Honor Among Thieves By Zia Mahmood
The Devil’s Coup, the Smother Play, the Scissors Coup, the Coup with No Name … are simply labels for some of the more interesting gambits that occur at the bridge table. A coup that is perhaps less well-known goes by …
On 26 July, 2016 At 17:59
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The Devil’s Coup, the Smother Play, the Scissors Coup, the Coup with No Name — despite sounding like a series of horror film titles to rival Nightmare on Elm Street 13, these are simply labels for some of the more interesting gambits that occur at the bridge table. A coup that is perhaps less well-known goes by the irresistible name of the ‘Alcatraz Coup: This is the story of how it came into being. There was not much to do on the island prison of Alcatraz, but four of the inmates had formed a regular bridge game at the instigation of the appropriately named ‘Legs’ Diamond. The form of scoring was, of course, Chicago — a form of rubber bridge in which four deals are played with each partner. The vulnerability is pre-set, and there are bonuses for any game contract.
North made an aggressive entry into the auction over the opening 3, but as is well known, Schultz had acquired his nickname because his favorite call was ‘Double. Fingers as East tried 3NT, hoping to avoid a heart lead. But ‘Lucky’ Luciano bid 4, relying on the astounding good fortune that he always enjoyed. This time, it seemed that his luck had run out when Legs Diamond led his singleton spade. Dummy played low, Fingers played the A, and Luciano dropped the Q. Falsecards were of course mandatory in this company, but it was possible that West had led from 1092, so Fingers took a while over his next move. Eventually, he had what was for him quite a bright idea — he would cash the A. If partner played an encouraging card, he would cash the A and play another diamond. If, instead, Legs discouraged on the A — confirming that the opening lead had been a singleton.
Fingers would switch back to spades. The A was greeted by the 2 from declarer and the 9 from West, which Fingers construed as an encouraging card because it looked high. Following his master plan, he cashed the A and played a second diamond. But Luciano won the K and led a heart to the ace — with his usual luck, the singleton K fell, and he claimed the contract. There was an ominous silence as three things slowly dawned on Fingers’s far from powerful intellect. First, 5 would have made in comfort for East-West. Second, the 9 had been the lowest out-standing card in the suit, and therefore not an encouraging signal at all. Finally, Diamond was idly scratching his left leg, which in normal circumstances would not have been disturbing, but Fingers knew what was strapped to the limb in question. The final deal of the Chicago gave Fingers the chance to make amends.
North’s bidding had been aggressive, but all things considered, that was not surprising. The opening lead was 10, which gave nothing away. Fingers knew only too well that people who made two mistakes playing with Legs Diamond did not live long enough to make three, so he simply could not afford to go down in the grand slam. Was there a way to improve his chances of locating the crucial Q, which on the face of it was a 50-50 proposition? There is no better stimulus than terror to even the bluntest of intelligences, and suddenly Fingers had another brainwave. He would claim 100 for honors, pretending to hold AQJ10! Whichever opponent held the Q would know that Fingers could not possibly have honors, since the K was in dummy, and would be bound to give the show away. “Well bid, partner,” said Fingers confidently, “and we have 100 for honors, what’s more.” Luciano, his right-hand opponent, wrote down 100 above the line on his scorecard, but Schultz on his left ignored the comment and stared unblinkingly at Fingers. This was all the help that declarer needed — surely, Dutch had the missing Q. Winning the spade lead with dummy’s ace, Fingers led a heart to his ace and ran the J, and the Alcatraz Coup was born. So also, alas, was the Counter-Alcatraz Coup, and since that ill-starred Chicago, the luckless declarer’s name had to be changed to `No Fingers Malone. You see, when East won the J with the queen, Diamond reached for the nearest weapon to hand, which happened to be the knife strapped to his left leg…
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