Excerpt from

Tops and Bottoms



B. J. Becker-Dorothy Hayden
vs Victor Mitchel-Sam Stayman

The Winkle

A strong candidate for the most remarkable hand ever played took place in the 1964 United States Pair Trials. In those days selection of the international team was made up of the top three finishers from a tournament of 16 successful partnerships. Eash pair played a long match against each other pair. The hands were duplicated at all eight tables, and scoring by IMPs (International Match Points) was averaged out across the field. A battle for one of the three top spots took place betwen two of the most famous partnerships of that decade: Becker-Hayden and Mitchell-Stayman. A misunderstanding in the bidding led B. J. Becker to an end position that he dreams about to this day. As for Vic Mitchell, it is said that he aged faster than his due, and never slept more than five hours a night after this hand was completed.

Mr. Becker sat South and picked up:

    S A K 9 6
H J 9 2
D 4
C K J 9 8 3

All vulnerable, he opened 1 club. Sam passed. Dorothy (today she is Dorothy Hayden Truscott) responded 1 diamond. Victor passed and B. J. rebid 1 spade. With silence from the opponents, Dorothy jumped to 3 clubs and B. J. gently raised to 4 clubs. Dorothy now cue bid 4 spades. B. J. sat back and considered his call. What would you bid?

He came to certain conclusions, and the auction was completed:

B. J.


1 club

1 diamond

1 spade

3 clubs

4 clubs

4 spades



B. J. bid 6

Having heard his partner bid diamonds, clubs, and spades, it was not very likely she had more than one heart. This looked like a perfect fitting hand. The opening lead was the  diamond 2 and when dummy hit the table, B. J., as always, kept his poker face.


SQ 8


H10 6 3


DA Q J 9 6


CA Q 4


S5 4 3


SJ 10 7 2

HA 8 5

HK Q 7 4

DK 5 3 2

D10 8 7

C10 5 2

C7 6


SA K 9 6


HJ 9 2




CK J 9 8 3


"B. J.: The awful contract reached was due to an arrangement we had made six months earlier to treat 4
 clubs in this sequence as Gerber for aces. Dorothy remembered but I didn't, and I foolishly assumed her 4 spade bid identified a singleton heart. But this dreadful error luckily resulted in one of the most dramatic end-plays ever seen!"

Meanwhile poor Victor was sitting there with the king and queen of hearts waiting for the unbid suit to be led. Smoke curled up from his cigarette as Sam selected his lead. However when the deuce of diamonds hit the table the kibitzers claim smoke also steamed out of his ears. But could Sam be blamed for not leading his heart ace? He had also done some astute figuring. Why lead an ace only to catch a singleton? Whereas a diamond lead would put declarer to an immediate guess. There was a good chance B. J. would think he had a singleton. Or was there?

B. J.: "I could see no better play than to finesse and hope for the best."

The finesse worked, and it looked like his only hope was that the diamond king would fall after he played the ace and ruffed one. It didn't fall, and B. J. was a trick short. It would do him no good to ruff a spade and be left with two heart losers in hand, so he went after an extra diamond trick. A club was led to the ace and another diamond was trumped in hand. A spade ruff now would not permit the fifth diamond to be cashed (trumps had to be drawn); so B. J. drew trumps ending in dummy and led the fifth diamond. At this point Victor crushed his cigarette butt and felt an unpleasant throbbing in his head. Let's see why:

On the diamond, Vic had to throw one of his heart honors. B. J. discarded his heart nine, Sam threw a spade, and B. J. began to feel the warm glow that comes over an expert declarer once, maybe twice, in a lifetime when a position develops that he has never seen before. The spade queen was cashed and a spade led towards the A-K-9. Vic seemed to have little choice. He split his honors and B. J. won with his ace. The last three cards looked like this:




H10 6 3








SJ 7

HA 8 5







SK 9








On the lead of the heart jack, Sam played low. If he had played the ace (a play called the "crocodile coup") swallowing up Vic's king, he would have been end-played—having to lead from his 8-5 of hearts into dummy's 10-6! However when Victor won the trick and had to lead a spade into declarer's K-9, it was equally disatrous.


Post mortem

Pamela: Poor Victor. He was squeezed, double finessed, endplayed and finessed again! I probably would give up bridge if that happened to me. Or at least shoot my partner for not leading his ace.

Matthew: Don't shoot. The position in which the defense had a choice of permitting the end-play on Victor or execute the crocodile coup but being end-played from the West seat is called a "Winkle". It occurs every fifty years or so. I'm sure Victor would have preferred not be on the receiving end of it... and if I ever play with Victor I'll be careful to lead my aces against slams.


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