The Impossible Positive

As our weekly duplicate drew to a close, all the most experienced kibitzers began to gather around Papa’s table. There was a strong rumor afoot that the Greek and Karapet, the Rabbit and the Toucan, were far ahead of the field and that the clash between them on the last set of boards would decide the issue.

I was playing with Colin the Corgi, a facetious young man who had mastered the art of the cutting remark and has now turned to the technique of card play. One of our hands was thrown in, so we went over to watch the Rueful Rabbit.

As he picked up the hand, he counted his cards with extra care. I was to hear later about his spectacular holdup on another board, when he defeated a seemingly unbeatable contract by leaving the A in the slot.

This time RR was determined to hold as many cards as everyone else.

Dlr: South ♠ 9 6
Vul: Both K 8 6 5 2
A Q 8
♣ K Q 10
♠ Q 10 7 5 ♠ 8 2
Q 9 10 7 4 3
9 5 2 7 6 4 3
♣ 8 7 5 2 ♣ 6 4 3
♠ A K J 4 3
A J
K J 10
♣ A J 9
West North
T.T.
East South
R.R.
2♣
Pass 2NT Pass 3♠
Pass 4 Pass 5♣
Pass 5 Pass 5
Pass 5NT Pass 6
Pass 6NT Pass 7♣
All Pass

When we played this board the round before, the scoresheet showed and unbroken series of minuses for North-South. With 36 points between them, no pair had failed to reach a slam. Some bid 6NT, others 6♠, and two pairs finished in 6.

The key to the somewhat unorthodox sequence above by RR and TT lies in the Toucan’s 2NT response, a sophisticated gadget devised by the Hog for special use when he plays with the Rabbit. Inspired by Precision’s “Impossible Negative”, the notrump response is its logical counterpart — the “Impossible Positive.”

This is the theory behind it: obviously, if the hand is to be played in notrump, the Hog must be the declarer. Therefore, if the Rabbit bids notrump, the hand will be played in something else. The gadget is introduced whenever the Hog shows a powerful hand and the Rabbit has enough to envisage a slam but dares not bid his suit in case it should turn out to be the right suit to play in. Since the Hog usually knows what the Rabbit has better than does the Rabbit himself, the risk of missing the best contract is negligible.

This, however, was the first time RR had occasion to use the Impossible Positive with TT, and it was a new experience to be the senior partner. He knew how to set the machinery in motion, but was less conversant with the procedure for brining it to a halt.

The Toucan, for his part, had some difficulty in counting the Rabbit’s suits. How many did he have? Which of the four bid by him had four or more cards and which showed first, second and third round controls?

Carried on by an irresistible momentum, RR arrived at 7♣, intending it as a waiting bid — waiting for the Toucan to do something comstructive. The Toucan, who had run out of steam, thought of signing off in 7NT, but that would have made him declarer, so he preferred to pass.

Papa started with the 2. The Rabbit’s first idea was to set up the spades, but signals from both opponents put him off. What if one of them were telling the truth? Next he tried hearts, but when the queen came down on the second round, he gave that up, too.

While he ruminated, he cashed the diamonds. Papa has led the 2 showing a four-card suit, so it looked safe enough. By the time he came to the end of the diamonds, he had scored seven tricks, and it dawned on him that he could collect six more on a crossruff.

“I played like that,” he explained, “in case trumps broke badly. I mean someone might have had four. I forgot the odds, but . . . “

“Was everyone in it?” broke in TT excitedly, snatching the traveling score sheet.

“Half the field no doubt, played in 7,” suggested Colin the Corgi. “Without a trump lead it’s just as cold and six is unbreakable on any lead. That’s an admirable convention of yours,” he added, “for discovering a 3-3 fit.”

“Curious hand,” observed Oscar the Owl, our Senior Kibitzer. “No reasonable contract succeeds, no unreasonable contract fails.”

Papa gnashed his teeth. Karapet shrugged his shoulders wearily. “Against me.” he sighed, “anything is possible. Did I tell you what happened to me last . . .”

“Yes,” cried everyone in unison.

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