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Along with those who share my given name, I suffered through the heyday of Jack Pearl. "Vas you dere, Sharlie?" the comedian asked, and all Charlies everywhere had to answer with that same helplessness of tall men asked to describe the exotic weather around their heads. Eventually, I turned annoyance to advantage by asking the same question of myself when I failed to profit by what I should have seen at the bridge table.
In chess it is possible to take in everything that went on in a given game simply by studying a diagram of the moves. No diagram of a bridge game can convey the same complete picture. There is a certain something—a perception which experts call "feel of the table"—that decides the fate of many bridge matches. And the only sure way to share that feel is to be there—very much there—when the hand is played.
Rarely is that certain something as evident as it is in the following deal.
If South's bidding seems weird, allow me the storyteller's privilege of explaining why at the proper time.
I was reminded of this deal by the recent TV appearance of my old friend Percy Sheardown of Toronto. He was my partner, holding the West hand, when we played it against opponents who had wined as well as dined just before the evening tournament session.
"Shorty," as all his friends call Sheardown, opened the queen of diamonds. Declarer won and laid down the king of spades. His hand hovered over the table in a way that indicated unmistakably that he expected to win the trick. He did a double-take when I produced the ace of spades; he transferred an incredulous stare from my ace on the table to a card in his hand; then he moved that card from one end of his hand to the other.
It is now almost unnecessary for me to provide the promised explanation of the bidding. Obviously, South had thought his hand included the ace of spades, giving him an impregnable trump suit and making his Blackwood call for aces a very logical bid. He thought he possessed the ace of spades and a singleton queen of clubs.
It was entirely apparent that South must hold the ace of clubs, but no better return suggested itself. On my club return, South took his ace and played the queen of spades. To his delight, and our disgust, both missing honors dropped. With dummy's hearts readily available to take care of South's losers, the slam became a lay-down—although, as you might suspect, virtually no other pair in the tournament reached it.
While the opponents were sheepishly totaling up their score, Shorty cheered me up by shouldering the blame. "Sorry, Charlie," he said. "I could have beaten the hand." When I looked blank, he explained, "I should have led the king of clubs!"
Had you been there, you would have known, of course, what he meant.