‘his article was published in the excellent British magazine Bridge Plus in 1997 and reproduced partly in the anthology More Bedside Bridge by Elena Jeronimidis.
Special thanks to Kent Burghard who did the HTML conversion!

Everybody loves a big swing

Bridge fans love them, bridge writers live from them, bridge players try to engineer them -or to avoid them. A good swing is in every player's mind and double-digit swings can decide the fate of a match.

Double-digit swings, however, come in every size and some of them are bigger than others. Under the current scale, the maximum you can gain or lose on one board is 24 IMPs. Figures approaching this limit are not an everyday occurence, though.

In the quarter-finals of the latest Bermuda Bowl/Venice Cup, played in October 1995 at Beijing, the following cute little deal generated some pretty large swings:

Board 58

Dealer East, both vul.

  S 9
H A K 9
D 10
C A J 10 9 6 5 4 3
S Q 8 7 3
H J 10 8
D K Q 9 8 7 5
C ---
  S A K J 10 5 4
H 4 3
D A 3 2
C 8 7
  S 6 2
H Q 7 6 5 2
D J 6 4
C K Q 2

The biggest of them was in Canada v South Africa, when the Canadians made 6S doubled with an overtrick in the one room and 6C doubled in the other. Both contracts had two top losers, obviously, but defenders failed to cash their tricks while it was still possible: South did not lead a heart against 6S, while East tried to cash a second spade against 6C. The outcome was that Canada gained no less than 3000 points, or 22 IMPs!

Big deal, you'll say; after all, the fact that slams can produce such swings is not an earth-shattering discovery. Granted. What about non-slam deals? I can't offer you an 22 size, but if you are content with 21, then an example exists. The biggest penalty in a Bermuda Bowl match occurred in the 1987 semi-finals. This was the fateful Board 71:

South dealer, game all

  S 10 6
H 7 6 5
D A K 7 3
C A 7 6 4
H 3
D J 10 9 8 6 4
C K Q 8 5 2
  S A K 8 5 4
H Q J 10 2
D Q 5
C 10 3
  S Q 9 7 3 2
H A K 9 8 4
D 2
C J 9

The deal does not seem to contain great potential for swing; well, if N-S bid the heart game they are likely to go down, possibly doubled, and this did happen in the match between the USA and Taipei, when the USA gained 9 IMPs for making 2H in the one room and setting 4H doubled by one trick in the other room. The drama was in the other match. Not in the closed room, where the late Jeremy Flint made a peaceful 3D. This was the auction in the Open Room:

   2NT (1)
pass3H (2)passpass
3NT (3)dblepass (4)pass
redble (5)passpass! (6)pass

Obviously, both Lindkvist and Fallenius could avoid the disaster in one way or another, but the fact is that they played 3NT redoubled, going no less than five down! The penalty was 2800 points, that is a cool 21-IMP swing. After that devastating moral blow, the Swedish team could not recover; they eventually lost by 47 IMPs.

Some readers may remember one of S.J. Simon's stories, when a similar redouble is passed by partner; I hasten to add that the Swedish pair bear no resemblance with their fictitious counterparts, even if they were both experts and unlucky -at least in that board. However, the fact is that lesser mortals do not have the potential to generate such a swing in this deal; they usually do not use two-edged gadgets, nor do they have such confidence to partner as to make and then stand such non-business redoubles!

* * *

But maybe you are not satisfied; after all, it is obvious that a misguided redouble can generate an enormous swing. Now, what about a big swing in a deal that does not involve neither slam contracts nor redoubles? Will 20 IMPs be enough for you? This was a deal from the Round Robin of the 1991 Bermuda Bowl:

West dealer, game all

  S K Q 10 7
H 4
D K J 10 6 5 4 2
S J 9 5
H K Q 6
C K 10 8 7 6
  S 8 6 2
H A J 5 2
D 9 8
C A J 5 3
  S A 4 3
H 10 9 8 7 3
D 7 3
C 9 4 2

This deal is interesting from several aspects; according to the Law of Total Tricks, when one side has a fit in a suit and the other side plays in notrump, the expected number of total tricks is seven plus the number of cards in the said suit, i.e. 7+9=16 in our case. This deal is rather an exception, since there are ten tricks available in diamonds and nine in notrump, that is a total of 19!

