Poor Bridge of the Week
Or Is This The Luckiest Hand?
By Ian Mitchell

"Is this the luckiest hand?" asked John Erdos .

8.5%, calculated the Editor*. Well, I'd be very surprised if we couldn't beat that. I'm sure that if we scoured the Poorbridge annals we could get even below 1%. The following hand doesn't quite get that low, but you'd have to look quite hard to find such a PoorContract on quite so high a stage. This hand was played in the final of the 2007 Schapiro Spring Foursomes, the most prestigious bridge tournament on British soil. The holders, captained by Glyn Liggins, were playing the Wolfarth team, who had won in 2005, and were runners up last year (with a slightly different team each time). Going into the last stanza of eight boards, Liggins held an 8 IMP lead and although the lead was quite narrow, Liggins had always seemed to be in control of the match. Liggins got the better of a few small exchanges of IMPs during the first few boards, and then on board 31 of 32, this hand came up:

* It was pointed out to me afterwards that luck should not be quantified so neatly; a competitively bid partscore making with a 1% chance is not necessarily more lucky than making a grand slam with an 8.5% chance. Fair enough, I suppose, but how else are we going to prove that we're less lucky than our opponents and justify our lousy results? —Ed

SQ 7
HQ 8
DK 8 7 4
CK J 10 6 4
SA K 10 9 6 4
HJ 5 3
C9 8 3
SJ 5 2
HA K 4
DA J 6 2
CA Q 7
S8 3
H10 9 7 6 2
D10 9 5 3
C5 2

West (Gary Hyett) opened 2D (Multi), and East (Geoffrey Wolfarth) enquired with 2NT. West responded 4D. What did this show? History doesn't record. Either Hyett intended to pull out 3D, or maybe 4D shows a super-maximum weak two in spades, perhaps showing the diamond singleton as well?

Now whether or not Wolfarth understood this is still not clear, as now he jumped to 5NT. Was he asking Hyett to pick a slam, or was he showing an invitational balanced hand, or...

Hyett duly picked a slam — 7S! 5NT, he clearly thought, was Josephine, and indeed he held two of the three top honours.

The play in 7S was not too difficult. The only real choice to be made was whether to go for the finesse or the drop in spades, and Hyett correctly guessed to drop. With an otherwise certain club loser, both minor suit finesses have to be taken. Favourable positions in these three suits alone reduces the odds of the slam to 13%. However, the heart suit still has to be picked up, and the only way to do so is to hope that the queen is doubleton or singleton. This I calculate to be a 10% shot (and, incidentally, makes the spade drop less likely, but let's be charitable and ignore that), to make this overall a 1.3% slam.

When Martin Jones and Neil Rosen, quite reasonably, stopped in game at the other table, 14 IMPs changed hands, and when the dust settled at the end of the stanza, Wolfarth led by 2 IMPs.

Do you like fairy-tale endings?

And were you wondering why, in the previous paragraph, I said "at the end of the stanza, Wolfarth led by..." instead of "at the end of the match, Wolfarth won by..."?

For the benefit of those who haven't sampled the delights of the Spring Foursomes, there is a strange quirk in the regulations. The event is run on a double-elimination principle (you have to lose two matches to get knocked out of the event), and by the time the final is reached there is (usually) one team that has yet to be defeated. When this happens, this team has the right, if they are behind at the end of the 32 boards, to insist on 'extra-time' of a further eight boards. Liggins duly exercised this right (I've never known it not to be exercised), and continued his form in the other 31 boards to win the match by 4 IMPs and retain the trophy. Justice? I'll let you decide.

How low can you go?

Nice hand, Ian! 1.3% is pretty slim, but I'm afraid that it got beaten only yesterday. I'm rather embarrassed to admit it, but it's all in the name of science and if I don't mention it then I'm sure will as his team-mates were the very unfortunate recipients. It was the last board of the day and I got a little carried away in the bidding and found myself in 6S with the following cards:

SK 9 8 6
DQ J 9
C10 7 6 2
SA Q 10 5 2
HJ 7
DA 10 3
CA K 3

Yuck! A low diamond was led and I thought that at least it seems 5S will go off if the diamond finesse loses, so maybe it'll only be a few IMPs out. However, when the CQJ dropped doubleton (a 1.61% chance) and the diamond finesse did win, I had to apologise profusely to the opposition and score up +980. A 0.8% contract. So, can anyone beat that?

Poor Maths of the Week

Update: Sorry, my maths sucks. I had forgotten to take into account that either opponent could hold QJ-tight in clubs. So, having halved the percentage for the finesse, I should double it again so it's back to 1.61%. Which means that Ian's winning at the moment!