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Perusing a recent bridge column in the London Daily Express, we noticed a plaintive letter from a perplexed lady who had read, she complained, in an American bridge publication the offhand comment that "the king was in the bathtub." Being a keen bridge enthusiast, she would jolly well like to know what this inscrutable Yank expression meant.
"Oh, ho ho," the bridge pundit exclaimed, "that simply means that the king was naked." End of explanation.
Bridge articles tend to be quite a bit like that. For those who have not mastered the Gothic complexities of the jargon, commentary on the hands sometimes reads like Alice B. Tolkien in Middle Earth.
On page 34 you will discover an article that is, well, only partly like that. There is enough bridge-Berlitz snobbery after each hand to satisfy the addict, yet it also offers humor and relative comprehensibility to the man who thinks he might rather buy Brooklyn than contract bridge. Such lovable characters as Hideous Hog, Rueful Rabbit, Papa the Greek and Timothy the Toucan cavort through the prose.
Victor Mollo, an ace British player, is the gentleman responsible for this zoo, the inhabitants of which are modeled on members of his London club. In addition to such tomes as Streamlined Bridge, or Bidding Without Tears, Mollo has, in fact, written a book titled Bridge in the Menagerie. More fauna rampage through those pages, and SI readers might like an introduction to some of Hog's other playmates. There are, for example, Peregrine the Penguin, the Vitamin King, a Hungarian merchant of Polish extraction named Macpherson and Oscar the Owl, who, "unlike other kibitzers, could make intelligent remarks even after seeing all four hands." Mollo has two whole chapters on kibitzers, finally giving those essential spear carriers and dart blowers their due.
One chapter is titled "Coups by Kibitzers," and begins, "What is the most intractable problem at bridge?" The answer, of course, is the kibitzer. Mollo explains, "At times, even a partner can be restrained. If not, there is the consolation of knowing that he shares in the cost of his transgressions. But a kibitzer is immune. He holds power without responsibility...." Fortunately, Mollo's friends at the Griffins Club have devised a solution. Any player is allowed to double any kibitzer, at table stakes.
"Accepting the inevitable philosophically," Mollo crows, "we allow kibitzers to interrupt the game, to jeer, to sneer and to make all the rude noises and fatuous remarks which come to them so readily—so long as they recognize that they have a duty to society and cannot do it all free of charge.... One of the charms of the Griffins Method is that a kibitzer's worth is measured strictly by the absurdity of his interjections. The greater the pest, the more he contributes to our welfare and the more, in consequence, do we love and revere him."
This, added to the information that Mollo is "short of stature, somewhat dudish in dress, not thin...has a fuzzy look" and is a notorious eater at the bridge table, may give you a clue. Yes, Mollo himself is the Hog, of whom he writes, "The Hog is a scrupulously ethical player and we would not dream of saying anything else in print."
Mollo's wife also has a name, although she does not play bridge. She is known as the Squirrel. "She is fond of nuts," says Mollo, "which is why she married me."