My friend Matthew complained that he could not remember a single meaningful dinner conversation when he was growing up. His parents were both keen golfers and talk at the table would invariably turn to the latest happenings at Houghton, the course where they played. “You’ll never guess what happened at the 5th today”. “Oscar managed to drive out of bounds no less than 5 times. It was a disaster”

One of the saddest tales was Hetty’s recount of her experience at the par 5 15th hole in the ladies game one Thursday afternoon.  It transpires she hit a solid drive off the tee and a strong gust of wind caught the ball and carried it 270 yards and out of sight around the dogleg to the left. The ball must have landed on a hard surface off the fairway giving it a massive bounce because she subsequently found it lying in a bunker only some 40 yards from the hole. She was in sight of an extremely rare and illusive “Albatross”– the completion of a par 5 hole in 2 shots or it’s even rarer mate, a hole-in-one on a par 4.

Alas, as bad luck would have it, she had left her sand wedge in the clubhouse, a club with which she may have been able to hole out from the bunker, and had to content herself with a less accurate one. She hit a good shot, though, and ended close enough to the hole to be able to complete the hole in 3, an “Eagle”, a creditable achievement itself.

Well, we bridge players are the same. Almost everything and anything reminds us of some hand or incident that occurred at the bridge table, which we cannot wait to tell everyone and anyone about.  So please bear with me while I recount my recent encounter with bridge’s equivalent of the golfing Albatross – the scoring of a grand slam, vulnerable, doubled and redoubled.Well, we bridge players are the same. Almost everything and anything reminds us of some hand or incident that occurred at the bridge table, which we cannot wait to tell everyone and anyone about.  So please bear with me while I recount my recent encounter with bridge’s equivalent of the golfing Albatross – the scoring of a grand slam, vulnerable, doubled and redoubled.

Grand slams are not that uncommon, certainly more common than a hole-in-one on a par 3 hole, but one is vulnerable only 50% of the time and rarely do opponents have the card strength to double when you and your partner have enough values to bid a 7-level contact.  But for one to then have the chutzpah to redouble and risk the anger of the Muses, that’s the stuff of Albatrosses.

I was playing an on-line bridge tournament with an unknown partner who listed himself as “Advanced”. As dealer, South, N-S vulnerable I held:  A 10 8 6 5 2 ©9¨A Q 6 A 8 3. I opened the bidding 1 Spade - a solid, but unspectacular drive off the tee, so to speak. My left-hand opponent made a take-out double showing opening values and, presumably, a 4-card Heart suit and at least 3 cards in both minors. My partner now jumped to 4 Clubs. I looked at his convention card and confirmed this to be a “splinter” bid, showing 12 or more high-card points, a singleton Club and 4 cards in each of the other 3 suits. The bid also, of course, designated Spades as the trump suit.

It appeared my ball had caught a strong gust of wind.  If my partner’s splinter bid was disciplined, he had no wasted values in Clubs and we had a likely Spade slam.  I now bid 4NT - Roman Key-Card Blackwood (RKCB) – which convention, too, he carried in his bag of tricks.  Unlike Hetty, we had all the correct tools. He responded 5 Spades, showing 2 key cards out of 5, the 4 Aces plus K, plus the Queen of trumps - in this case the ©A and K and Q. I smelled the possibility of a grand slam and bid 5NT, asking partner to bid his Kings, if any, in ascending suit order. When he responded 6D, showing the ¨K and denying the K, I knew the grand slam was on.  I could count 13 tricks, 6 top Spades, 3 Diamonds, the Heart and Club Aces, and 2 Club ruffs in dummy. I bid 7 Spades and when West doubled, I couldn’t resist the call of the Albatross and redoubled.

The full hand and bidding:

 

North

 

 

♠ K Q 7 4

 

 

© A 6 4 2

 

West

¨ K 5 4 3

East

♠ -

§ 2

♠  J 9 3

© K Q J 10

 

© 8 7 5 3

¨ J 10 9 8

South

¨ 7 2

§ K Q J 6 5

♠ A 10 8 6 5 2

§ 10 9 7 4

 

© 9

 

 

¨ A Q 6

 

 

§ 8 3

 


South

1Sp
4NT 
5NT
7Sp
Rdbl

 

West

Dble
Pass
Pass
Dble
Pass

 

North

4Cl
5SP
6D
Pass
Pass

 

East

Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass

West led ©K which I won in dummy. I played dummy’s K. I won the third trick with the A in the closed hand, ruffed a club with the 7 and returned to my hand with the 10. I ruffed my last club with dummy’s Q and ruffed a heart in Hand. I now played the A to draw East’s last trump and claimed. It is clear West’s double of the grand slam without a certain trick in his hand was ill-advised but I cannot but be a little sympathetic. He knew I would be unable to run any side suit of length. Furthermore, if I had only 5 spades, I would have to contend with his partner’s having 4. Be that as it may, if he hadn’t doubled, I wouldn’t have had my story to tell.

Hello Houston, the Albatross has landed

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About the author

Alan Caplan

Alan Caplan was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was an active member of Bnei Zion and, subsequently, Habonim following the merger of the two movements. The year after high school ...
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