Chuck Arthur

The Bald Man and the Fly

Throughout this article, certain  words or phrases appear in blue. This indicates a hot link, at least that is what I call them. If you move your mouse over such a field, the pointer changes from an arrow to a hand pointer. As well, assuming that I have given the hot link a title, a small window will pop up identifying the title of the link. Clicking your mouse while in such a field causes a display of certain background information that I deem relevant and appropriate. To return to the main text of this article, hit the browser Back button. I use Internet Explorer as my defaul browser; the technique may vary slightly if you use another browser.

During the recent Toronto Regional bridge tournament, Vince Oddy, my favorite vendor of bridge books and supplies, as usual, had a table displaying his wares. One of his specials was the book Bridge Hands to Make You Laugh … and Cry by David Bird and Nikos Sarantakos. The first author in particular caught my attention. for $5.00 I could not resist; I bought the book; I was not disappointed. The very first deal tickled my fancy, partially because of its nostalgic value.


North was Norman Kay, South, Edgar Kaplan, both now deceased. Norman at that time was married to (the now) Judy Kay-Wolff, fellow blogger and oft time commenter on this blog. The deal arose during the 1968 Olympiad Egypt versus USA match. Negative doubles had not yet gained worldwide acceptance, so West’s double was for penalties. This action seems questionable holding 4 card support for East’s first bid suit. East was not obligated to sit for the double; in fact, he may well have removed it, holding a void in trumps. Follow the play if you wish by successively pressing the Next button immediately above. By trying to cash a second club at trick 3, East was probably relying on his sense that partner would not have made a penalty double holding 4 of his first bid suit. The short story is that Edgar made 1 doubled for +160.

In the other room, a slightly different scenario unfolded.

West North East South
Pass Pass 1  Dble
1 Pass 2 Pass
3 Pass 5 Pass
Pass Pass    


For the USA, West was Bill Root; East was Al Roth, the inventor of the Negative Double convention, called Sputnik in the early days. Playing South for Egypt was a handsome gentleman with a crowd of kibitzers named… you guessed it… Omar Sharif. At this table, the penalty double (or lack thereof… I assume that Roth – Root were playing negative doubles) never came into play since Sharif doubled and Root for the USA bid spades first. Roth – Root bid easily to the club game; 3 notrump was a sound alternative. Sharif led the King to dummy’s Ace, as East discarded a heart from hand. Dummy led the 9; North split his honours. Eventually, Roth scored 11 tricks, even misguessing trumps. So the +400 in this room was added to the +160 in the other room to give the Americans 11 IMPs.

The deal appears in the chapter The Bald Man and the Fly. This is the title of one of Aesop’s fables. To know the context, read the text behind the hot link. That heading works just fine. I might add a couple of my own old saws:

  • A-void defending with a void in trumps
  • Be particularly wary of issuing a penalty double with good support for partner’s suit

1 Comment

Ross AndersonApril 6th, 2010 at 9:31 am

Your second comment about making a penalty double with support for partner’s suit I really am beginning to understand and agree with. Just the other day I opened a weak NT and allowed partners double of 3H to sit when I knew we had a double fit in the black suits. Wrong – What a big fat ZERO that was.

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