AWKWARD GIANTS
Nikos Sarantakos, Luxembourg


In the July issue of Bridge Plus, Mike Swanson told us that his unlucky number must be twenty-eight, since he only twice ever picked up a 28-point hand and both times the results were disastrous, with the bidding dying in a part-score. There are many cases in my archives where top-class players have experienced the same disappointment, or worse, after being dealt a balanced super-strong hand. They may be a joy to pick up, but they are notoriously difficult to bid: bidding systems are geared to more commonplace situations, and it is not always easy to determine how much the meagre resources in partner's hand are worth - for instance whether a doubleton Queen may provide the missing trick for the slam. This article features some famous cases when such awkward giants met with a sad fate.

When Mike Swanson picked up his 28-pointers, he at least made his lowly contracts; when a 28-pointer was dealt in the 1997 USA International Team Trials, neither declarer was able to register a plus score:

Bd 5. Dealer: North. N/S Vul.

s.gif (184 bytes) A K Q 10
h.gif (186 bytes) A K Q 2
d.gif (132 bytes) A
c.gif (305 bytes) K Q J 10

s.gif (184 bytes) J 9 8 7 
h.gif (186 bytes) J 10
d.gif (132 bytes) 7 6 5 3
c.gif (305 bytes) A 6 2

nesw.gif (342 bytes)

s.gif (184 bytes) 6 5
h.gif (186 bytes) 9 8 6 4
d.gif (132 bytes) K Q 10 9 8
c.gif (305 bytes) 5 3
s.gif (184 bytes) 4 3 2
h.gif (186 bytes) 7 5 3
d.gif (132 bytes) J 4 2
c.gif (305 bytes) 9 8 7 4

In the Closed Room the bidding went:

West

North

East

South

Lev   

Nickell

Glubok

Freeman

 

2c.gif (305 bytes)

2d.gif (132 bytes)

Dbl*

2NT

3d.gif (132 bytes)

Pass

3NT

Pass

4d.gif (132 bytes)

Pass

4h.gif (186 bytes)

Pass

6h.gif (186 bytes)

End

 

*No values


Nick Nickell cue-bid twice to let partner choose any suit except diamonds; Dick Freeman thought he was asked to choose between the majors and he dutifully opted for hearts (not that 7-5-3 is a much stronger holding that 4-3-2!). Nickell jumped to slam and was lucky to receive the Jack of trumps lead. However, trumps didn't break, so he played on spades. Brian Glubok ruffed the third round and led a diamond to the Ace. Declarer had to concede down two, losing a club, a spade and a trump. 

I guess that Nickell and Freeman were a bit anxious of an adverse swing, but in fact they won 7 IMPs on the board - for this was the bidding in the Open Room:

West

North

East

South

Hamman  

Katz

Wolff

Jacobs

 

2c.gif (305 bytes)

2d.gif (132 bytes)

Dbl*

3d.gif (132 bytes)

4d.gif (132 bytes)

Pass

4h.gif (186 bytes)

Pass

4NT

Pass

5c.gif (305 bytes)

Pass

6h.gif (186 bytes)

End

 

*No values

The auction was remarkably similar: Ralph Katz also bid 4d.gif (132 bytes), and Jacobs, too, thought it was a major-suit enquiry. Hence, he bid his puny three-card suit. Here Hamman made no mistake: he led a diamond. With the 'long' hand immediately exposed to shortening, declarer's task was not happy: he ended five down - not what his partner had expected when he picked up his rock-crusher!

Another famous case of an awkward giant occurred in the 1987 Bermuda Bowl final between USA and Great Britain. It was Board 44, which was also played in the Venice Cup (Ladies) final:

Bd 44. Dealer: West. N/S Vul.

s.gif (184 bytes) 8 3
h.gif (186 bytes) J 5 2
d.gif (132 bytes) K Q 9 5
c.gif (305 bytes) Q J 10 9

s.gif (184 bytes) Q J 2 
h.gif (186 bytes) 7 6
d.gif (132 bytes) 10 8 6 4 3 2
c.gif (305 bytes) 5 4

nesw.gif (342 bytes)

s.gif (184 bytes) A K 7
h.gif (186 bytes) A K Q 8 4 3
d.gif (132 bytes) A
c.gif (305 bytes) A K 8
s.gif (184 bytes) 10 9 6 5 4
h.gif (186 bytes) 10 9
d.gif (132 bytes) J 7
c.gif (305 bytes) 7 6 3 2

Mathematically-inclined readers will spot that the East hand has 'only' 27 points, but it still qualifies for the giant category in my opinion. Note that this hand is a one-suiter, so it should be in principle easier to bid. You may want to try the East-West hands as a bidding test for your regular partnership. If you reach the odds-on grand slam with any degree of certainty you may be proud, but even the small slam would have sufficed for you to win points against the 1987 top players. In fact, all four pairs stopped short of slam.

