Double Dummy Corner


William H. Whitfeld
(from William Butler's Whist, 1898)

DDC Home Problems by composer First Whitfeld problem Last Whitfeld problem

The first of the two problems included in this article is generally referred to as The Whitfeld Six.  I am sorry to note that the version appearing in my own book, Bridge Magic (1972) is the one mentioned in the article as having appeared in the London Field. Curiously, neither of these problems is included in Coffin's collection. 

I have reproduced the article faithfully, including the reversal of the minor suits in the problem diagrams.

Whitfeld, William H. The foremost inventor of double-dummy problems, and a whist mathematician and analyst of great ability.  Mr. Whitfeld was born at Whist Villa, Ashford, Kent, England, October 15, 1856. He informs us that the name of the house had reference to its retired character, and not to the game. He attended a private school at Ramsgate, and afterwards, in 1876, entered Trinity College, Cambridge. He came out as twelfth wrangler, and took his degree in honors in 1880. As the best English mathematicians graduate at Cambridge, to be high up in the list of wranglers indicates unusual proficiency. After teaching school for two years, he became mathematical lecturer at Cavendish College, Cambridge (named after the Duke of Devonshire, and not after Henry Jones).  It is another coincidence that the college is located in the parish of Trumpington. After Cavendish College became involved in financial difficulties, in 1891, Mr. Whitfeld sought other fields of labor, and he is, among other things, engaged by the examining syndicate of bodies affiliated with the University of Cambridge.

Mr. Whitfeld has been very fond of whist from an early age. Though at no time a great frequenter of the whist-table, as compared with some devotees of the game, he has devoted much spare time to analyzing positions and working out problems.  His first contributions to whist literature consisted of some double-dummy problems published in 1880 in the Cambridge Review, an undergraduates' journal. His fame as a whist problemist was established, however, by a double dummy problem which he sent to the London field, and which appeared in its issue of January 31, 1885. This is conceded to be the most difficult problem of its kind ever constructed. It may be of interest to know that it was composed in bed. Mr. Whitfeld was kept awake one night by a strong cup of coffee, and employed his sleepless moments in thinking it out. In the morning it was finished. Before its appearance in the Field, "Cavendish" sent a copy of it to N. B. Trist, and the latter had it published in the New Orleans Times-Democrat, from which paper it was extensively copied, and went the rounds in this country. Many whist-players wrote that there must be some mistake about it, as they found it impossible of solution.  As eminent an expert as C. D. P. Hamilton stated that it took him two weeks, and he did not see how Proctor could possibly have solved it in fifteen minutes that was the story which had come over from England. Proctor's name was curiously connected with it in this country. It was generally spoken of as the "Proctor problem," and Professor Proctor was supposed to have composed it. It required a letter from "Cavendish," in Whist, to correct the error. 

R. F. Foster writes as follows concerning the problem in the New York Sun of March I, 1896: "H. H. Waldo, a bookseller in Rockford, 111., published it in the Rockford Gazette, in 1885, and offered any whist book on the market as a prize for its solution. The Racine Whist Club spent three weeks over it in vain. No one in the Milwaukee Whist Club could solve it, and the prize was finally won by Dr. B. F. Crummer, of  Omaha, Neb., who sent in his solution many weeks after the problem first appeared.  Nothing indicates better than this problem the progress whist has made in the past ten years. In 1885 a prize for its solution went begging for months; to-day we have thirty-five correct answers out of one hundred and fifty-eight attempts."

We give the problem herewith, in its original and correct form, together with the solution, as received from Mr. Whitfeld himself. In this case, as in all other problems, the solution should not be consulted until all efforts to work out the answer have failed, or until it is desired to verify a solution arrived at:

♠ None
8, 7
♣ A, 2

J, 5

♠ Q, 7                                                            ♠ J, 6
None                                                          None
♣ J, 3
                                                             ♣ 8
Q, 7                                                             6, 8, 10

♠ 10, 9
♣ 10

A, K, 9

Hearts trumps.  South to lead. 
North and south to win all six tricks, east and west doing their best to prevent.

