In the urgency of reporting to you the exciting results of the European Contract Bridge Championship that ended in another victory for Italy at Oslo last month, much of the color of that tournament had to be left out of my story.
With 15 nations competing, a European Championship is a kind of Tower of Babel scene in reverse. When I walked into the playing room before the game started my ears were buffeted with a pandemonium of tongues. Then play began, and suddenly all the speaking was in one language—English. Although both French and German are familiar to more of the nations taking part, English is the official language of the tournament, and must be used by all the contestants for their bids and the calling of the cards.
The accents were often charming, sometimes weird. Obviously, many of the players did not know a word of English beyond such terms as double, pass, no trump and the names of suits and cards. So, as the rounds of play ended and the time for post-mortem arrived, there was a re-enacting of the uproar and chaos that first took place at the scene of Babel's soaring tower.
However, the language of the cards is universal. I found further evidence of this when our lavish Norse hosts presented each player who attended the tourney with a copy of a beautiful 116-page souvenir journal. Except for a brief message of greeting, this journal was written entirely in Norwegian—a tongue in which, I confess, I have absolutely no facility. Nevertheless, I found it possible to follow the reports of some of the outstanding bridge hands played in European championships since 1932.
With a population of about 33� million, Norway is an enthusiastic bridge center. Although it has never won the European Championship, the country has fielded many fine teams and has often played the role of giant killer, just as it did in this year's championship when its victory over France prevented that nation from winning the title.
Here is a hand played by Trygve Sommervelt, Norway's first international bridge star, when the championship was played in Vienna in 1934.
Three no trump would have been a far easier contract, but perhaps Sommervelt had visions of a possible slam. At any rate, in bidding five diamonds he courted disaster. However, Sommervelt supplemented his forthright bidding with some highly deceptive play. To fake East out of the killing defense, declarer had to throw away a good trick. Later he had to regain that trick in order to make his contract.
West next shifted to the 10 of hearts. Declarer realized that the 10 was a singleton, so, when East played the ace, South dropped the king! It wasn't immediately apparent where he could get this trick back, but it was obvious that he could not afford to keep the king, for an immediate heart ruff would defeat him.
East fell for it—and who could blame him? Afraid to set up dummy's jack by continuing hearts, East shifted back to spades. South trumped and ran all the diamonds. West had to keep the ace of spades, so he was reduced to two clubs. Dummy then threw away the spade queen, keeping three clubs. To keep three clubs East had to discard his last heart, and South's hidden 7 was the game-winning trick.