Coffeehousing, which I mentioned earlier in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (May 5, 1958), is perhaps too lightly dealt with in that section of the bridge laws which is concerned with the Proprieties. The law says: "...It is proper to draw inferences from an opponent's gratuitous hesitation, remark, or manner, but such inferences are drawn at one's own risk." Many otherwise intelligent players interpret this as meaning that they are licensed to fool their opponents in any way possible.
But elsewhere the law plainly says, "A player should refrain from...an unnecessary hesitation, remark, or mannerism which may deceive the opponents." Clearly, the genus Coffeehouse is on slippery ground. But that does not stop him from taking a strange sort of pride in his dirty work. He is found all over the world, as witness the following deal reported by Fred Gulliver in a contract bridge newsletter published by the New South Wales Bridge Association.
Mr. Gulliver does not explain how North-South reached their ambitious slam in spades, so I have dreamed up this bidding sequence. North has a difficult choice. If he bids two no trump without a stopper in hearts he can hardly do anything but raise to four spades later. At any rate, the final contract would have been made with ease but for the bad break in the trump suit.
West cashed a heart trick "while the shop was open," as Mr. Gulliver described it. Declarer trumped the second heart, played the ace of spades and led to the king, discovering that he was in trouble. South had to execute a grand coup, shortening his trumps by ruffing once again; he needed to win all the tricks and to wind up in dummy to lead through East at the right time.
Declarer saw that the percentage was against his being able to cash three diamonds—yet this was essential to his success. To prevent the loss of the slam through East's trumping a third diamond, South staged a performance which should have won him an Oscar.
Exhibiting no dismay at the bad break, declarer returned to his hand (and incidentally reduced his trumps to East's length) by ruffing another heart. Then he went into his act. He led a diamond toward dummy and, after deep thought, hesitantly played the queen. When East produced the diamond 2, South released a pent-up sigh at the success of his "finesse." Next, he cashed dummy's ace of diamonds and then led a low diamond, meanwhile glaring at East with a triumphant air.
Convinced that South would be able to overruff, East discarded a club and South's dramatic production became an assured success. He won the trick with the diamond king, entered dummy with a club and continued leading good diamonds. Now, whenever East trumped, South could indeed overtrump, so the slam came home.
In Mr. Gulliver's tale, they found South's body in a back alley later that evening. In spite of South's conduct, I am not sure that the homicide was justified. East should have figured that if South really had held only two diamonds, he would have taken the diamond finesse and ruffed a diamond earlier—not a heart. Otherwise he had no chance of keeping as many trumps as East and would have had to lose a trump trick.
I recommend two methods for making even an incurable coffeehouser see the error of his ways. Either stop playing with him or learn to turn his play-acting to your own advantage.