You are South, holding:

S K 6
H J 7 5 3
D A 10 6
C A Q 6 3

East dealer, none vul.

East opens a strong club. You decide to pass, usually best when holding a good hand, but there is a tough decision awaiting you at your next turn:

Belladonna Wolff Garozzo Hamman
1C (1) pass
1D (2) 3H 4S ??

(1) Strong
(2) Negative

What will be your choice? Pass, double or bid 5H? And, if you decide not to bid on, what do you lead?

     (Scroll down for the rest of the story.. )

This was board 56 of Italy v USA for the finals of the 1975 Bermuda Bowl, appropriately played in Bermuda. The Americans had started impressively and they built a seemingly unassailable lead, but the legendary Blue Team had started to show some signs of a comeback.

You seem to have least three, possibly four, defensive tricks in your hand alone, so passing or doubling seems to be the winning move. This was the choice made by Bob Hamman. Was he right?

The answer hinged on the opening lead. Hamman led a heart, which was not a success, since the entire lead was:

                            S 8 2
                            H A K 10 9 8 4 2
                            D ---
                            C 10 9 5 2

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

                             S K 6
                             H J 7 5 3
                             D A 10 6 
                             C A Q 6 3

Garozzo ruffed the opening lead and played ace of trumps and another. He ruffed the heart return and dislodged the ace of diamonds. Unable to reach partner for a club play, Hamman had to cash his CA to avoid the overtrick.

Obviously, on a diamond lead the defenders are able to cash the first six tricks! Even the "no-no" CA lead will beat the contract after the likely diamond switch.

However, Hamman's mistake was perhaps not the fact that he failed to find the winning lead, but that he failed to take insurance by bidding 5H himself. In this particular case 5H is on, as was demonstrated in the other room where Franco made 4H with an overtrick. But bidding on may win in several ways and even when it proves wrong, i.e. when both contracts go down, it is usually much cheaper than the price of the error when both contracts are on.

As it was, Italy gained 13 much-needed IMPs and went on to complete a sensational comeback and win by 25 IMPs. Imagine that they were more than 70 down halfway through the match!

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

Nikos Sarantakos,
Luxembourg, June 1998