Sacrifice Bidding By Ely Culbertson

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“To sacrifice or not to sacrifice”—that is the question which confronts Bridge players at almost every session of play.

By Ana Roth
On 24 September, 2016 At 9:12

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Reading Eagle – 28 Jun 1933

“To sacrifice or not to sacrifice”—that is the question which confronts Bridge players at almost every session of play. Whether it is better to permit opponents to march unimpeded to game or to overbid and accept a penalty,  “Ah, there’s the rub!” as Mr. Shakespeare’s well-known character remarked upon what was to him an even graver occasion.

Sacrifice bidding done with art is one of the finest points in all the game of Contract. I frequently stress the, point that overbidding pays in Bridge. When you are sure the opponents have a game, you suffer virtually no loss by taking a set of 3 tricks to prevent it. It is true the penalty, if doubled, exceeds slightly the value of the game, but counted against this are the numerous times when opponents will fail to double or when, fearing that the sacrifice bid may be made, they will be pushed beyond  their depth and take a penalty instead.

Here, for instance, is an example of a good sacrifice bid, made in a recent team-of-four match in New York city. The key to the safety of the sacrifice, so far as South was concerned, was largely in the element of distribution, and the fact that a paying penalty could be taken was, no doubt, due to West’s failure to bid four hearts after his partner had given a raise to two. South.

Dealer. East and West vulnerable.

As this game was played in a team match, it was therefore played by two sets of players.

The hand and the bidding in one room:

Four hearts were made and in fact could not be defeated against good play.

In the other room the bidding went as follows:

West made his first mistake and laid the groundwork for the profitable sacrifice by his opponents when he did not bid game after his partner had assured him of at least a fit in the trump suit. In Bridge it is often unwise to temporize. When a situation presents itself which requires a definite decision, that decision should be made, and there is often too great a tendency to “pass the buck” to the partner when the decision should be made by the player himself.

North’s raise to three spades is somewhat shaded, but, after all, North and South are not vulnerable, and North does have some cards that promise to take tricks. He too wishes to lay the groundwork for a paying sacrifice. East has a justifiable raise to four hearts, and, in fact, if he had the honor strength, he could have raised one heart to three on the first round of bidding. South, assured that he will find some trump support with his partner and having a very nice distribution, now bids four spades and West, quite sure that the contract of five hearts would be too high, must content himself with the next best alternative—namely, a Penalty Double.

In the play East and West won a spade, a diamond and two hearts, defeating the contract only 1 trick because the declarer correctly guessed that the club Knave was a singleton and, in fact, had decided early in the hand that East must be short in that suit. A vulnerable game, worth—as scored in team-of-four play-620 points, was saved at the paltry price of 100 points.

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