A strange U B da Judge Problem/Answer

aka, The Worst Bidding of the Year

Today's panelists: Barry Rigal, Bob Thomson, Bobby Bodenheimer, Curt Hastings, Kent Hartman, Mike Shuster, Roberto Scaramuzzi, Steve Altus, Walter Hamilton, Ed Davis

KENT: Thanks for the contribution to the world of the surreal.

OK, maybe "strange" is the wrong word. "Surreal" is more apt.

E/W vul, IMPs, short matches

S: KQ9x
H: QJ109x
D: 10
C: xxx
S: Axx
H: Ax
D: Kxxx
C: Axxx
S: J10x
H: Kxx
D: AJxx
C: QJ10
S: 7xx
H: 8xx
D: Q876
C: Kxx

I don't know who held the D:9.

BOB: Dammit, how can I properly evaluate the auction in a vacuum?

The auction was utterly insane:

North East South West
2H: Pass 2S: Dbl
4S: 5D: Pass Pass
5S: Dbl All Pass

2H: was supposed to be a weak two bid.
2S: was natural and forcing for one round.

The defense slipped...N/S -1400.

For what it's worth, E/W at the other table were in 3NT making.

a) Apportion the blame between North and South.

Wow - as you say this is a tough and strange one. 2H: is insane - but systemic? [No. --Jeff] South's 2S: psych is very dangerous - and facing a wild weak 2H: probably not a good idea - oppo may not be able to make game sometimes. 4S: is manically trusting - a lot to be said for 4D: though that would not have worked here I think. I think South's pass of 5D: is very stupid - with partner's being short in diamonds he may well misjudge the position. I think south should definitely double here. So the worst action is 2S: if I can't vote for the pass. But you did not ask for that...
North 90%. South gets some blame because you always get some blame if you psych. However:

  • 2H: is a very bad bid unless you're swinging.
  • 2S: is one of the standard pyschs. I would only make this bid if I had a feeling that these particular opponents would have trouble handing it. [Obviously, they did, right? --Jeff]
  • 4S: is a pretty normal action; you have unusually good spade support for your previous auction [This is a different definition of "normal" than that to which I'm accustomed. --Jeff]
  • 5S: is horrible. Up to this point, the unusual actions by N-S have given them an opportunity to create a plus score out of thin air. It's clear from the auction that the opponents were guessing blindly [And dumbly --J] when they bid 5D:. How can you possibly save against them when they may have a cold grand? For a gain of 3 imps when you go for 500 against 600?
North thought 2H: was Flannery, a system mistake. My rule is, when you psych, you get (and should accept) the blame. So most of the blame goes to South. 80-20. [Wait a sec...didn't North psych, too? Seriously, North had better not have thought 2H: was Flannery. If so, he had unauthorized information from partner's failure to alert, so the 4S: bid would be a clear case of cheating. Stupid, but cheating. --Jeff]
On a scale of egregiousness, I rate south's actions as 8.5/10. Ok, so he chose to psych. This would be okay, except that he really has no desire to name trumps on this hand anyway (give partner H:KQJxxx and out, a "classic" weak two, and 4H:x is 1100 away). Did south really think he would talk the opponents into remaining silent when they have 25+ HCP between them and at least one of them is short in H:?. If they really have two hands that can't act, passing 2H: smoothly is best.

Similarly, on a scale of egregiousness, I rate north's actions as 6/10. 2H: isn't my choice, but I understand it, as long as it is within what is considered acceptable for this partnership. [If the partnership were playing EHAA, that is. And I don't understand any system in which one preempts in one's 2nd best suit. --Jeff] 4S: is pretty clearcut (how much of a better hand for spades can north have?). The problem comes after 5D:. I think at some point north might realize that south is messing around and pass. Also, I'm not sure this auction should be defined as a force anyway. [NOT SURE? Curt just lost 1.5 respect points. --Jeff]

To sum up, south gets 8.5/14.5 of the total egregiousness (59%) (keep in mind that 4S:x was also losing a lot of IMPs, if east had doubled like a human instead of bidding 5D:). North gets the remaining 41%.

I disagree with 2H:, have more sympathy for 2S: than the rest of the panel, think 4S: is the normal bid, think the 5D: bid is stupid and think pass of 5D: is correct. But every bid in this auction could have worked out well except one...5S:. When North bid 4S:, he showed unexpectedly good distribution which North does not exactly hold but the location of honors in spades makes up for it. However, once North bid 4S:, he has shown his hand. It is the fact that North has put his partner in a position to make a well-informed decision that makes 5S: such a bad call - one that is clearly the worst of all.
100% to North. After the second round of bidding, all 2S:/2H: calls are to be treated as psychs for at least one round! Most idiotic bid is 5S:. [This is a great rule. Never heard it before. --Jeff]
North 100%
North 95%: 2H: is ridiculous with such good support for the unbid major. 2S: is not altogether bad, but I would like to have a more unbalanced hand for the bid, since if partner raises spades, 4H: doubled will be a slaughter. 4S: is half-way reasonable, although North should smell a rat. 5S: is also ridiculous. South must have been psyching on the auction.
"Not pass" is an interesting thing to say, since N/S only passed twice, both by south, and though his second one was probably pretty clear, his first one might not be 100% blame-free... he might have doubled hoping for the best, giving up the surprise but avoiding the disaster that he wound up with. Anyway, 5S: is pretty awful, didn't he think he showed his hand with 4S:? Actually 4S: is ok, though 4D: would have been both more descriptive and would have allowed a return to hearts. While I personally probably wouldn't have opened 2H:, I think 2S: is almost as bad as 5S:. That crap never works; it's just silly. BTW, East should probably double 4S:. Then again, I play that (2H:)-(2S:)- double is penalty, making 4S: super silly, double questionable at best, and 5D: utterly ridiculous. It's almost like these four people just weren't playing bridge at all. [Yeah, E/W were morons, too. But they don't get blame when they are +1400! --Jeff]
100% North. If North's 2H: bid is acceptable for this partnership (side 4 card spade suit + 5 card heart suit) then North told his/her story with the 4S: bid. North has defense and less offense than a 4-6 hand.
I think there's far more than 100% of the blame to spread around here. North's 2H: bid was definitely awful. The partnership was not playing EHAA (I would have mentioned it if so) so 2H: just begs for an adverse game swing. I'd guess that -10 is about average for that action...what if partner had  S:AJxxxx H:--- D:xxx C:AKQx? He might pass 2H: and watch it go down when 6S: is making. Ouch.

