Too Much Mesmerism

“You may not think I am one of the best players in the world . . .” began Papa, striking a controversial note as we sat sipping sherry in the Griffin’s bar. He paused, waiting for murmurs of dissent.

The Rabbit nodded tactlessly , but the Greek didn’t notice as he resumed in a less defeatist mood.

“It isn’t enough to play perfectly, as I know from bitter experience. The knack of making opponents play badly is important, too. Take the Blue Team. Their artistry isn’t in question, but if you look at the records, you will find their opponents are invariably out of form.

“No, no Karapet,” he went on, silencing the Armenian who was about to open his mouth. “It isn’t a question of being able to play only as well as the opponents let you. Against the Italians, the best players make the silliest mistakes. They wouldn’t make them against anyone else. They are mesmerized and mentally concede defeat from the start. Giorgio himself has said so more than once, and that’s what happened to me. They . . . ”

“Do you mean your opponents are mesmerized?” broke in Oscar the Owl, our senior kibitzer.

“No,” replied Papa bitterly, “his opponents are mesmerized, while my partners exhibit an inexplicable death wish.”

Of course, Papa was referring to his arch enemy, the Hideous Hog, his sad soliloquy being inspired by a hand which had come up in the last rubber that afternoon.

Dlr: South ♠ 9 8 2
Vul: All K 6 5
J 10 4
♣ J 9 6 5
♠ K Q J 10 43
A K 6 3
♣ A K 7
South
H.H.
West
T.T.
North
W.W.
East
Papa
2♠ Pass 2NT Pass
3 Pass 3♠ Pass
4♣ Pass 4♠ Pass
6♠ All Pass

The Hog’s bidding seems to be a trifle optimistic at first sight, but as he explained later, he could virtually see 12 tricks from the start.

Since he had no hearts, his partner, the Walrus, should have four, if not five, as his fair share. He had twice given preference in spades, so he would have three trumps, conceivably four. How many cards did that leave for the minors? At worst, five, but maybe four. And was there any law against his having some useful card like the Q or the ♣Q?

Finally, shouldn’t some allowance be made for such desirable opponents as Timothy the Toucan and Papa the Greek? Couldn’t they be relied on to co-operate?

As dummy came into view, HH looked disapprovingly at the Walrus. He had exactly what he said he had, and when a bad player does that, he is bound to take his partner unawares.

The Toucan made up somewhat for a disappointing dummy by leading the A, an unlucky lead from his point of view, but hardly a crime. Better players have been known to lead aces against slams.

The Hog ruffed high, keeping his low trumps as links with dummy, and played the ♠K to Papa’s ♠A. The Q came back.

The average declarer would have quickly discarded his club loser and staked the contract on the diamond finesse. The Hog looked further ahead. The ♥K wouldn’t run away and neither would the diamond finesse. Meanwhile there was the additional chance of finding East with a singleton or doubleton ♣Q, and if so, the ♥K and the fourth clubs — after the marked finesse against West’s ♣10 — would provide discards for two diamonds. No need then to risk the finesse.

Ruffing the Q high, the Hog laid down the ♣A, then the ♣K, Papa followed with the ♣8 and ♣Q!

Seeing his technique justly rewarded, the Hog nodded approvingly. He drew trumps, laid down the A, the K, and led his last spade. The Toucan, bouncing excitedly, his red nose aglow, discarded the ♣4. Clearly he was pleased with himself.

With a triumphant jeer, the Hog spreads his hand. This was the deal in full:

Dlr: South ♠ 9 8 2
Vul: All K 6 5
J 10 4
♣ J 9 6 5
♠ 7 6 5 ♠ A
A 10 8 4 Q J  9 7 3 2
8 5 2 Q 9 7
♣ 4 3 2 ♣ Q 10 8
♠ K Q J 10 4 3
A K 6 3
♣ A K 7

“Why did you throw that ♣4?” cried Papa in anguish. “I found the only way to beat an unbeatable slam. After your crazy lead, with the diamond finesse right, no one could lose the contract. So I fooled him with that ♣Q. Anyone would have fallen for it, if only you hadn’t given the whole show away. Why, oh why, did you discard that club?”

“To give you count, of course,” replied the Toucan in injured tones, “so you could place every club . . .”

“Too much mesmerizim all ’round,” observed O.O. gravely.

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