Articles in this series present disasters of expert pairs, judged by a rotating panel of 10 experts. Panelists express their views on how the blame should be apportioned, and their opinions as to which was the worst call or play.

February, 1994, Deal #1

Our first disaster is from the round-robin of the '87 Venice Cup, in a match between the Australian and Italian Ladies. For Italy, d'Andrea and Capodonna easily reached six hearts (almost everyone in their contest and in the Bermuda Bowl reached slam, a few venturing seven diamonds), but the Australians languished in game.

Q 10 2
A 10 9 8 6
K 8 6
4 3
A J 4
K Q 4
A Q 5 4 3 2
Pass1 (1 )
Double(3 )3
3 NT4
4 Pass

Question (a): What was West's share of the blame for missing slam?

Question (b): Which was the single worst call made?

Question (a)

Seven of our jurists blamed West, three East. Speaking for the court's majority . . .

SANDERS': "West 65%. It is easy to arrive at a grand slam if West begins by bidding two hearts. This failure is part of the blame (25%). West's inaccurate, misdescriptive three notrump contributed most to the debacle (40%). East wasn't without fault: four clubs instead of four diamonds seems appropriate, and East might have tried five clubs over four hearts."

BRAMLEY: "West 97%. All of West's calls are vile. He should clearly take advantage of his passed-hand status to bid two hearts. His three notrump is unbelievable, with no club stop and two suits to show. And, at his last turn, four hearts is crass opposite a game force in diamonds; five diamonds is easy, and even six is better than four hearts. East might have moved over four hearts, but I agree with his pass."

PAULSEN: "West 100%. West has a clear-cut two-heart call, to be followed by diamond support. The negative double started on the road to disaster, but three notrump, on the four-three of clubs, was even worse. East's pass of four hearts may be a little pessimistic, but if West holds,

Q x x    J 10 x x x    x x    K 10 x,

four is high enough."

Dissenting opinions:

FRIEND: "West 30%. East must assume the major share of the blame, since his three-spade cue-bid began the partnership's problems. West was end-played twice in the auction: once when he assumed that three spades was a Western cue-bid, asking for a spade stop; again when he thought he should confirm a five-card heart holding once East's four diamonds established three spades as strength-showing. East should have known the deal was safe at the five level, and thus have made a further try with five clubs."

SHUMAN: "West 30%. Over four hearts, East should cue-bid a black ace, allowing West to bid (jump in) diamonds. West should have bid hearts earlier, either two hearts over one spade or four hearts over three spades."

Question (b)

All of West's actions drew votes for the worst call.

WEISS: "Three notrump was the worst call. Clearly, the three-spade cue-bid showed a super-strong hand, a fit, hope for slam. My choice would be four diamonds, but four hearts, to show the five-card suit, is equally good."

CARAVELLI: "Four hearts. At his last turn, West failed to appreciate how good a hand he held--the fifth heart, the ace, some fillers, the golden king of diamonds."

MARTEL: "Double, the only clear error--two hearts was clearly right (even as an unpassed hand, I would bid it). After one of a minor, one spade, a good rule is never to double instead of bidding two hearts if you have any excuse."

Among East's detractors, this was a popular view.

HABERMAN: "Final pass. How can East pass four hearts, looking at a heart slam? If he bids five clubs, which seems automatic, West should now bid six diamonds."


Like Barbara Haberman, we think that East has too slammish a hand to pass four hearts. It may be clear to Larry Weiss that East's cue-bid showed super strength, slam interest, but is that so clear in this day of nebulous, depreciated cue-bids? Might not East, with some hand like,

K x    K Q x    A J 10 x x x x    x,

cue-bid three spades over three clubs as a convenient force, willing to chance a high diamond contract, and looking for five-three hearts along the way?

If you've seen all the cue-bids we've seen lately, you have to answer yes. And if East might have 13 high-card points instead of 20 for his auction up to four hearts, how, as Haberman asks, can he pass?


West's Worst Call
Bart Bramley, Chicago97Double
Gerald Caravelli, IL1004
Robert Friend, CA30Pass
Ron Gerard, NY1004
Chip Martel, Davis, CA80Double
Erik Paulsen, CA1003 NT
T. & C. Sanders, TN653 NT
Barbara Haberman, NY30Pass
Mike Shuman, CA30Pass
Larry Weiss, Vista, CA753 NT
Consensus70.73 NT