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My aversion to fancy bidding systems is no secret, it being my theory that in bridge, as in most things, it is easier to talk yourself into trouble than out of it. So it is with mixed emotions that I present you with the following two hands from last week's Masters Knockout Team Championship in Montreal. The bidding traditionalist in me is pleased that in each case declarer found himself in woeful difficulty because of the complex system he used, but it is sad to relate that the victims in one case were my own teammates, who had advanced all the way to the tournament finals.
The first hand occurred in an early match in which four comparatively unknown Canadians presented a surprising challenge to what ranks as the most volatile group of partners in my memory. The very fact that Oswald Jacoby, Tobias Stone, John Crawford, Ira Rubin and Phil Feldesman could embark upon any joint venture had the bridge world amazed—but not so amazed that it didn't rate this group as favorites to reach the finals. Yet the Canadians—Don Cowan, Dr. Ron Forbes, Jack Howell and Lou Woodcock—held this team to a tie for the regulation 64-deal match and forced an eight-board overtime session in which the hand at right confounded the experts.
When the Canadians held the North-South cards against Stone and Crawford, they were allowed to play at five diamonds doubled. South was forced to use two trumps before he got the spades established and thus was down to one less trump than West. But he simply led good spades through West until West ruffed, then overruffed in dummy, pulled the rest of the trumps, ending in his hand, and made his contract. However, when Jacoby and Rubin held the North-South hands at the other table, the bidding set some sort of marathon record en route to six spades. It took 30 minutes to get everything said, and some of it might best have been left unsaid.
The Canadians were playing a form of canap� system, bidding the shorter suit first. West showed good support for hearts, and East cue-bid in both spades and diamonds. Six hearts could never have been made and with repeated diamond leads it might have been set several tricks. So you would think six hearts doubled would look fine for North-South. But you just don't appreciate scientific bidding. The trouble with Jacoby's double was that his side was playing a convention called the "undouble." In this convention, a double in the pass-out seat after a slam has been bid by the opponents shows that you have no tricks. Your partner leaves it in only if he is sure of winning two tricks himself. In order to guarantee defending against six hearts, Jacoby would have had to pass, even though he knew he had the contract beaten. Jacoby had apparently forgotten he was playing the "un-double." Rubin was sure that he would never win a trick with the ace of diamonds, so after Jacoby's double he decided to try a save at six spades and went down two, doubled.
I am aware that the undouble sometimes works well, and its use is not the point. What truly bewilders me is that in an auction which involved the astonishing total of 32 calls, East never was able to mention a seven-card club suit to the ace-king, the only suit in which his side could make a slam.
The Canadians fared well on this hand, obviously, but they could not stand prosperity. Minutes later, they bid a slam on a hand where they declined to use such a mundane tool as Blackwood, got set and lost the playoff.
Having survived this crisis, the Crawford team reached the semifinals, where once again it had to go into overtime, this time against a team that I had been a member of until I was called away early from Montreal. By the tiny margin of setting a two-spade contract, our team—John Gerber, Paul Hodge, Bobby Wolff and Dan Morse, all of Texas, and Dr. George Rosenkranz of Mexico City—won and advanced to the finals against Edgar Kaplan, Norman Kay, Alvin Roth and Bill Root.
But now it was our turn to compound a bidding confusion into a catastrophe. Playing without Gerber, who had business commitments in Houston, our team quickly fell behind, only to make up most of the difference with a fine slam on the 15th hand. Yet hope had no sooner begun to rise than hand 16 (above) came down, and after that everything was a formality.
A light opening bid is sometimes a good tactic when third hand has a good suit, but it is hazardous with a balanced hand that has no suit worth mentioning. This time the hazard proved extreme.
Kay's reopening double was intended as a takeout, but Kaplan was happy to pass for penalties. Rosenkranz realized that the diamond suit must be stacked against him and he tried to get out via a redouble, which is one of the loudest SOS signals in bridge, short of kicking your partner. Hodge knew he was expected to launch a rescue effort, but with what? He felt that three clubs doubled would be so expensive that it might be better to brazen things out in two diamonds. It wasn't.