Problem No. 1, 2000


The problem

Fifteen years ago, I (Anders Wirgren) had a strange experience in an important team event. On the first deal of the tournament I had a boring 4-4-3-2 hand with 9 HCPs. In spite of that, something strange happened in the bidding – and I played the leading role. To help you find out what did happen, I'll give you these clues:

  1. My partnership used a natural bidding system, just like the opponents.
  2. My honors were two kings and three jacks; and in diamonds I had jack doubleton.
  3. My partner passed throughout the bidding.
  4. My first call was double.
  5. My second call was double.
  6. My third call was double. That ended the bidding.
  7. We blew a trick in the defense against 2 diamonds, defeating it by five tricks.


The deal was played in the Rottneros Nordic Cup 1987 (a biannual team contest between the Open teams of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland). The full deal was (West dealer, neither side vulnerable):

Sp A Q 8
Hj A Q 9 6
Ru K Q 10 7 6
Kl 8
Sp J 10 4 3 Table Sp 9 2
Hj K 8 3 2 Hj 10 4
Ru A 8 5 3 Ru 9 4
Kl A Kl Q 9 7 6 4 3 2
Sp K 7 6 5
Hj J 7 5
Ru J 2
Kl K J 10 5

South West North East
1 D pass pass
d'ble pass pass 2 C
d'ble r'd'ble pass 2 D
d'ble pass pass pass

As South, I wasn't proud of my cards, but when West's opening bid was passed around to me, I had enough strength and suitable distribution to reopen with a double. My partner, Mats Nilsland, passed happily, but East wouldn't join the party. He ran to 2 clubs, and when I had four good clubs, I could double again. After Mats' penelty pass over 1 diamonds my second double was a penalty double.
  West should have realized things were getting bad for them and that it was time to call it a day, but in a desperate attempt to find a better part score, he redoubled for rescue – and poor East could do no better than bid 2 diamonds.
  I still had a balanced hand with 9 HCPs, but if Mats wanted to defend 1 ruter when I could have zero diamonds, it couldn't be bad to have an honor-doubleton when they were one level higher in the same strain. So I could once again double for penalty. Confidently.

But how do you find the solution? Or, rather, the solutions, because there are some minor variations (and if you've found the basic premise, I've accepted the rest). The most important clue is number 4: that I doubled at my first opportunity. If East had opened the bidding, or if both opponents had bid, I would have been far too weak for that. Hence, there is only one situation where a 4-4-3-2 hand with 9 HCPs is good enough for a double: When West opens the bidding and two passes follow and the opening bid is in your short suit.
  Clue no. 2 said I only had two diamonds. Therefore, the first round of bidding has to be 1 diamond – pass – pass – double. But it didn't end there. I made two more doubles. When do I do that?
  Not if West bids e.g. 1 spade and North passes (and clue no. 3 says he does). Then, nothing has happened which motivates more action from my part. But if both West and North pass, something has happened: North has made a penalty pass, thinking we can collect doubled undertricks against 1 diamond. Since it's OK to double in the pass out seat with as little as 8-9 HCPs and a singleton diamond, North needs both good diamonds and good cards.
  Now we know that the second round of bidding started with two passes, but we also know that East didn't pass (which would have ended the auction). We know he bid something and that I doubled again.
  If he had bid 1 notrump, I would have been too weak to double, so it has to be a suit bid. When you or your partner makes a penalty pass at a low level, the opponents often try to find a better contract. When that happens, it's important not to let them off the hook. If one of you have length and strength in their new suit, it's his or her duty to show it. In view of my weak hand (clue no. 2) East must have bid a suit where I had king-jack fourth. Then I can make a second double, now for penalty.
  North passed again, but the auction continued. That means West or East (or both) must have bid again. Eventually, they played 2 diamonds, but if West had bid it, North would have doubled (if you can make a penalty pass over 1 diamond, you can double 2 diamonds too, of course), so East has to be the one who bid 2 diamonds. Considering that he didn't want to play 1 diamond and how badly 2 diamonds fared, he can only have bid it if he was forced to by West.
  Now we know what happened, and within these premises there's room for a little variation, like East's second call being 1 heart, West bidding 1 spade or 2 clubs and East taking a preference to 2 diamonds.

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