Bob Mackinnon

Bridge Laughter

Husbands, take note: wives know you better than they let on. Last week my wife let the veil slip when she commented, ‘you laugh a lot, but you seldom smile.’ It’s so true – I am not a great smiler; I don’t even like The Mona Lisa. But I do laugh a lot, usually at situations others don’t find at all funny. That becomes dangerous, if taken too far.

BBO is a good source of laughs as it provides a daily dosage of contrasts between harsh reality and failed expectations. Of course, at the table courtesy demands one keep a straight face. Just the other day after a hotly contested auction my RHO put down 3=5=5=0 dummy in 5* with the comment, ‘I’m only doing this because everyone else will be doing the same.’ Ha-Ha. He was entirely alone in his predicament, because as an occasional visitor, he had forgotten the wayward ways of our Seniors Day. No other pair our way was crazy enough to bid 4, which, as the cards lay, was makeable. When I laugh it is not personal, but in recognition of the handicaps that hamper us all, such being unable to see what’s just around the corner.

Politicians are taught to smile (or sob, as the soon-to-be Speaker of the House damply demonstrated), but laughter loses votes. Too much laughter reveals a lack of serious commitment to general principles, the true state of American politics with regard to the will of the people. As Shakespeare wrote, ‘one may smile and smile, and be a villain.’ Which brings us to the recent Copenhagen Invitational Pairs with HRH the Prince of Denmark (Henrik, not Hamlet) as Patron.

In a previous blog I pointed out some shortcomings in the bidding of 2 renowned Polish experts, the Krzysztofs, Jassem and Martens. I had suggested pusillanimous behavior as a reason for their collapse against the Nickell team in the 2010 WBF Open Teams. Well, when you come down it, what do I know? I only observe from afar, and I am always ready to change my views on the basis of fresh evidence. With regard to Jassem and Martens, in Copenhagen they finished third out of a field of 16 international experts, so I thought upon inspection of the deals I would find reason to alter my previous impression. Can supposed chicken bidders do well at IMP pairs? I would think not over 15 rounds against the best Europe has to offer. The following board caused me great amusement when it was played in the last round. Perhaps after this background you will see why.


Board 16

Dealer: West

Vul: EW


J 2

K Q J 5 4

8 5

A K 5 3


A Q 8 6

10 8 7 6

9 8 7 6 2


K 10 5 4

A 3

A K Q J 9 3



9 7 3

9 2

10 7 6 4 2

J 10 4

Madala Christians Bocchi Auken
Pass 1 Dbl Pass
2 Pass 3 * Pass
4 * Pass 4NT Pass
5 Pass 5 Pass
6 All Pass


Seeing only the EW hands it is reasonable to reach 6 even after North has opened the bidding. Perhaps in the end it was the brashness of youth, or being raised under the Mediterranean sun, that caused Agustin Madala to bid the slam. What an ancient dame said to me on Seniors Day could be applied here, ‘you boys sure like to bid a lot.’ Boys!! The energetic Italians were to come in second just 8 IMPs above our heroes, Jassem and Martens. At the other table the bidding took an odd turn, again with boyish exuberance a factor.


Martens Saelensminde Jassem Brogeland
Pass 1 Dbl Redbl
Pass Pass 2 Dbl
2 Dbl 2 Pass
Pass 3 All Pass off 3, for -150


Brogeland’s redouble is grand larceny at work, followed fearlessly with a second misdirection that could have proved suicidal. Jassem bid out his fine hand with mature discretion, and Martens had nothing to add. Erik Saelensminde was left to play in a totally hopeless contract without being doubled. Martens was not good enough to double, but too good to raise to 3 when 3 looked like going down. That’s how some think. What do you guess Jassem led against 3 ? Did you guess the Q?

It was the outcome that provided even more cause for laughter. Martens and Jassem picked up IMPs on this board, because Madala went down in 6 ! After a favorable, precipitous club lead (instead of a preparatory K) the brash declarer failed to provide for a bad split in diamonds by ruffing a diamond early. Negligently he started on trumps, thus establishing a heart loser for himself when the 10 didn’t fall in 4 rounds. He had slipped on a mental banana peel, going down 1, losing 5 IMPs instead of gaining 15. So, although the odds are against it, sometimes the chicken escapes the badger’s best efforts.

