There appears in English Bridge a series which by now is about as long as Coronation Street and nearly twice as funny called "Conventions you need to know". This, the work of Young Chelsea stalwart Jeremy Dhondy, has produced much invaluable instruction to EBU members. But it is my firm opinion, based on years of painful experience, that there are certain gadgets the game would be better off without. For example:
Ghestem. This unspeakable device for generating rulings, acrimony and enormous penalties was invented by the great French player Pierre – wait for it – Ghestem. I have never been sure whether the naming of conventions after their inventors is a result of egoism or merely lack of imagination. That imagination in this area is possible was once graphically demonstrated by Peter Burrows, another YC member, who used to play with David Stevenson. Their partnership methods included the following admittedly infrequent agreement that if a 5 response to Blackwood was doubled, a redouble asked partner to show how many kings he held, with the first response showing 0-2. This convention – Redouble Over Clubs for Kings in Excess of Two – took pride of place on their convention card, for obvious reasons.
But I digress. Ghestem in its original form is a system of two-suited overcalls that involves two harmless devices and one lethal one. Over a 1 opening, for example, a 2 overcall shows hearts and clubs, a 2NT overcall shows the minors – and a 3 overcall shows hearts and diamonds. It is the last of these that invariably produces this kind of auction:
West, of course, has a weak jump overcall in clubs, and given what passes for a weak jump these days, the resulting penalty is always in about Band E for council tax purposes. I remember as if it were yesterday – better, in fact, for ever since Warwick switched to a sensible brand of lager I don't always remember yesterday – the following deal from the Swiss Pairs at Brighton a couple of years ago:
(1) Modified Ghestem, showing spades and clubs. In an effort to reduce the disaster potential, and to make life harder for the opponents, we switch the meanings of a cue bid and the 3 overcall.
(2) The ethical call. Standard Ghestem involves cheating at this point by correcting to 4 (as in my first example auction above), but North is obliged to proceed as though he had not heard South's alert and explanation of 3, so North must pretend that South is bidding his own spades in the expectation of a weak jump in clubs opposite.
Since Jean-Marc Roudinesco's inestimable Dictionary of Suit Combinations fails to cover a combined trump holding of 63 facing 752, I was left to my own devices in the play. Though the defence, as always happens on these occasions, failed to extract the maximum penalty, our score of minus 2000 was still a shade below average. North, of course, claimed that he had been fixed by the vulnerability – if it had been the other way round, we would have found a good sacrifice against our opponents' laydown grand slam. For reasons of which I have since been deeply ashamed, I failed to treat this argument with the sympathy that it deserved.
Now, in theory the Ghestem convention is without doubt technically superior to the Michaels cue bid. Often, you will have a hand such as:
7432 K6 A3 AJ865
on this kind of auction:
and you won't know what to do. If partner has hearts and clubs, then you should bid; if partner has hearts and diamonds, then you should double (if partner is a human being) or pass (if partner is a junior). When the overcall specifies partner's two suits precisely, you are much better placed than when you know only that he has one minor. But you don't get marks for technical merit at bridge, and you don't need Ghestem.
Postscript. The French magazine Le Bridgeur carried a story last year that involved this auction:
The contract was one down, but East-West had a cold game in spades. The Director, the Appeals Committee, and the Vatican Council amended the result to three diamonds doubled minus six. The name of the North player was Pierre – well, you've probably guessed him by now.