You are South:

S 9 7 6 2 
H 8 7 6 2 
D Q 10 
C A 3 2 

West dealer, none vul.

While you look at your miserable hand, West opens 1C. Partner overcalls 1D and East jumps at 4H. You pass, West as well, but partner has a different opinion: he reopens with a double. East passes and it is your turn:

Westra L.Cohen Leufkens Berkowitz
1C 1D 4H pass
pass dble pass ??

At 4H you do have four trumps but they aren't likely to bother declarer too much. Your options are clear: Pass or 4S. What do you bid?

     (And for the answer, scroll down..  )

This was board 65 of Netherlands v USA II for the semifinals of 1993 World Championships.

Partner must be 4-0-5-4 or 4-1-5-3. He didn't double at his first turn, probably because he had short hearts and some clubs. He will not have five spades, but he certainly should have four: that is, you almost have the assurance of a spade fit. However, spades risk to be distributed unevenly and your heart length combined with partner's high cards does offer you some chances in defence.

An application of the Law of Total Tricks would suggest passing: there probably are 17 trumps, that is 17 total tricks. Even if you have 10 tricks at spades (+420) they can only make 7 at Hearts (+500). On the other hand, if North has a heart void, the number of total tricks will be 18. In that case, the case for 4S is a bit stronger.

However, there were 19 or 20 total tricks, since the complete deal was:

                            S Q J 5 4
                            H ---
                            D A K 8 6 4
                            C K 10 8 6

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

                            S 9 7 6 2
                            H 8 7 6 2
                            D Q 10
                            C A 3 2

As you see, 4H is cold! If you passed partner's double you collect -590 and his admonitions that take-out doubles are meant to be taken out. Four spades is a very interesting contract, with uncertain outcome and not without hope altogether. Let's assume, however, that it goes down one, for -100.

Berkowitz, the US South, partner of Larry Cohen (the apostle of the Law of Total Tricks) passed without any qualms. The USA, however, did not lose on the board, because in the other room Wubbo de Boer also chose to pass Muller's double, albeit after a different auction that had given him even less information.

This deal is a counter-proof for the Law of Total Tricks. However, one should note that all experts confronted with this decision (the two above-mentioned, plus Barbosa of Brazil and Astrom of the Swedish Ladies team) elected to pass their partner's double. Perhaps the element that tilted the balance in favour of passing was the fact that the spade fit was not explicitly guaranteed.

The state of the match has also to be taken into account. If you are comfortably ahead, you want to diminish the chances for a large swing, so you are more likely to take insurance by bidding on. This was not the case in the match between USA and Netherlands, which was won by the Dutch team with the tiny margin of 3 IMPs.

Special thanks to Al "BiigAl" Lochli, District 16 ACBL Internet Coordinator for assistance with the HTML presentation.

Nikos Sarantakos,
Luxembourg, June 1998