I walked into the cardroom on a recent Saturday morning, expecting few if any tables to kibitz for a few moments before an appointment that afternoon. To my surprise there were almost a dozen tables playing rubber bridge. I stopped at one table and watched a player in an ice-cold slam with a ten-card trump fit to the ace-king. He wasted no time ensuring no chance for the overtrick by starting his trump suit by playing low from both hands, losing to a singleton five. As the claim of the rest was being made, I noticed the Hideous Hog-In-Training playing at a table across the room. I approached and sat down behind the Hog and said "you'll never guess what I just witnessed."
The Hog swallowed the rest of his croissant and cut the cards standing up. I followed him to the coffee area and he said "let me try: a first round trump trick won by the five, perhaps?" I looked at him in surprise.
"We are waiting," began the Hog by way of explanation, "for the imminent arrival of the Honourable Duncan Angus McAllister, the former leader of the Ultra-Conservative Party. He is presenting the club with a trophy to be given annually based on the play in the rubber game today, and every first Tuesday in April in future. Apparently his bridge taste is akin to his politicsit has been leaked that he's a great fan of safety plays. Excuse me." The Hog rushed back to his table where cards were waiting for him. Meanwhile, a large lectern with a microphone was being moved to one side of the cardroom, and I helped in this endeavour. When this was done, a procession of people in expensive suits entered the room to a stately march played on a loudspeaker, and I took a seat near the far wall.
The Honourable Mr. McAllister would have been described by Groucho Marx as "well over four feet," and looked to be well into his tenth decade. Certainly he was older than any three of his assistants put together. Eventually the club manager introduced the former political icon, and there was a farce played out as the assistants tried several methods of equalizing the height difference between McAllister and the lowest possible level of the microphone. As this was going on I noticed most of the tables were still playing quietly. Finally four telephone books were found for each of McAllister's legs and we could see his nose and forehead above the lectern.
"Ladiesare there any? Ah, yes, there are, good. Ladies and gentlemen," he began in the familiar brogue of the Highlands that we all remember from the early days of televised Question Periods, "it gives me great pleasure to donate the McAllister Trophy, and preside over the first session of itsexcuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I realize I am a little late and that the scheduled session has already begun, but could we perhaps curtail play for a few moments so that the trophy can be formally presented and the contest rules laid out?"
A slow murmur faded away slowly. Amid the moving of chairs to face the lectern, the last sound clearly heard was the Hog's voice saying "Ace of spades, please."
"Thank you," said McAllister when all the noise had ceased. "The McAllister trophy will be contested annually on the first Tuesday in April, over the course of a four-hour session of rubber bridge for the club's usual stakes. The selection committee, this year consisting of myself as chairman, and the four gentlemen on my right, will accept accounts of unusual plays which guarantee the contract against any potential distribution, often referred to as safety plays. The more outlandish the distribution catered for in the play of the hand, the better the declarer's chance of winning the trophy. It does not matter if the freakish distribution catered for is unlikely in the extreme, what matters is that the contract be made no matter what." And as McAllister thanked everyone for the turnout and wished all participants the best of luck, the Hog approached the lectern.
He shook hands with McAllister as the great man descended from his telephonic directorial platform, and we all (including McAllister himself, I suppose) expected that the Hog In Training had been asked to thank him on behalf of the club. HHIT moved the telephone directories away with his foot and took the microphone. "I'd like to thank the Honourable Mr. McAllister on behalf of the club and all the participants for his kind donation of the McAllister Trophy. I graciously accept the trophy in advance, for in all honesty I cannot imagine a play more in keeping with the goal of the contest than the one I have just made." McAllister's head shot up in surprise, and he was not the only one to do so. "If you'd like to walk over to table seven, you'll see the bidding and the play to trick one, and I'll explain the significance of my play from here."
A crowd quickly formed around table seven, where bidding cards were still on the table and two cards had been played to the first trick. This was the layout:
The Hog's LHO had led the ace of hearts and the Hog-In-Training had ruffed with the ace of spades.
