Reading Jack Olsen's enjoyable new book, The Mad World of Bridge (SI, May 23), I ran across several famous bridge hands that perhaps should have found their way into this column long ago.
For example, there's the "Murder Hand," which John Bennett of Kansas City, without knowing it, was playing for his very life. He misplayed the deal, lost his contract and was shot by his wife. Author Olsen cites Ely Culbertson and Sidney Lenz to show how Bennett might have saved his life—and that should be enough to satisfy even the avid bridge fan who wants to know what happened to the hand as well as what happened to the players.
But in the following deal from the first international bridge team match, Olsen may have left at least part of his audience cliffhanging.
The match was played between Ely Culbertson's team, representing the U.S., and a team selected by Lieut. Colonel Walter Buller of Great Britain. In this deal Buller (West) was a bit overzealous in his defending. Olsen had only this to say about the outcome:
"The Colonel's sacrifice bid, vulnerable, might have won him a Victoria Cross on the battlefield, but all it got him at the bridge table was a colossal set of 1,400 points. In room two, Culbertson, playing the same hand, let his opponents play four hearts, which could have been made but was not."
This casual dismissal of the result reminds me of the tearful bride who returned home to mother on her wedding night and complained: "As soon as we were alone, he started telling me about the hands you and he played in the duplicate game last night. He began with board one and I listened patiently through them all until he got to board 25. Then I decided I'd had enough; I left him and came home." "That's too bad," her mother sympathized. "Board 25 was the most interesting hand we played all night."
For the benefit of bridge players who might otherwise go through life wondering, here is how that four-heart contract could have been made in spite of the fact that declarer apparently had a losing spade, a losing diamond and two losing trump tricks.
Presume that West opens the spade king and shifts to the diamond 10. Declarer wins and leads the king of clubs. Dummy trumps West's club ace and leads a second spade for declarer to ruff.
South makes his high clubs, then leads to dummy's ace of diamonds and trumps another spade. A diamond lead puts East in, with nothing left but his four trumps. His trump lead is won by dummy's jack and North's last spade is led. East has to trump, South discards his club loser, and once again East has to lead away from his king of hearts, surrendering the last two tricks.
Observe that declarer could not afford even a single lead of trumps. But note, too, that whether or not West had an opportunity to bid both black suits, South had no reason to lead trumps early—and later on he had every reason not to.