. So declarer ran off all his trumps, ending with the spade jack and the diamond ace-queen as dummy's last three cards. Before executing the final play, however, Roth paused for one more assessment of the situation. West had begun with only two hearts and with only one or two spades. Surely, if he had held six clubs, he would have ventured a two-club overcall. Therefore, Roth figured West must have held five clubs, two hearts, two spades and four diamonds. Having already decided that the king of diamonds must be in East's hand, Roth switched his plan. Instead, he led a diamond and went up with dummy's ace, dropping the singleton king.

After this coup, Roth sat back to await commendation from partner, Mrs. Edith Kemp. Instead, she said: "Don't you think, Al, once you decided the diamond king was blank you should have gone all out? If you left the jack of diamonds in dummy and discarded the jack of spades, you could have made an overtrick!" For once, a partner was one up on Alvin.

EXTRA TRICK
A most important factor in good dummy play is counting out the unseen hands—not only for high cards, but for their probable distribution. This lets you restrict your plays to those that have at least a chance of working.

1