Fat Dummy Syndrome

Norwegian World Champion Glenn Groetheim wrote – in a book about bidding no less – that the most important moment in each deal is when dummy is faced. Bear that in mind if you find yourself looking for your pen, or writing down the contract (or, heaven forbid, the opponents' pair number) when those thirteen cards are exposed.

You should be concentrating on how good or bad the hand is compared to expectations, whether it has bid or not, and working out how high or low to set your sights and whether you have any critical plays to make – such covering dummy's honours or not. So you see, there is not much time to day-dream or find a pencil.

Then there is something I will call 'Fat Dummy Syndrome'. It has two manifestations; you are defending, declarer is in game and dummy is much stronger than expected, there appears to be no chance of beating the contract and you either decide to take what tricks are yours (possibly excusable at pairs) or doze off (not excusable in any game).

In the second instance again dummy is much stronger or fits much better than expected but you are declaring. You sigh inwardly at another missed game or slam and promptly go off in your more modest contract. Two recent examples:

  • KQJ54
  • KQ4
  • Q73
  • AK
  • ---
  • AJ10975
  • 1086
  • QJ75

Four hearts was reached at both tables. When West declared, he received the lead of the club ten; on winning the ace, he played a trump to the ace and a trump back discovering North held three. A low spade was ruffed and a heart to hand drew the outstanding trump. Next the spade king was advanced, covered and ruffed but when the suit was not 4-4, there was a diamond loser left in dummy, +680. What was wrong with that?

Absolutely nothing; declarer played with great respect for his contract and never endangered it. Running the spade after trumps were drawn was safe as had it not been covered, a diamond could be thrown. To get an idea of the dangers, in the other room declarer cashed two clubs early trying to get diamonds away from hand. North ruffed the second and the defence promptly wrapped up three diamonds, down one, -100.

  • 1094
  • A96
  • KQ7
  • Q1096
  • QJ85
  • Q42
  • A65
  • AJ2

As West you arrive in a very modest two no-trump, North leads the diamond knave. 25 HCP – not many will stop out of game… You win in hand take a club finesse eager to discover how easy 3NT was but South produces the king and plays another diamond. After winning you try spades, North steps in the with king and clears diamonds, having started with five. Oops… It occurs to you now that if they have both spade honours you are down in your part-score.

What should you have done? First noted what length South signalled and more pertinently, played spades before clubs. If South held the club king then you should let him in only when he had no more diamonds to play. This time the cards forgave (they seldom do) and the spade honours were split.

Published Saturday 21.Nov.2009