"It may not be obvious at first that the lead of the ace of hearts puts the contract of six spades in jeopardy. Clearly though, there is a diamond loser. Also, LHO's three heart overcall came just as the lectern was being set up on the stage and shortly after I had returned from a break to refill my coffee cup. Could it be that the heart lead was going to be overruffed?"
There was a tumult of skeptical hooting. A 12-card heart suit nets a mere single jump to the three level? Whatever was in the Hog-In-Training's coffee?
"Observe first that if RHO follows to the heart," continued the Hog as several shouted "but of course he will" loudly, "the contract is not in any greater jeopardy due to my ruffing with the ace. I simply duck a diamond at trick two and there will always be a spade in dummy for the fourth round of diamonds even if I must pull trumps in three rounds. If diamonds are 5-0 and the player void of diamonds ruffs at trick two I must only pull two rounds of trumps maximum and I'll have two diamond ruffs in dummy available. The contract fails if the player with five diamonds wins and gives his partner an immediate ruff, but in that case my play to trick one is irrelevant."
There was apparently a tacit agreement that this was so.
"So, the only remaining danger," continued the Hog, "is that the heart lead is ruffed. The play of the ace caters to this extremely remote 12-0 heart break and does not endanger the contract. If hearts are 12-0, I continue by playing a spade to the king, and then the ace of diamonds. These two tricks will tell me the suit of the card which accompanies the twelve hearts. If LHO has a trump to go with his hearts, it has been pulled and I can pull the last trump, duck a diamond and claim. If LHO's 13th card is a diamond, I must pull three rounds of trumps but here diamonds are 4-1 and not 5-0, so after ducking I need only one diamond ruff in dummystill easy. If LHO is 0-12-0-1, this means RHO started with three spades and all five diamonds, so I need two diamond ruffs in dummy. Still no problem, I duck a diamond, and await the return. If a trump comes back I win in hand, cash the king of diamonds, ruff a diamond, ace of clubs, another diamond ruff, king of clubs, club ruff back to hand, pull the last trump and claim. If a diamond comes back I win the king, play a high trump, and continue as before: diamond ruff, ace of clubs, another diamond ruff, king of clubs club ruff, pull the last trump, claim. If a club comes back I win in dummy, play a trump to my hand, cash the king of diamonds, ruff a diamond, ace of clubs, ruff a diamond, ruff a club, pull the last trump and claim."
This all took a few minutes to verify. The Hog In Training waited patiently. Finally McAllister emerged from the throng of players, walked over to the lectern and handed the trophy to the Hog In Training and shook his hand. A short speech by McAllister effectively ended the inaugural competition and players began to leave. Eventually I was alone with the Hog, who was examining the cards held by the opponents, which up to that point had remained face down and completely unexamined.
"Well, that was quite a triumph," I began.
The Hog In Training motioned for me to sit down in his seat, and took the seat to the right. He chose thirteen cards from the twenty-six held by the opponents and tossed them across the table, the ace of hearts face up atop the pile. "Play the hand," he said. "I promise you, diamonds are not 5-0 and hearts are not 12-0. I invite you to play the contract, redoubled, at the usual stakes."
"But then it is cold! You just said so and McAllister agreed." How could I lose? I called for the ace of spades from dummy and the Hog in Training played a small heart.
"That McAllister's bridge is as near-sighted as his politics," said HHIT as I played a diamond to his queen. I ducked and the Hog in Training turned over a small diamond from the other hand. "He concentrates so much on crazy 'safety plays' that he doesn't really know what surprises bridge can give." The Hog In Training now led the three of hearts and I ruffed in hand with the three of spades. He let a great peal of laughter as he turned over the eight of spades from the other hand! I looked and discovered that the opening leader, who had made the jump overcall in hearts in the original layout, had in this replay 3-1-4-5 distribution! The "impossible" uppercut ensured an incredible down one!
"For example," said the Hog in Training, as I paid him the equivalent of 200 points (thank goodness I wasn't vulnerable!), "I don't think McAllister would expect a psyche if his wallet depended on it. Hah!"