Have you ever felt that none of your partners are on the same wavelength as you? Despite regularly partnering the world’s top players, Zia Mahmood often jokingly moans (well, semi-jokingly) that he’s made a subtle or clever bid which has fallen on deaf ears. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone: whether he’s bidding or playing, you can always rely on Zia to do something imaginative and unexpected.
Zia was on the winning Lavazza team at the recent HCL International Bridge Championship held in New Delhi last month (India’s biggest bridge tournament, with a $200,000 prize pot). His partner faced the following lead problem and Zia gave it to various players, including me. It came with the warning: ‘So far no one has got it right. If I can find the person who does, I will either propose to them (if it’s a woman) or partner them!’ You are South, and at favourable vulnerability (green v. red), you pick up ♠AKJ10976 ♥J ♦K3 ♣A54. The bidding goes: (see diagram)
So what do you lead? My answer was a top spade, which I felt must be wrong (too obvious). But it was a trick question — very unfair! The ‘right’ answer was that you shouldn’t be on lead at all. Zia, your partner, had made a striped-tailed-ape double. This is about my favourite term in bridge: it’s when you double at the 5-level knowing the opponents can make slam — the doubled overtrick will cost you less than a slam, but if they redouble you intend to run like a striped-tailed-ape to your partner’s suit.
Zia held ♠Q8754 ♥53 ♦872 ♣632. East held ♠– ♥AKQ942 ♦109 ♣KQ1097. West held ♠6 ♥10876 ♦AQJ654 ♣J8. Zia was hoping to be redoubled and end up in 5♠ doubled. But he also felt his partner should have pulled the double. His reasoning: ‘How can I have enough to double, especially when you have the biggest 4♠ non-vul bid ever? Your right-hand opponent has an opening hand, you have 16 points, your other opponent has about 10. I have 0-2 points. I can’t have a double! I knew they had six or seven hearts on and was hoping to bluff them. If you work that out, you need to protect my bluff and bid 5♠.’ 5♠ doubled would have gone for 500, instead of 1050 for 5♥ doubled+1. That was better than 1430 for 6♥, but Lavazza lost imps because in the other room EW bid to 6♥ and NS sacrificed in 6♠ for 800. Still, you’re in good company if you didn’t think South’s pass was odd: after all, South was Giorgio Duboin, ranked fourth in the world …and he could justifiably argue that no one ever knows exactly what Zia is up to!
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