For the British side, Jeremy Flint and Robert Sheehan subsided in 5h.gif (186 bytes). I guess they scribbled a big minus sign on their score-cards, but in fact they gained on the board! 

At the other table the British pair, John Armstrong and Tony Forrester, used a highly artificial system, with pass showing an opening bid, and one-level bids, called 'ferts' (short for 'fertilisers'), showing various sub-minimum hands. An analysis of the match records failed to show any discernible overall gain by the use of these methods, but on this particular board the fert hit the jackpot. This was the bidding:

West

North

East

South

Lawrence  

Armstrong

Ross

Forrester

 

1d.gif (132 bytes)*

2c.gif (305 bytes)

End!

*0-10 balanced or 0-6 unbalanced!

The Americans had agreed to ignore the fert bids whenever possible; hence, over a 1d.gif (132 bytes) fert, a 1s.gif (184 bytes) 'overcall' was equivalent to a 1s.gif (184 bytes) opening, and so on. Ross and Lawrence were not a regular partnership - Lawrence was a last minute replacement for the ailing Peter Pender - and presumably had not explicitly agreed that the same treatment was valid in the case of a 2c.gif (305 bytes) overcall. Ross bid 2c.gif (305 bytes) believing he was showing the equivalent of a (strong) 2c.gif (305 bytes) opening, but Lawrence passed partner's overcall in a hurry!

Despite the shock of having to play this rock-crusher in a 3-2 fit, Ross kept his cool. He won the heart lead, cashed a second heart, then played three rounds of trumps. North won and, being unaware of the position, returned a fourth round, while a low diamond would have beaten the contract. So Ross won the return and claimed the balance but still lost 8 IMPs on the board. This did not prevent the USA from winning the Bowl, though.

What about the ultimate awkward giant? I have not found a 37-point hand, nor would it have been very interesting, but in the 1995 Atlanta US Nationals, during a Swiss Teams match, Mike Polowan was dealt a hand with all the Aces, all the Kings and all the Queens of the deck - and still went minus!

Dealer: South. N/S Vul.

s.gif (184 bytes) J 8 6 5
h.gif (186 bytes) J 7 6 5
d.gif (132 bytes) 10 9 4 3
c.gif (305 bytes) 2

s.gif (184 bytes) 7 4 3 
h.gif (186 bytes) 8 3 2
d.gif (132 bytes) J
c.gif (305 bytes) 9 7 6 5 4 3

nesw.gif (342 bytes)

s.gif (184 bytes) 10 9 2
h.gif (186 bytes)  8 3 2
d.gif (132 bytes) 8 7 6 5 2
c.gif (305 bytes) J 10
s.gif (184 bytes) A K Q
h.gif (186 bytes) A K Q
d.gif (132 bytes) A K Q
c.gif (305 bytes) A K Q 8

Trying not to look at the other hands, what do you bid as dealer with the South cards?

I guess that everyone would bid 7NT, and so did Mike Polowan. Down one!

To add insult to injury, note that both 7h.gif (186 bytes) and 7s.gif (184 bytes) are making because of the 3-3 breaks. Even 7d.gif (132 bytes) is on, despite the bad trump break: declarer draws one round of trumps, notes the fall of d.gif (132 bytes)J, then cashes eight top tricks in the side suits and cross-ruffs the rest, East being forced to under-ruff impotently. But in 7NT the dummy is irremediably beyond reach, and Polowan was condemned to go down with this once-in-a-lifetime giant hand.

There was a silver lining, however, in this particular cloud: the board was flat. You see, the South player at the other table had made the same opening (and closing!) bid.

(C) Copyright Bridge Plus 1999