Two rare sightings
Watch bridge long enough, and you’ll see everything. In the last two days, I’ve seen two things that are very rare at the top levels of bridge.
First, yesterday morning, I saw a deal passed out. With today’s light opening bids and myriad of 1-, 2- and 3-suited weak two-bids, the passout is an endangered species; I don’t actually remember the last time I saw one.
In the afternoon, an even rarer bird poked up its head. Watch carefully, and maybe you’ll spot it it too. After a morning spent watching 16 boards of not very good bridge between India and Russia (to be fair, my old friend and partner Subhash Gupta was playing in an unfamiliar partnership), we were offered a feast of superb cut and thrust in the second match, as we saw Meckwell take on one of the top Dutch pairs, Berkens and Bakkeren. I was fortunate to be on a commentary team for this set that was also great fun: humourist David Bird and Dutch journalist Jan van Cleeff, both of whom I know well; Linda was also able to join us for the latter part of the match.
Enough scene-setting: here’s the deal I want to talk about (rotated for convenience).
For the purpose of this exercise, you are Jeff Meckstroth. Despite RHO’s spade overcall, you have become declarer in 6♥ , and the opening lead is the ♠ 5. The first part of the play is straightforward and routine: win the ♠ A, draw trumps (RHO had the stiff queen), cash the ♠ K throwing a diamond from hand, ruff your last spade, and cash two top clubs ending in hand. This brings you to here:
At this point, having eliminated the black suits, you advance a small diamond towards dummy and await events. If the ♦ K holds, which is likely whoever has the ace, you intend to return to hand with a trump and play up to the ♦ Q again, winning if the ♦ A is onside or there’s a doubleton jack somewhere. If RHO has a doubleton ace he can’t duck, since he’s going to be endplayed on the next round, so if he has doubleton AJ or A9 we’re home as well — he’s going to have to win the ♦ A and return his other diamond, and all will be clear. However, events take a surprising turn when LHO plays the ♦ 3, and RHO wins the ♦ A and returns the ♦ 4.
Well, let’s think about this, remembering that RHO is a world-class player. If he started with doubleton A4 we are going down, and if he had AJ4 or AJ94, all he had to do was duck the trick to avoid the endplay and defeat the slam. So we can eliminate those. What remains is RHO having started with A94. If he ducked the ♦ A from that holding we were going to see LHO’s ♦ J next round and make the hand, so he’s taken his only chance to beat us by giving us a guess, hoping we’ll go wrong and put in the ♦ 10. Well, that’s not going to fool us: we confidently insert the ♦ 8 — and are horrified to see West produce the ♦ 9! Even more horrifying, it is RHO who takes the setting trick with his ♦ J. This was the full deal (still rotated):
Did you spot the rara avis to which I referred at the start of this blog? Yes, gentle reader, it’s a Grosvenor. In the June 1973 The Bridge World, Frederick Turner wrote a humorous (and fictional) article describing a tactic employed by his eponymous protagonist Grosvenor: a defender would deliberately make an error, giving the declarer an opportunity to make a contract which he refuses, expecting rational defense. The idea was to mess with declarer’s mind for later deals. The term Grosvenor Gambit entered the bridge vernacular at that point and has been a standard term ever since. You just don’t see them that often in expert play.
But here is a Grosvenor in its full glory, at a World Championship, no less. All our Dutch defender had to to was duck the ♦ A, and Meckstroth had to go down. Once he won the ace and played a diamond back, the slam could be made — but how was declarer ever going to work that out?