The merrimac coup describes the intentional and deliberate sacrifice of a high card, generally an honor card, with the object of eliminating a vital and necessary entry in the hand of the opponent, usually the dummy.

The term is derived from the American coal-carrying ship Merrimac, which was sunk in 1898 in Santiago Harbor in Cuba in an attempt to bottle up the Spanish fleet. Santiago de Cuba was a focal point of the Spanish-American War, and many reminders of that conflict are found in the area. Decisive engagements were fought near the city on the hills of El Viso (in the village of El Caney) and San Juan. The harbor was partially blocked by the scuttled collier Merrimac; and the principal naval action of the war was fought along the coast near the port on July 3, 1898.

Note: The picture below presents Assistant Naval Contractor Richard Pearson Hobson, who presented the sinking of an aging collier (an old designation in English to describe a ship carrying coal), named the Merrimac to his commanding officier Admiral Sampson.

Note: Some biographers and historians present the designation of Assistant Navel Constructor as the official title of Mr. Richard Pearson Hobson.

Note: The website of the Home of Heroes has published an account of this daring deed of Assistant Naval Contractor Richard Pearson Hobson, from which most of the information on this web page has been referenced. This information has been preserved and archived on this site in .pdf file format for future reference.

Note: In the newspaper of The New York Times, published June 6, 1989, an editorial describing the event informed the public about the Hobson's Deed. This information has been preserved and archived on this site in .pdf file format for future reference.

     

Hobson's Coup

The concept, as applied to the game of bridge, was also formerly known as Hobson's Coup in the various, but similar card games preceding the structured game of Contract Bridge, especially Whist, Auction Bridge, etc.

Note: This terminology is rather dubious since the naming of the play technique, Merrimac Coup, refers to the elimination of a strategic card (advantage position) in the holding of the enemy, which corresponds to the definition of the term coup: a brilliantly executed stratagem; a feat of bravery performed in battle, especially the touching of an enemy's body without causing injury.

Merrimac Coup in Bridge

Example 1

 
North
43
542
A3
KQJ1093
 
West
J10987
K106
10984
6
 
East
A52
Q987
K72
A54
 
South
KQ6
AJ3
QJ65
872
 

The contract is 3 No Trump. South is the declarer. West leads the Jack of Spades. East wins the first trick with the Ace of Spades. East also realizes that South only has one entry to the dummy and that is the Ace of Diamonds. If East can hold winning the Ace of Clubs three times, then South has no chance of using the excellent Club suit. East therefore plays the King of Diamonds at trick two.

If South ducks the first Diamond play, then East follows with a second Diamond on the third trick, knocking out the single entry to the dummy. East has intentionally sacrificed a high card to eliminate a vital entry to the dummy, which torpedoed the chance of South of fulfilling the contract.

Example 2

 
North
AKQJ6
QJ5
42
AQ6
 
West
752
K872
AQ
8752
 
East
83
1063
J1085
J1094
 
South
1094
A94
K9763
K3
 

The better, perhaps safer contract should have been: 4 Spades by North, but North/South ended in a contract of: 3 No Trump by South, which is perhaps the better matchpoint contract.

West leads the 2 and the Queen in dummy wins the trick. The declarer, South, attacks the Diamond suit by leading the2, East plays low and South plays 9, and West wins with Queen. The correct play by East is to play low if the declarer holds: KQ9, but incorrect if South does not have this combination. West switches to 2, which declarer wins in hand with King. Declarer then crosses over to dummy to Queen, cashes the Ace, followed by the four top Spades, and the following result is presented below:

 
North
6
J5
2
 
 
West
 
K87
A
 
 
East
 
 
J108
4
 
South
 
A9
K7
 
 

When South plays from the dummy the 6, South discards the 7. West is now presented with the Merrimac Coup - or Hobson's Coup or Hobson's Choice. West could discard the Ace which allows the King in declarer's hand to become a winner, or West can discard the7, whereupon South would play the2 to the King, which West would then have to win with Ace, and then have to lead from Hearts. The result was: 3 No Trump, taking 11 tricks for a par of 10 tricks in No Trump.

Oswald Jacoby and the Merrimac Coup

 
North
4
765
AJ3
KQJ987
 
West
J2
10984
Q652
A63
 
East
KQ1098
Q3
K98
1052
 
South
A7653
AKJ2
1074
4
 
West   North (D)   East   South
    1   1   Double
Pass   2   Pass   2 NT
Pass   3 NT   Pass   Pass
Pass            
Lead: Jack of Spades by West

Oswald Jacoby declares a contract of 3 No Trump. The Jack of Spades was led and permitted to hold - declarer must duck to guard against the 5-2 break. Now the crucial visualization arises. Obviously declarer has one entry to the dummy, but not two unless he also has the King of Diamonds. Since there is little to be done in this case West must realize that the King of Diamonds must be with East if the contract is to be defeated.

Accordingly they need to play the Queen of Diamonds at trick two. Note carefully that a low diamond is no good. Declarer simply ducks and irrespective of what East plays will either have a tempo or an extra entry to dummy once the clubs are established.

The Queen of Diamonds, however, prevents this. If declarer ducks you simply continue and either the Ace wins or partner scores the King and clears the suit before the Clubs are established. Alternatively declarer wins the Ace and tries to force an entry to dummy with the Jack of Diamonds, which partner will doubtlessly prevent by ducking any play of the 10 and winning any play to the Jack.

If you wish to include this feature, or any other feature, of the game of bridge in your partnership agreement, then please make certain that the concept is understood by both partners. Be aware whether or not the feature is alertable or not and whether an announcement should or must be made. Check with the governing body and/or the bridge district and/or the bridge unit prior to the game to establish the guidelines applied. Please include the particular feature on your convention card in order that your opponents are also aware of this feature during the bidding process, since this information must be made known to them according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. We do not always include the procedure regarding Alerts and/or Announcements, since these regulations are changed and revised during time by the governing body. It is our intention only to present the information as concisely and as accurately as possible.

 


     
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