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Although they are becoming scarcer, I frequently meet persons who confess they are not bridge players. I see no shame in such a confession; I can even recall one or two people I met at bridge tables who might have made the same admission with more reason to apologize.
Not playing bridge requires no apology but, strangely enough, the excuse I hear most frequently simply isn't valid. "I'm no good at mathematics," people tell me. If I ever have to choose between a partner who can operate a slide rule and one who can negotiate a hook slide, I'll take the base stealer every time.
I won't say that I prefer partners who don't know how to add or subtract. But here is a case where a little knowledge of mathematics proved disastrous.
You couldn't ask for more dramatic bidding than in this hand. Declarer's voice was heard but twice during the auction, each time in unorthodox as well as self-contradictory fashion. His pass as dealer was made with the intention of launching a surprise attack later, though it is doubtful if he had in mind anything quite so surprising as what he finally produced. However, his pass was the means of eliciting information which should have helped him fulfill his contract—if only he had been less wedded to his mathematics.
In spite of North's opening club bid, how did South know he could make a slam in hearts? The answer is, he didn't. But South's knowledge of the odds does not make him averse to taking an occasional chance. In view of the silence of both opponents, South was willing to risk that partner's opening bid included two aces. If they were not the right ones (that is, if one of them proved to be the ace of clubs) there was, nevertheless, the chance that the opening lead might be favorable and afford him a chance to discard his diamond loser.
However, North did hold the right two aces, so South wasn't a bit disturbed that his opponents won the first trick by cashing the diamond king. West then shifted to a trump. Pressing his luck, declarer casually drew trumps—all of them, in fact—but West clung to his four spades. Consequently, when declarer got around to playing that suit, the defenders took the last two tricks.
"I could have saved a trick, of course, partner," South admitted readily. "But by pulling all the trumps, I tried to get anybody who might have four spades to discard one."
"That wasn't what I was thinking about," North said. "You could have made the hand by putting the king of clubs through and playing East for the ace."
"Double-dummy," snapped our mathematical South. "The odds favor a 3-2 division of five outstanding cards in a suit, whereas a finesse is only even money."
What South failed to take into account was the fact that West, known from the opening lead to have held the ace-king of diamonds, had failed to open the bidding, and further had failed to double an apparently blind six-heart bid. Regardless of mathematics, it was almost a certainty that East held the ace of clubs.