This deal was played in many tables and predictably it generated large swings, but nowhere larger than in the match between the USA II team and Egypt. The auction in the Closed Room was:

1NT3DDbleall pass

3D made with an overtrick: 870 to the USA. The worst for Egypt was yet to come:

1NT2S (1)Dble (2)3C
Dbleall pass

North's decision to treat his hand as a two-suiter is questionable, but the Egyptians came within inches of halving the board at 4D doubled. However, South did not know that the diamonds were that much longer than the spades. Their final resting spot was not too comfortable; 4S doubled cost 1400, the total swing being 2270 points or the bagatelle of 20 IMPs.

Note that neither contract was weird; in fact, there were several 870s at other matches (are you sure your own methods would enable you to avoid this misfortune?), while five down at 4S was also suffered by Lasocki-Gawrys, the Polish champions. The advantage of being famous, however, was that they were not doubled and they actually gained 3 IMPs when their team-mates scored 630 in the other room.

What about the biggest swing in a deal that involves neither slams, nor big penalties or redoubles but mere partscore contracts? And in a deal that might well have been thrown in, to boot? I have a pretty exhibit in mind; it can possibly be bettered, but perhaps not with such famous players involved. In this apparently innocuous deal from the 1967 Bermuda Bowl finals, the US team managed to lose 17 IMPs, i.e. the equivalent of a vulnerable slam swing, by doubling the Blue Team into game in both rooms:

Game all, dealer West

  S 10 8 7 4 3
H A 10 3
D 7 6
C A 8 5
S 6
H Q 7 6 5 4
D A 4
C K Q 10 4 3
  S A J 5
D K 10 8 5 2
C J 7 6 2
  S K Q 9 2
H K 9 8 2
D Q J 9 3
C 9

In the Closed Room, the auction was:


Avarelli's 2C was Roman: an unidentified three-suiter with 12-16 points; Belladonna's 2S meant that he was content to play there unless this was partner's singleton. The double by Bill Root was for take-out; Al Roth passed fully aware of this fact, probably because he wanted to engineer a swing (his team was behind in the match), and hoping that the Italians have had their wires crossed. As you see, this was not the case and Belladonna made his contract with an overtrick, recording 870.

In the Open Room, the deal might have been thrown in, but:

3S4Cdbleall pass

After Kehela decided to open at fourth seat, everyone found many bids, as it often happens. The final contract might have been beaten -and it also might have been made with an overtrick, as the play went- but the fact is that Forquet made it and scored 710. The swing was 1580 points, or 17 IMPs -in a partscore deal.

Doubling opponents into game is likely to cost you dearly; in a sense, the US team were lucky: had this disaster happened twice in separate deals, they'd lose some 27 IMPs. Since they suffered it simultaneously in the same deal, they just lost 17 IMPs -mind you, you can hardly afford many "lucky" breaks of that kind!

* * *

Having come down from the dizzy heights of 20-plus swings to (barely) more manageable altitudes, it is only fitting to close the circle by re-ascending there. The ultimate swing in international play occurred in 1961, when the French team, en route to Buenos Aires when they were to play in the Bermuda Bowl, were visiting Brazil for some friendly matches. And then, there occurred what was aptly named 'the earthquake of Sao Paolo'. It was well past midnight when this freak was dealt:

South dealer, game all

  S ---
D A K Q J 10 9 8
C A Q 3 2
S A J 9 8 7 2
H ---
D 5 4 3 2
C 9 7 5
  S K Q 10 6 5 4 3
H ---
D 7 6
C J 10 8 6
  S ---
H A Q 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
D ---
C K 4

Not exactly an everyday hand, as you see. When Brazil was N-S, South opened a forcing to game 2C. West thought it was clever to overcall with a psychic 2H! This did not bother his opponents, but it prevented his own side from finding the good sacrifice at 7S. The Brazilians bid and made 7H scoring 2210 points.

In the other room, however, things took another course. Either because it was too late or because he wanted to see how things will evolve, the French South, Bacherich, passed with his eleven-card suit. The auction was:

all pass

It seems that West hesitated before passing 7H. When East bid 7S, the Frenchmen called for the (Brazilian) director, who, however, accepted the bid. Piqued, the French North, Deruy, bid a majestically suicidal 7NT! The defenders doubled and cashed seven spades for 2000 points, for a swing of no less than 4210 points. According to the IMP-scale that was then in force, this swing amounted to 25 IMPs. Shortly thereafter, the scale was modified to its current form, so this record will remain unbroken, at least until and unless there is a further modification of the current scale. A small detail: despite of this setback, the French won the match.