The Seniors Day deal that prompted the old dear’s misdirected comment presented my partner, Luke, and me with the following bidding problem:


Bob Luke
QJ96532 A1084 1 2
A1072 95 3 * 4
A9 J6 6 Pass
K7652 * HSGT
5 losers 8 losers


At the time my jump to 6 was a quick, straightforward decision, given that partner might very well have underbid his first response holding a red king and the ace four times in spades. I suppose if one partner appears continually to stretch the HCP scale, upgrading as it’s called, a true believer learns to compensate, which makes the overbidder overbid even more. Dummy was a disappointment; the J appeared wasted, but at least it helped to prevent a fatal diamond lead. On the club lead I played low from dummy and the old lady on my right nearsightedly put up the A. Well, that was my extra chance.

Driving home after another mediocre finish Luke began to complain, which I abhor, especially when in heavy traffic he is at the wheel making eye contact in the rear view mirror as I fret nervously in the back seat.

‘That slam you bid was filthy,’ he stated bitterly, hitting the brakes at a red light, ‘you’re lucky she covered with the K.’

‘Not so lucky,’ I replied, ‘any one-one trump split would have served as well. But please, Luke, if you must complain, choose a hand on which we scored a bottom, not one on which we scored a top. Making just 650 would be worth only 33%. The light has turned green by the way.’

You see, one never learns from undeserved tops, that’s why I refuse to discuss them. If the opportunity ever arises again in this lifetime, I fear the temptation to bid another makeable 19-point slam will be far too great to resist. I would have preferred to discuss all the losses we incur daily by not doubling part scores, something beneficial might be done there, but this was neither the time nor the place.

I more I play, the more I admire Rixi Markus, born 100 years ago last June 12. She gave some sage advice in her beautifully produced book, Play Better Bridge (1979), which I have just reread with great enjoyment. We can all do with some sage advice.

Bid Boldly, Play Safe, my friends.


Rainer HerrmannNovember 19th, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Your critic of Madala’s declarer play in 6S seems a bit harsh to me.

One gets easily mesmerized by the actual layout.

Catering for a bad diamond break (after the club lead) just happens to work in the actual layout, but only because South has exactly 3 trumps missing the jack and the long diamonds.

It will loose in most layouts where diamonds will brake 4-3 and trumps 3-2.

Otherwise how are you going to ruff a diamond, draw trumps, and later dispose your heart loser without running out of trumps in hand?

I do not think Madala was negligent I think he took his best chance.

The slam is playable, but not a a good one.

Bob MNovember 20th, 2010 at 9:05 pm

I think it is good technique to ruff a diamond early just in case. Declarer must assume a 3-2 trump break from the start, so his planning has to be based on that. I am willing to concede it was extremely unlucky. I would rather be in slam than defending 3 clubs, but wouldn’t 4 spades have been good enough?

Rainer HerrmannNovember 20th, 2010 at 10:36 pm

What did Christians lead at trick2? I presume he switched to a heart.

If you now ruff a diamond and then draw trumps you will be left at the end with a heart loser on the table, the heart 3, because you have no trump left in hand with which to ruff the heart 3.

Bob MNovember 21st, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Thta’s true, Rainer. so you can’t draw all the trumps. The winning play, double dummy, is to play North for 2 trumps and South for 3. Draw just 2 rounds of trumps and when declarer runs the diamonds and South can’t ruff in with profit.

A good point you made earlier was this; is that the best way to play the hand single dummy? North was marked with at least 5 hearts and at least 3 clubs on the lead and play. If he has 2 spades, he has at most 3 diamonds. How probable is it that he has just 2 diamonds? If North has just 2 spades, West can safely run the diamonds in front of South.

Some day we’ll have computer programs that answer this question based on the current odds at trick 3.

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