The correct solution of the problem is as follows:

Trick 1.South leads ace of diamonds, on which north plays jack. This is the key to the problem. Only by this play can north reserve the opportunity of playing a diamond through west and giving south a finesse, should the development warrant such a course.

Trick 2.South leads ten of spades, which north wins with seven of hearts.

Trick 3.North leads eight of hearts, on which south discards ten of clubs. West is obliged to unguard one of the plain suits. His best discard is the spade, since his partner also guards that suit.

Trick 4.North plays ace of clubs, and east is compelled to unguard the spade or diamond suit. South, playing after east, keeps the suit from which east has discarded.

Trick 5.North leads a diamond, which south wins with the king.

Trick 6.South leads the thirteenth spade or diamond. 

It should be noticed that if at trick three west discards the queen of diamonds, he leaves south with the tenace over east, and if he discards a club, north will make his small club.

We may add that the problem, since its original publication, has frequently been republished in a somewhat altered or disguised form. One of these variations was given in the London Field of December 14, 1889, where the suits and some of the unimportant cards were changed from the original. The New York Sun of March 1, 1896, contained another variation.

The first publication of the problem in the Field was followed by other interesting and difficult hands composed by Mr. Whitfeld, as well as by articles on whist, in which his mathematical genius was displayed in close reasoning and subtle analysis. In 1892 he became regularly connected with the staff of the Field, and in 1893 he had entire charge of its card department during " Cavendish's" absence in America. Mr. Whitfeld is also a frequent contributor to Whist, America's representative journal of the game. In 1896, with "Cavendish," he attended the sixth congress of the AmericanWhist League, at Manhattan Beach, when President Schwarz introduced him in the following words: " I would like to say, in regard to Mr. Whitfeld, that he has long been associated with 'Cavendish' in the conduct of the London Field, and has made many valuable contributions to the whist literature of this country; and that, as a whist mathematician, he is without a superior."

In closing this brief notice, we take pleasure in giving another one of his very best double-dummy problems; in fact, he himself considers it of nearly equal merit with his more celebrated achievement:

♠ 9,7,6,3
♣ 5, 3

7, 2

♠ None                                                           ♠ None
K, 5                                                            Q, 7, 6, 3
♣ K, 9, 8
                                                        ♣ J, 4
J, 10, 6                                                        Q, 3

♠ None
A, 10, 9, 4
♣ A, 7

K, 8

Spades are trumps.  South to lead. 
North and south to make the eight tricks.

The correct solution of the problem is as follows:

Trick 1. South leads a small heart, which north trumps.

Trick 2. North leads a trump, forcing a discard from east. If he discards a heart, south will finally make a trick in that suit with the last heart. He must, therefore, discard a club or a diamond. The position of the cards in these two suits being in all essential respects similar, we need only take one case. We will suppose that he discards a club. South then also discards a club.

Trick 3. North leads a club, which south wins.

Trick 4. South leads the best heart, to which north discards a diamond.

Trick 5. South leads a small heart, which north trumps.

Trick 6. North leads the last trump. Unless east keeps his heart south will make the last heart.  East must therefore discard a diamond.  South then discards his heart. West is now in a difficulty.  If he discards a club, north will take a trick with the last card of that suit, and if he discards a diamond his remaining one will fall to south's master card, and south's last diamond will win a trick. In either case, north and south win all the tricks.

Not one player in fifty can solve it [the Whitfeld problem] without assistance. It seems remarkable that so difficult a combination could be set up with only six tricks. Whist, October, 1892.

The problem which we gave on the sixteenth is generally known as the "Whitfeld" problem, and was composed by W.H. Whitfeld, "Cavendish's" understudy as whist editor of the London Field. "Cavendish" says it is the most difficult problem with six cards ever composed. Some persons call it the Proctor problem, but Proctor simply introduced it to this country.

R. F. Foster [S. O.], New York

Sun, March 1, 1896.

Hugh Darwen, 2009

Date last modified: 11 March, 2017