Flight of the Aces

Perhaps the most maddening of Charlie the Chimp’s habits is the one of concentrating on whatever he is not doing at the time. No matter what hand he is playing, his attention is invariably riveted elsewhere. He was at his very worst the other day in a rubber in which he and the Hideous Hog opposed Papa the Greek and Karapet, the Unlucky.

On the first hand Papa made game. The next one he played in an easy 1♠, and to while the time away, the Chimp communed with a kibitzer about the stock market. “I bought the at 86,” he was saying. “That was before Consolidated Keyholes had even begun to bid for Voids and Vacuums. Diamonds? I sold my De Beers at . . . oh, sorry, yes, of course I have a diamond.”

On the next hand the Chimp was dummy so he turned to the next table and he was soon shaking his head in disapproval as he followed the play. “You had more than enough to make an effort,” he told Walter the Walrus severely. “Why partner’s game rebid promised something like 20 points and . . .”

“Four hearts!” grunted the Hog, who had now finished distributing these cards:

The auction is less incongruous than it appears at first sight: The Hog was stretching in view of the vulnerability and the partial. The Chimp made the right bid, though at the wrong table. Behind him, the Walrus’ partner had opened one heart and rebid four hearts over Walter’s one spade response. With his attention focused on the sequence at the other table and his eyes on the present North hand his auction was inevitable.

Papa doubled as a mark of disrespect for the Hog and because he expected to defeat the contract. Karapet passed in bewilderment. How could Papa double all on his own when he held two aces, one of them the ace of trumps? Yet a premonition, born of long and bitter experience, told him that something would surely go wrong.

Though no lead looked particularly attractive, Papa settled on the ♠2 because the Hog’s preemptive opening suggested a fear of spades. The Hog inserted dummy’s eight and Karapet pondered: If Papa had led from a four card suit, as the two suggested, the Hog was void of spades. If, on the other hand, Papa had led a singleton, the ace would not run away. Karapet put up the ♠9 and the Hog won with the bare queen.

A low diamond at trick two gave Papa only a moment’s thought — the Hog was now marked with the ♠A and would hardly open four hearts with and ace-queen and a king in the side suits. The Greek played low and dummy’s queen won. The ♠K now forced the ace from Karapet. The Hog ruffed and crossed to the ♣A to discard the K on the ♠J. Next came the 10. Karapet played low and so did Papa, expecting the Hog to repeat the finesse at the next trick. The Hog, however, ruffed a diamond to his hand and led a low trump towards the table.

Tossed from horn to horn of a horrible dilemma, Papa gnashed his teeth in anguish. Dare he play low? Was it conceivable that the Hog had preempted at the four-level on a six-card suit headed by the Q-J? Conversely, was it likely that having brought off a successful finesse he would deliberately give up the chance of repeating it? Had his own double given the position away?

Papa could already hear the long and loud jeers of the Hog if he misguessed — but the jeers would be louder and longer if Papa failed to take the trick at all. With a half suppressed curse in his native language, the Greek went up with the K and Karapet’s ace came crashing down within the instant.

Recriminations bellowed thick and fast across the table. “Why didn’t you . . . ?” “Do you suppose I was doubling for one down?” . . . “Why?” . . . “Why????”

“Curious hand,” observed Oscar the Owl, our senior kibitzer. “Three aces vanish into thin air and neither side enjoys the ace of trumps.”

The Hog, in rare good humor, insisted on having the last word. “How often have I told you, Themistocles,” he said, winking at the kibitzer, “that these light doubles of yours don’t pay?”

Charlie the Chimp, completely unaware that his action had cause the ruction, had already focused his attention on an opening lead problem at an adjoining table.