It's a toss-up whether the art of barbed conversation flourishes best in the halls of ancient universities or at the forgatherings of bridge experts. If the collegian owns a greater command of the language, the bridge expert can borrow from a well-stocked arsenal of colorful terminology unique to his game. No wonder then that delightfully vivid sparks fly when a Cambridge don also happens to be a top bridge star.
Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, an English nobleman and intellectual prodigy, is one of the youngest deans in the long history of Trinity College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and, therefore, steeped in the tradition of disputation, and he is also one of the world's best tournament players. Pete and I first met at the Midwest Regionals while he was spending a sabbatical year at the University of Chicago. We met again later in the British Master Pairs championship. From this second encounter I recall his comment as he computed the cost of a heavy vulnerable set: "I did not come here in my capacity as a senior wrangler"—the arcane name given to Cambridge University's highest-scoring mathematical wizards.
Some of Pete's thrusts are elaborate. When appointed to the captaincy of the British women's squad he proclaimed, "I resemble a prehistoric king in a matriarchal society, given power and respect for a year and then ceremoniously slaughtered to fertilize the crops." The European Championships ended with Britain's ladies far ahead—but the team was no longer on speaking terms. Criticism of Pete's inattention to feminine psychology outlasted the cheers.
Some of his mots are terse. In a Masters Individual championship his partner made a fancy call that led to disaster. "I thought you'd understand that bid of mine," complained the partner. "I thought you would," was Pete's riposte. But Pete easily evades unpopularity because he is far more critical of himself than of his partners. Most deals end with him explaining what he did wrong. The hand shown here—Pete sitting West—is an example.
Point-counting the honors separately, South's contract of three no trump was seemingly an ambitious one. But a solid five-card suit is always worth a good bit extra, and nothing less than perfect defense could have beaten the game. Pete opened the 4 of spades, which was won by declarer's 10. When a diamond was led, West played low and dummy's jack was captured by East, who returned a spade. Declarer won in his own hand and led a second diamond, establishing dummy's queen for the ninth trick.
Pete noticed immediately that the contract would have been defeated had East returned the jack of clubs when in with the ace of diamonds. But instead of suggesting that East might have executed that maneuver, Pete—who one day will be Sir Peter, the 16th baronet of his line—insisted that the blame was his alone. West can count declarer for eight tricks in the major suits. To defeat the contract it is therefore essential for East to hold the ace of diamonds and probably the jack of clubs as well. There is one sure way West can persuade East to return the jack of clubs when he gets in with the ace of diamonds. West must go up with the king when the first diamond is led and must shift to a heart. The abandonment of the spade suit makes it plain that the only way to grab enough tricks to defeat the contract is to attack clubs. And the only way to get at least three club tricks is by leading the jack!