One of England’s foremost bridge players and most prolific writers on the subject, the author first introduced the characters in this article in a delightful book, Bridge in the Menagerie. Their counterparts can be seen at most card tables…By Victor Mollo
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.
| K Q 6 5
J 8 7 5
A J 2
| A 7 4
7 6 3
K 10 7 6 4
West opened the 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 J in dummy, the Hog led the 5. 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, 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 K as well as the A.
Placing declarer with five black cards, the Greek played the 4 on the second trick. When the Hog produced the J and West the 3, 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 J and continued with the 6. 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 A or play low? Papa reasoned that if the Hog’s spades were J-10-x, the A 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 J-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 J bare or if his spades were J-x and the ace descended ingloriously on the midget? To play as he had done, with J-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 K and Q and jeer at Papa for the rest of the evening.
Having thought it out carefully, the Greek played the 7 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.
| K Q 6 5
J 8 7 5
A J 2
| 9 8 3
10 3 2
10 9 8 4
5 3 2
| A 7 4
7 6 3
K 10 7 6 4
| J 10 2
A K Q 9
K Q 5
J 9 8
On the face of it, the slam was unbreakable if West had the K and unmakable if East had it. Everything hinged on a simple finesse, which any beginner could take, and what more could an expert do?
Gathering in the second spade trick with a satisfied air, the Hog drew trumps, played off the two remaining diamonds and exited with his third spade. With a bow he turned to Papa and asked graciously: «Would you care to play into the A Q, Themistocles? You know how I hate taking finesses.»
«You don’t seem to appreciate my bidding,» he said, winking knowingly at the kibitzers, «but I assure you that it’s a mistake to bid too well. You give a lot away to opponents, and partner will not understand you anyway—unless, of course, you are fortunate enough to be playing with a Goren or a Garozzo or, er, with me,» he added modestly.
«You should remember that for every partner you have two opponents and, in fooling all three, you are, every time, one fool to the good. An excellent bargain. Now take the last contract. Why did you present it to me? Because…»
«Because,» broke in the Greek heatedly, «you played as badly as you bid. Fancy risking two rounds of spades before drawing trumps! Wouldn’t you have looked silly if the suit had broken four-two? On the second round I would have gone up with the ace and given my partner a ruff, and all the time the king of clubs might have been on side. How could I envisage such bad play?»
«You couldn’t,» agreed the Hog, chortling, «but that’s just it. I could afford to play badly, as you seem to think, because I could rely on you to play well—scientifically, that is to say. Had either of you held an even number of spades, two or four, you would have solemnly signaled to each other—and to me on the way. But you played the 4 and the three respectively, and I had the deuce myself. As for drawing trumps, I couldn’t afford to let you see that I had only four. I had to keep you guessing about my distribution. Had you guessed correctly you would have avoided the end play, but I always had the club finesse to fall back on. But it’s better play, I think, to bring off one’s finesses whether they are right or wrong. By the way,» asked the Hog in his silkiest voice, «purely as a matter of curiosity, where was the K?»
Also at my club are two gentlemen known as the Rueful Rabbit and Timothy the Toucan, who are the firmest of friends. In secret, each suspects the other of being the worst player in the world, and both, of course, are right. When Goren asked me to introduce them to you, he assured me that there are one or two players in America who are no better—a tall claim, motivated, I suspect, by chauvinism. But even if it’s true, I refuse to believe that any wrongdoer in the States has a guardian angel so active, so unscrupulous or so consistently successful as has the Rabbit, for somehow no sin of his goes unrewarded. The next deal is a recent example.
| A J 4 3 2
A 8 7 6
K 9 8 5
| 9 6
J 9 7 6 5
Q 5 3
7 6 4
| K Q 10 8 7
J 10 9
Q J 10
A K Q 10 8 4
K 4 2
A 3 2
|Rabbit||Papa||Hog||Timothy The Toucan|
Opening lead: 9
The bidding calls, perhaps, for a word of explanation. The Hog doubled, not so much because he hoped to break the contract as because he expected Papa to go back to spades. All know that Timothy the Toucan—he owes his nickname to a long, shiny red nose and a habit of bouncing in his chair—rarely fails to lose two or three tricks in the play, while Papa relies on his superior technique to bring in two or three that aren’t there. A rescue operation was, therefore, clearly indicated.
Papa’s redouble was no less psychological than the Hog’s double. He reasoned that if the Toucan had the audacity to insist on hearts, after hearing the senior partner bid and rebid spades, he must have a long solid suit and an ace or two to spare.
The Rabbit opened the 9, and, after taking one look at dummy, the Toucan began bouncing excitedly at the prospect of an overtrick. The tops in the side suits—spade ace, diamond ace-king and club ace-king—would yield five tricks, and since, on the double, the Hog was marked with length and strength in trumps, Timothy would make all his own trumps by ruffing dummy’s spades in the closed hand.
