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 Marrimac, 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. The concept of the Merrimac Coup is clarified in the following illustration.

Formerly known as Hobson's Coup or Hobson's Choice in the various, but similar card games preceding the structured game of Contract Bridge, especially Whist, Auction Bridge, etc.

Hobson's Coup:

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.

Hobson's Choice:

Meaning: No choice at all - the only option being the one that is offered to you.

Origin: There is a story that this comes from a Mr. Hobson who rented out horses and gave his customers no choice as to their mount. This has all the credentials of a 'folk etymology' myth. In this case however, the derivation is correct. Thomas Hobson (1545–1631), was a real historical figure and he ran a thriving carrier and horse rental business in Cambridge, England, around the turn of the 17th century. Hobson rented horses mainly to Cambridge University students but refused to rent them out other than in their correct order. The choice his customers were given was 'this or none', i.e. Hobson's choice.

Translation: the definition in the game of bridge is therefore defined by the terminology Hobson's Choice as being the only possible choice available to the defender, who is able to execute the action. Any other action would be to the benefit of the opposing side.

Example 1:
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:

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 the 2, 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:


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 the 7, whereupon South would play the 2 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.

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.

Claus and Raymond


Bridge Sites

Home Page I Glossary Home Page II