2S: is a sick, trite, perverted, stupid little psych. And I don't like it, either It just begs to go for 1400.

4S: was given way too much credit. North didn't ask if the double of 2S: was business or penalty. I play that the double is takeout of hearts, but promises adequate defense against spades, should partner work out the psych. With S:AKQ10xx, just bid 3S: natural. So, to run from 2S:x to 4S:x is, by my standards, abjectly stupid, clear evidence of overuse of hallucinogenics, surely recent, almost certainly within the previous half hour. Let's say that North knew that the double of 2S: was takeout. In that case, I'd rank 4S: as about my sixth choice, after redouble, pass, 3S:, 4D:, and 4H:. 4D: is so clearly superior to 4S: that ... I'm running out of insults. Just the fact that North would consider 4S: shows how bad 2H: was. South is allowed to bid 2S:, knowing that partner won't jump to game, because he can't have the hand to do it.

Should South pass 5D:? I'm really not sure. Anyone who thinks that a pass there is forcing is hereby banished to tiddlywinks. But South already knows that he's playing with a madman, someone whose bidding cannot be trusted. The 4S: call without seeing North's hand is prima facie evidence of this. I'm sure South just passed without thinking, relieved to avoid -1400. If South had been thinking, he'd've doubled 5D: to prevent partner's third blatant error on the hand. After all, he knows that partner has already made two howlers and cannot be trusted not to make a third.

5S:. What can I say about 5S:? Anyone who, in his right mind, would bid 5S:, is not a bridge player, doesn't understand competitive bidding, preemption, the scoring charts, ..., and has an abject lack of common sense. But we already know that North was in some other realm of consciousness...maybe he had his nines mixed in with his aces.

So, I give North 77% for the 2H: opening. The team only lost 13 IMPs on the hand, and 10/13 is 77%. (I figure that 2H: deserves to lose ten.) I give South 100% for 2S:. It's a stupid psych, and anyone who psychs on a hand gets the blame for the disaster. Which brings up a techical point of blame management---here each partner psyched. How can they each get all the blame? Onward. 4S: is moronic---forgetting to find out if the opponents were in a misunderstanding, failing to realize that 2S:x was a likely final contract...all that costs 600 points (vs. 3H:x). That's another 13, which is 100%. South's pass of 5D: is worth about 10%. I don't think anyone in the whole world would think of doubling at the table after East has let South have his pants back. We'd all be too busy putting them back on. Finally, 5S: is so egregious, such a stupid error, that I'm giving it credit for the 13 actually lost plus another 13 for the 700 that could have been gained if 5D: went down, so it is worth 200%. That's 377% for North, who personally, by my count, blew 49 IMPs on one board. I hereby nominate this for a record. So, 377% North, 110% South.

Oh...a little excoriation is due East/West. 5D: was really really stupid. The first double was a little bit of a stretch; I'd pass and double back in to show a good defensive balanced hand. After all, 2S: was forcing.

Bob: 90 10
Bobby: 20 80
Curt: 41 59
Kent:100 0
Mike:100 0
Roberto:95 5
Walter:100 0
Jeff: 77 23 (Normalizing 377/110)
Average:78 22 (Hey, I win!)

b) Which was the least idiotic bid (not pass) N/S perpetrated?
The least insane action; 4S: is not so stupid, just trusting. It will maybe teach South a lesson (though not as much as the 5S: bid did!) [Yeah. South's lesson: get a new partner. North's lesson, too. --Jeff]
4S:. I wouldn't describe 2S: as idiotic, either, just pointless against most opponents.
2H: if meant as Flannery isn't insane, and neither is the psych.
4S: was the least idiotic bid NS committed
Least idiotic bid is South's 2S: call.
2S:. Depending on what day of the week and my opps, I might pass 2H: or bid 2S:. It is an error only if the opening 2H: really was Flannery and he just forgot. [Again Flannery... --J]
2S:, I guess.
2S:. Unless North is known not to take a joke.
Abstain. They all suck. ...and I don't want to break the tie.
4 for 4S:, 4 for 2S:, 1 for 2H:, and I abstain. I guess that means that 5S: is the worst call, but we already knew that.
This was the worst "bridge" bidding I have ever seen. Almost no non-pass call (except the final double) was correct, and even one of the passes was a blunder. There were at least six serious errors on the hand. And some doozies. I put forth nominations for
  • this as the worst bidding sequence ever
  • North's having blown more IMPs on one board than anyone else, particularly someone who won the event in question.
  • North's having perpetrated the worst bidding ever yet had his partner apologize to him for his own!

Jeff Goldsmith, jeff@tintin.jpl.nasa.gov, April 1, 1998