Winning the first trick with dummy’s spade ace, the Toucan ruffed a low spade with the 4, cashed the A, crossed to dummy with the K and led another spade, intending to ruff in his hand. Already he had detached the 8 when there occurred an unfortunate diversion. The Rabbit, a lifelong abstainer from nonalcoholic drink, was trying out a glass of ice water. He was training to qualify for the brain drain to the U.S., and someone had told him that in America water was the national beverage. So he was practicing. Wincing at the unaccustomed taste, the Rabbit hastened to put down his glass and, in so doing, dropped his cards on the table. All but three, the jack-9-7 of hearts, came down face upward.
«Exposed cards,» cried Papa. «Do you know your rights, partner, under the laws?»
«Pick them up,» cried the Toucan chivalrously. «I’m not looking.»
«You have a duty to your partner,» insisted the Greek severely.
«Pick them up, I tell you,» repeated the Toucan. «In any case, I won’t call them.»
«Then,» replied the Rabbit, «I will select them myself—to your best advantage.»
«Two can play at that game,» countered T.T., and, replacing the heart 8, he ruffed the spade 3 ostentatiously with the ace. In the same movement the Rabbit underruffed defiantly with the 6. The Toucan laid down his diamond king. Smiling, the Rabbit threw his Q. Timothy crossed to dummy’s A and led another spade, ruffing blatantly with the king. Once more the Rabbit underruffed. Here is the five-card ending with the 5 and the 7 still exposed.
J 9 7
Q 10 8
The Toucan exiled with the 4, and, with the queen out of the way, the trick went to the jack. The Hog shot back a trump, declarer’s 8 losing to the 9. Now the 7, the last of the exposed cards, again gave the lead to the Hog, allowing him to play through declarer’s Q 10 at the 12th trick.
«I’ve never seen either of you play so well,» said a kibitzer, admiringly, to Timothy and the Rabbit.
«True,» agreed the Hog, «but that’s only because, being so noble, they were both trying to play badly.» And he proceeded to explain that without the two underruffs the Rabbit’s last five cards would have all been trumps. He would have had to ruff declarer’s third diamond and then return a trump into the queen-10-8. The Toucan would have exited with his last club and again the Rabbit would have been compelled to ruff and to lead a trump up to the queen-10. Instead of going down one, the Toucan would have made an overtrick.
| 8 7 5
Q J 10 9 8
J 3 2
| 9 6
K J 9 7 6 4 3
6 5 4 3 2
| Q J 10 4 2
10 8 2
Q 10 5 4
| A K 3
A K 9 8 7 6
|Hog||Timothy The Toucan||Rabbitt||Papa|
The guardian angel was in action once more on the deal shown above.
Anticipating little danger that partner would play this hand, Papa bid normally. To the Hog, a lead from his long, broken heart suit appeared unattractive, and, in fact, it would have allowed declarer to make 11 tricks after the routine safety play of a club to the 9. Seeing no future in diamonds either, H.H. led the 9.
Papa won with the spade ace, laid down the club ace, noted with a raised eyebrow the Hog’s 2 and continued with the diamond ace and K. When, on the K, the Rueful Rabbit threw the 2, the Greek closed his eyes the better to see the East-West hands. The K came into view at once. Since the Hideous Hog was marked with not fewer than five hearts, his only reason for not leading one must have been a reluctance to play away from the K. Regretfully Papa gave up the idea of setting up his clubs, since before he could enjoy that suit the Rabbit would take three spades and two clubs. Yet how could the contract be made without bringing in the clubs?
The solution came to Papa in a flash. At trick five he cashed his K and, exiting with the 3, put the Rabbit in the lead. With a confident smile he detached the ace of hearts, making ready to throw it on R.R.’s fourth spade.
In the postmortem, just before rigor mortis set in, the Greek gave us the key to his spectacular line of play. «Being virtually certain that the Hog had the K,» he told us, «it didn’t matter to me whether the Rabbit had four spades or five. He couldn’t take more than three tricks anyway. When he exited with a heart the Hog would be forced to give me an entry to dummy’s diamonds. All I had to do was get rid of my heart ace before a heart was led.»
Such was Papa’s pretty plan, and it surely would have succeeded but for an unforeseeable move by the Rabbit. Instead of cashing his two good spades, he switched to a heart. Papa was helpless. He played low but, as he had guessed from the first, H.H. had the king. A heart return to Papa’s ace, still there to mock him, locked him firmly in the closed hand. Only an end play in clubs allowed him to escape for one down.
Ignoring the Hog’s euphoric sneers, Papa turned to the Rabbit. «I know you didn’t mean it, but why did you do it? Surely you must have felt like making the most of those two splendid spades while you had the chance. What made you turn to hearts all of a sudden?»
«Perhaps I am not as unknowledgeable as you think,» replied R.R. with quiet dignity. «You wanted me to lead spades so that you could rectify the count, as they say, so that I should help you squeeze my partner….»
«What squeeze?» cried Papa in exasperation. «How many suits do you think there are? Diamonds are out of it, for they are all high in dummy, and you’ve seen the Hog show out in both black suits—and that leaves only hearts. So unless you’ve discovered a fifth suit, what is all this nonsense about a squeeze?»
The Rabbit bowed his head in shame. «I am sorry, Papa,» he said meekly. «I shall certainly review that squeeze business for I don’t seem to have the hang of it yet. Sometime, I may want to know all about it.»