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Zia Mahmood's Bridge column today relates an amusing tale of disaster at the World Championships. A player on the apparently very talented Netherlands ladies team, holding the following 6-3-2-2 hand:

♠ 7 5
♥ Q J 5
♦ J 4
♣ A K Q J 8 2

First of all managed to open a strong 1NT; and then, more astonishingly, refused to transfer to spades despite no less than 6 consecutive calls to transfer from her poor partner! (Follow the link for the full story.)

With partner holding 4 points, 7 spades and a singleton heart, the contract went 6 down in 4 hearts redoubled for a penalty of 3400, the largest ever recorded in world championship play.

My question is, this a world-class player we're talking about. Is there any logical reason why she should have so doggedly refused to transfer to spades? Did she take the heart bids literally? Did she think her hearts are that much better than her spades, even though partner is rightly rather insistent that hearts are a terrible suit to be in. So what could have been going on in South's mind? Or had she just been paid money to throw the World Championships? ;)

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I have voted to close as not constructive. – Aryabhata Oct 27 '11 at 21:30
Isn't it the case that The Brits play 1NT differently from in the US? See:… – Neal Tibrewala Oct 27 '11 at 23:26
@Neal, these are Dutch players and it is specifically mentioned in the article that this is a strong 1NT - though perhaps not exactly the same as the American one, I guess. – thesunneversets Oct 28 '11 at 7:28
up vote 4 down vote accepted

This looks like one of those tantrums that happen when both partners want to control the hand. The argument gets out of hand. Both partners think they know what is best and fail to yield until it is way to late. I wonder if south thought "take that then" when she placed the last pass on the table.

I hate to admit it but I've been there done that. Please never again.

I suppose it is possible that south thought the the redoubles showed hearts but i strongly doubt it.

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It's not so rare that good bridge players bid with hands that are not textbook examples for that bid. For this hand 1NT is not terrible. However, one has to be prepared that something unexpected might happen after an unusual bid, and it seems that this lady wasn't.

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Do you understand the hands well enough to say what happened? I see not wanting to play in spades, and I see confusion in that the declarer thought his partner was stronger. – Neal Tibrewala Oct 27 '11 at 21:29
@Neal, I cannot give reasonable explanations for South's bidding (except for the first bid). I just offered a theory why bidding went this way. – Juozas Kontvainis Oct 28 '11 at 12:46

I'm not a world class player, but I don't like to play transfers, so on a "bad" day, I'll interpret the heart bid literally, credit my partner with ATxxxx, and wonder why East keeps doubling with Kxxx. On hearing the redoubles, I'll decide that no, partner has AKxxxx, leaving East with Txxx. With 8-10 points for a two level bid, partner will have either spades or diamonds stopped, and we'll have an easy game.

And no, I'm not sensitive to redoubles and will take them literally, in this case credit partner with MORE than ten points, that is ACE of either spades or diamonds, plus AK of hearts.

All wrong, of course, but all plausible.

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I ran the hand through WBridge5 (world-class Bridge AI) and it finished the bidding with 4 diamonds E/W. Outcome being E/W down 1 trick. This was because, as you noted, the AI (South) passed at E's strange behavior. – Neal Tibrewala Oct 27 '11 at 23:29

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