Of course this is libelous, which is why the dramatis personae are introduced by their nicknames. No bridge master will sue me if I touch up his clever coups or forget discreetly his regrettable lapses. But as I warned Charles Goren when he invited me to contribute this article, it isn't the stars that I want to write about but the close friends with whom I play bridge daily, and what can one say about one's friends that is true yet not libelous?
Take, for instance, H.H., known affectionately at my club as the Hideous Hog. You have met him often, of course. He plays for pleasure—strictly his own. He is polite to partner—while partner is dummy. And if he seems so keen to play every hand it is only because he is a perfectionist and likes to see the job well done. It's all part of the team spirit and in partner's best interests, especially if the stakes are high.
Above right is a typical Hog hand. It occurred during a rubber in which H.H. opposed his bitter rival, Papa the Greek. So subtle that he can falsecard with a singleton, so intuitive that he knows what opponents will do before they have finished sorting their cards, Papa would be a great player if only he were not so clever.
West opened the diamond 10 and, as dummy went down, Papa looked disdainfully at the Hog. The curve of his lips seemed to say: "So you thought up a clever five-club bid, on the way, to stop a club lead? Well, it wouldn't have helped you had it been my lead."
Winning the first trick with the jack of diamonds in dummy, the Hog led the 5 of spades. Before the card left the Hog's fingers, Papa had formed a vivid picture of declarer's hand. He could not have a singleton club, or a four-card suit, for, were either the case, there would have been no point in trying to stop a club lead. Therefore he had either two clubs or three. The play to the first trick, to which H.H. followed with the 5 of diamonds, indicated that his diamonds were almost certainly K-Q-5, and since his high-card strength was strictly limited, he probably had five hearts at least, maybe six.
What, then, were the prospects for the defense? It was clear to Papa that to beat the slam he had to score his king of clubs as well as the ace of spades.
Placing declarer with five black cards, the Greek played the 4 of spades on the second trick. When the Hog produced the jack and West the trey, Papa gave himself a friendly nudge. As usual, he had done the right thing. Had he gone up with the ace of spades he would have set up two spades in dummy, allowing the Hog to dispose of his losing club—or two losing clubs.
At trick three declarer crossed to dummy with the jack of hearts and continued with the 6 of spades. Papa looked up suspiciously. Why hadn't H.H. drawn trumps? And why was he so obsessed with spades? Without doubt, there was some hanky-panky afoot, but what was it? Meanwhile the same problem confronted him a second time. Should he go up with the ace of spades or play low? Papa reasoned that if the Hog's spades were jack-10-x, the ace of spades would not run away, although H.H. would eventually be able to discard his club loser on dummy's fourth spade. In the case of a doubleton jack-10, there was also nothing to be done: Papa could take his ace of spades now, but only at the expense of the king of clubs later, so it canceled out. But what if the Hog had started with the jack of spades bare or if his spades were jack-x and the ace descended ingloriously on the midget? To play as he had done, with jack-x in his hand, was just the sort of hocus-pocus in which the Hideous Hog would delight. He would park two losing clubs on dummy's king and queen of spades and jeer at Papa for the rest of the evening.
Having thought it out carefully, the Greek played the 7 of spades and H.H. won the trick with the 10. Papa had expected it, yet somehow it did not add up, for if no hoax was intended, the Hog surely would have drawn trumps in the usual way. Like Papa, I could not help wondering why the Hog was being so devious, and I went over to look at his hand. Below you see the deal.
On the face of it, the slam was unbreakable if West had the king of clubs and unmakable if East had it. Everything hinged on a simple finesse, which any beginner could take, and what more could an expert do?