Before returning to Australia about a decade ago, Michael Courtney spent several years playing high-stake rubber bridge in London. Those of us who occasionally kibitzed him will never forget his sheer brilliance at the table. Michael has the pleasingly shambolic look of a mad professor, and his imagination seems to operate in a different dimension: he always has his eye on the deceptive card, the one to throw his opponents off the scent.
In the intervening years, he’s clearly lost none of his prowess: his team has just won the Australian trials. Hearing this news prompted his former wife Margaret — also a talented player — to post a message on Facebook saying that she had been reminded of the most amazing hand she’s ever watched, played by Michael at the rubber bridge table all those years ago. I’d not seen it before — and it’s lost none of its shock value.
West led the 6. Michael played dummy’s 10 and took East’s J with his K. Michael knew that if the diamond finesse failed the contract was doomed: he could tell from West’s lead of the 6 that he held no more than six spades (he could see the 4 and 3) and therefore that East must have another one to play back.
Michael took the diamond finesse. East won, and, unsure what to do, first cashed the K. West, keen to emphasise that he wanted a spade switch, played his J, denying the Q. East continued with his K, and Michael — in perfect tempo — played his Q! Seeing this, West was convinced that East had the rest of the hearts, and continued his ‘unblock’ by playing the 10. East now assumed his partner had started with J1097 and so played a low heart to Michael’s 9! What a joy to behold.