* * *

Apart from the absolute swing, which can not be bigger (now) than 24 IMPs, there also exists the notion of relative swing, i.e. the difference between the result actually obtained and the result that would have been obtained by another action in the bidding or play. This can obviously be higher; a good example is the famous lead made by Munir in the 1981 Bermuda Bowl final (Pakistan v USA).

This was board 72:

West dealer, Love all

  S 2
H 10 8
D A K Q 10 8 5 2
C 8 4 2
S Q 9 8 7
H A Q 9 6 4
D 6
C K 9 7
  S J 5 4
H J 3 2
D J 3
C A Q J 5 3
  S A K 10 6 3
H K 7 5
D 9 7 4
C 10 8

In the open room, Masood for Pakistan made 4D. In the closed room, however:

1H3H (1)dble3 NT
passredble (2)all pass

An enormous number of IMPs hung on Munir's lead; he knew that partner was likely to have a black ace, but which one? Without many indices, he led a spade -and who can blame him? This was 750 for the USA and a gain of 12 IMPs. But had Munir led a club, it would be 2000 and 20 IMPs for Pakistan, a relative swing of 32 IMPs! The US team was well in front when this board was played, so one would think that it was not good tactics by Meckwell to create swingy conditions. However, we won't argue with success.

Nonetheless, there is a higher figure in the World Championship records. It comes from Canada v Jamaica for the Round Robin of the 1987 Bermuda Bowl:

East dealer, Game all

  S A Q 6 2
H K Q 7
D 10 4
C A Q J 3
S 10 8 7 4
H 9
D K Q 9 6 5 2
C 10 2
  S K 5
H 10 2
D A 8 7 3
C 9 8 7 6 4
  S J 9 3
H A J 8 6 5 4 3
C K 5

This was board 10 of round 10 of the round-robin. When Canada played Jamaica, both Souths started with a three-bid; although the two countries are not remote geographically, standards for vulnerable three-bids seem to differ, since the Canadian North was content with a raise to 4H, while his Jamaican counterpart drove to the slam. As there are always 12 tricks, one would expect a loss for the Canadians. Well, the Jamaicans actually reached the grand slam. This contract had an obvious flaw, and East expressed his opinion by doubling. However, West had Lightner in mind, so he led not a diamond (the unbid suit) but a spade (dummy's first suit). Declarer took his ace and now he had a chance by drawing trumps, discarding spades on the clubs and ruffing out the SK to discard his losing diamond. However, he pushed his luck too far by attempting to do this before drawing trumps. West ruffed the third round, played a spade and East cashed her DA: three down doubled for -800 and a loss of 17 IMPs. But had declarer drawn trumps first, he would have scored +2470 and gained 18 IMPs. A relative swing of no less than 35 IMPs!

Talking about swings, what do you think is the biggest difference in tricks that can be obtained when both sides play a contract in the same denomination? At club level, a difference of two, three or even four tricks is not rare, as any perusal of a score-sheet will show you. But in high-level events? What is the biggest difference of tricks you can have without anyone doing anything really awful? And in a slam contract, to boot? What about five tricks? This was Board 8 from USA v Canada in the 1968 Ladies' Olympiad:

Love all, dealer West

  S 8 6 2
H ---
D 9 8 6 3 2
C K J 10 7 4
S 5 3
H A 6
D K J 10 7
C Q 9 6 3 2
  S A K Q J 7 4
H K 9
C A 8 5
  S 10 9
H Q J 10 8 7 5 4 3 2
D 5 4
C ---

In the Closed Room, the auction was:


Obviously, the best contract is 7NT, to avoid the danger of a ruff. But then, we'd have no story! North did not make a Lightner double, because she did want a heart lead. South did not let a heart, because she assumed (correctly, in a sense) that opponents had heart control. A diamond was led and all 13 tricks were made. What South did not consider, was that if partner had the ace of hearts and/or a couple of hearts, she'd have doubled the 6H cue-bid or she'd have bid 7H. Therefore, the only hope to beat the contract was to play partner for a heart void.

In the Open Room, the auction followed different lines:

all pass

South's jump to six hearts left no room for exploration; the Canadians stayed to the small slam, but even this contract was too high -by several tricks! South led a suit-preferential H2. North ruffed and returned a low club. East still had hopes of making the contract so she hopped with the ace. South ruffed and gave partner a second heart ruff. The defenders had still two club tricks to take, so the contract went down four. Declarer took five tricks less than her counterpart in the Closed Room, without doing anything wrong. Yes, some days it is better not to get out of bed...

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