Source: Mr. Bridge
My uncle Baron von Muncchausen, has a truly encyclopaedic knowledge of the game of bridge, coupled with a flair bordering on clairvoyance in the play of the cards and, more importantly, the play of the opponents. On this occasion. however, he was briefly nonplussed. I had the tale from his old partner, the late Marquis de Sade. This was before my Uncle inherited the Barony, and he was playing his parents.
Uncle Leo was South, and opened 1NT at unfavourable vulnerability. The Old Baron overcalled 2NT — a convention my uncle despises because of its revealing nature. After two passes (one can sympathise with the Baroness) Uncle Leopold reopened with a double on principle. Muncchausen Pere redoubled SOS and the Marquis (North) called 3NT, which was doubled and redoubled within a second.
West led the K, and de Sade tabled his dummy. `Alors, mon brave,’ he intoned ruefully, I was hoping my two tens might be worth a trick each on the bidding, but …
Excellent valuation, my dear Camille!’ smiled the heir as he won in hand and finessed the 6. After a heart to the queen came another diamond finesse, then the A and yet another diamond finesse. ‘Assuming you have not suppressed a strong seven-card spade suit, Mama,’ he announced, ‘the contract is now solid. I take my ace of spades to extract Papa’s last exit card then I lead towards the 10 on table.
«If you let it hold, Papa, I cash the A for my ninth trick; so, of course, you take it — it is too high for Mama to beat. You take your four club tricks if you wish before taking another diamond finesse for me.
As you noted, Camille, each ten was worth a trick. The hand establishes some sort of a record, I suppose, since I would wager a thousand Marks to a brass farthing that no one has previously taken as many as four finesses in a single suit!’
«Bravo», announced the Old Baron, «though you cannot in fact force me to take the club to give you your very brief moment of vain glory.»
The Baron had already begun to pencil a deal on his score card. «Interestingly enough, Leopold, this was the decisive deal in the final of the local teams-of-four tournament just last week».
My counterpart at the other table opened 1 on the South cards, but I favoured the prepared call of 1 — and, after all, imagine the disaster if partner should eventually lead a heart against an opposing contract!
West overcalled a strong 3, and your mother of course bid 4. East let the cat out of the bag by going straight to 6, I called 6, West obviously showed the ace of trumps when he bid 7. and your dear Mama called 7, which was foolishly doubled by East.
«West chose to cut down our ruffs by leading his trump, but there was no defence. I won in hand and led a heart, for the marked quintuple finesse. When this was covered, I ruffed a minor-suit card and repeated the process. Eventually, after the fifth ruffing finesse, covered each time perforce, I ruffed back to hand with my last trump to cash the two good hearts.’ He reached into his pocket, ‘So I shan’t be needing this brass farthing…’
The Baron lives in a surreal world of exotic distributions and outrageous circumstances; but the possibilities built into these 52 coloured cards are real enough, and often some kind of wormhole in the fabric of bridge space opens up to permit a glimpse into that other universe. Just the other day, I held this hand in the weekly duplicate at the Wearside Bridge Club in Sunderland:
The vulnerability, crucially, was unfavourable. This was similar to the old Baron’s hand. My left-hand opponent opened a weak 2, raised to 4. What would you do?
With a familiar partner, 4NT should suggest any two-suiter, but we had never played before, so I bid 5. Opener bid 5, which my partner doubled, passed to me. Now I wished I had been as far-sighted as ‘my great uncle’, because I had a horrible feeling that a heart lead would he disastrous. So I called 6.
This was an unlucky move: the 3-0 breaks in spades and diamonds mean that 5 cannot make even on the awful heart lead, while 6 or 6 must be two down doubled. -500 being a bottom.
I was amused, among the wreckage, to note that opposite my ghastly freak my partner’s hand was entirely balanced. Bizarre. Muncchausen would have approved.