Morton's Fork

A play maneuver by which the declarer presents a defender with a choice of either taking a trick cheaply or ducking the trick in order to preserve an honor combination with the result that both decisions cost the defense a trick. If the defender wins the trick, he sets up another high card in that suit for the declarer. If he ducks the trick, his winner is no longer valid because the declarer has a discard possibility.

The designationof this play maneuver is derived from an event in English history. Cardinal Morton, Chancellor under King Henry VII, habitually extracted money from wealthy London merchants for the royal treasury. His approach was that if the merchants lived ostentatiously, it was obvious that they possessed enough income to spare some for the king. Conversely, if they lived frugally, they had to be saving substantially and could therefore also afford to contribute to the King’s coffers. In either case, the merchants were impaled on Morton’s Fork.

The following examples should illustrate the concept of the Morton's Fork in play:

Example 1

Analysis: After West opens the auction with 1, South becomes the declarer in a contract of 6. West leads the King. Owing to the fact that South can not profitably discard on the Ace, South ruffs the lead, collects the outstanding trump card and leads the 7 towards the Queen.

In the case that West covers with the Ace, South will then discard the two losing Hearts on the Queen and Ace. In the case that West does not cover with the Ace, South wins the trick with the Queen and discards the losing King in his hand on the Ace.

It is also interesting to note that had South guessed the Ace to be held by East, then the declarer would have couped East by leading a low Diamond toward the King.


Example 2
South West (D) North East
  Pass Pass Pass
1 Double 2 3
4 Pass Pass Pass
Lead: 10

Analysis: South counts 4 losers once the dummy is tabled: 1 Heart, 1 Diamond, and 2 Clubs.

Since the double by West strongly indicates that West holds both Aces in both Minor suits, then South can indeed attempt a Morton's Fork coup. South ruffs the second Heart, deferring his second discard, and draws trumps. South next leads a low Diamond, and West is impaled upon the Morton's Fork.

If West plays low, South plays the Queen of Diamonds in the dummy, and discards the King of Diamonds on the Queen of Hearts. South, as a result, loses only 2 Clubs and 1 Hearts.

If, on the other hand, West wins the lead of the low Diamond, South then, later in play, discards three Clubs on the Queen of Hearts and the Queen-10 of Diamonds.


Short Summary of John Morton

John Morton was born 1420 at Bere Regis or Milborne St. Andrew, Dorset, and educated at Cerne Abbey, in that county, and at Balliol College, Oxford. He took Orders and became an ecclesiastical lawyer in the Court of Arches. He was appointed a member of the Privy Council, Chancellor of the Duchy of Cornwall and Master in Chancery.

During the Wars of the Roses, he cast in his lot with the Lancastrians and was involved in their misfortunes. However, on making his submission, he was received into favour by King Edward IV and was employed by him on diplomatic missions. He was made Archdeacon of Winchester and of Chester in 1474 and Bishop of Ely in 1479.

Bishop Morton was imprisoned by Richard III, but escaped to Flanders and was from thence recalled by Henry VII, whose financial minister and adviser he became. In 1486, he was made Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, was created a Cardinal in 1493 and elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1495. His death took place at Knole, Kent in the year 1500.

John Morton was a great builder. The central tower of Canterbury Cathedral, known both as the Angel Steeple and as Bell Harry was erected by Prior Goldstone with John Morton's help and at his expense. The Gateway Tower of Lambeth Palace, where he lived and where Sir Thomas More served him as page, bears his name and remains as a monument of his taste and munificence.

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