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Original Issue

IMPs in the cards

When a bridge session suddenly explodes into a series of wild distributions, players say, "The devil has got into the cards." To beat the devil, tournaments like the current World Bridge Olympiad in Turin are scored in International Match Points, which are awarded in accordance with a table designed to minimize the chance that a single freak deal might decide an entire championship. Using IMPs, it is possible to gain more by scoring 560 regular bridge points than by scoring 4,100. For instance, if you should make 70 points in each of eight deals, you would be entitled to 16 IMPs (see chart), while 4,100 points on a single deal would be worth only 15 IMPs. Steady play, in other words, would net you more points than one big, lucky hand.

How is it possible to score more than 4,000 points on a single hand? Here is one way this was done in a match played in Stockholm quite some time ago.

East's leap to four diamonds was an asking bid of a type long obsolete in this country but still used in Europe. The bid asked if partner held first-or second-round control of diamonds. West ignored the intervening double to bid five hearts, showing second-round diamond control and the heart ace. East's five no trump asked partner to bid seven of the agreed suit (by inference, hearts) if he had two top honors. When West bid the grand slam, South "sacrificed" at seven spades.

South ruffed the heart opening and led out his trumps. On the last one, West had to find a discard from the ace of hearts and the king-10-9 of clubs. When West discarded a club, declarer threw the queen of hearts from dummy, saving the ace-jack-6 of clubs.

A successful club finesse, followed by the ace to drop West's king, let South score all the tricks and 2,470 points—substantially better than setting seven hearts one trick.

But his team's gain was to be greater still. At the other table, a teammate bought the contract at seven diamonds doubled, and South selected the queen of clubs for his opening lead. West's king covered, forcing North's ace, and East trumped. After two rounds of trumps, a heart lead revealed North's uncapturable queen. So East led dummy's 10 of clubs and finessed. He led another club; this time North played his jack, and declarer trumped. He returned to dummy with a high heart and discarded his heart losers on the clubs. He too made a grand slam, adding 1,630 points to his team's score.

When bidding warns of freakish distribution, unless you are certain you can set the opponents it is sound practice to buy the contract at any price.

Opening lead: heart king