Poor Bridge of the Week
The Ghost of Poorbridge Past
By Phil Smith

In Charles Dickens' classic tale of repentance, A Christmas Carol, the lead character is visited by three spirits who show him a thing or two about his life and where he's going. Thanks to my British comprehensive education, I'm not sure exactly what happens in the book as I haven't read it. But I have seen several versions of this yarn on the television, the best of which is easily The Muppet's Christmas Carol. Anyway, from watching the various films I've noticed that the three ghosts of Christmas are rather frightening and sadistic characters, while what they show Mr. Scrooge is just lamentable and sad.

I was visited by what I believe to be the Ghost of Poorbridge Past last night. From this visit, I can tell you that, in contrast to the Christmas ghosts, the ghosts of poorbridge are not frightening figures, but actually middle aged men who have played bridge for ages. In fact, the Ghost of Poorbridge Past is actually called Stuart Davies — not a frightening figure at all. It is what this ghost showed me that was truly frightening. Here is a Frankenstein of a hand that occurred in the merry year of 1997:

HJ 8 5 3 2
DK Q J 10 9 8 6 3
SA K Q J 10 6 5 3 2
CK 6
DA 5 4 2
CA Q 10 9 5 4 3
S9 8 7
HA Q 10 9 7 6
CJ 8 7 2

As my eyes gradually became accustomed to the hazy light in the vision of poorness, I could see the image of a real freak deal developing in my retina. Good, good, this should be spectacular, I thought, as the ghost ran through the sacred tablet, which was entitled 'psyche report form' for some reason. It seems that the ghost himself played the hand as West and the auction was:


On a hand where anything might work, this auction is perhaps as good as anything else. It was the play that was frightening. The DK is led, ace from dummy and, much to the dismay of the ghost, this is ruffed by South. Next, South leads a heart back and the contract. Yes you read that right, South led back "a heart" NOT the HA, and West claimed 12 tricks before anything else could go wrong.

A shiver ran down my spine as the kind of cold wind that would blow in a movie magically blew across the vision of poorness. But this was not all the ghost had to show me about this hand. At a different table that day, a respected player who was only identified at 'Tony' was sitting South. He had found himself in the highly makeable 6HX contract. OK, it's completely cold. This is how the play proceeds:

The lead is the SA, which is ruffed in dummy. [SA — H2 — S4 — S9]
The DK is covered by East and ruffed by declarer. [DK — DA — H6 — D7]

Now declarer, noting that it was East that doubled, decided that that player had Kx of trumps and decided to enter dummy with a spade ruff to take the finesse. So the play to trick three was actually [S7 — S10 — H3 — H4].

Should declarer have simply ruffed with the five (a completely zero cost play), there would have been no problem and the contract would have been made. Had declarer not been foolish with his greed, the contract would have been made. The result was rather more embarrassing: a diamond was returned by East and the trump promotion defeats the completely cold contract.

Just as I finished scribbling down the details on a piece of paper, the ghost left me abruptly, "because it was late", and I was left to ponder on just why I had been given this great vision of poorness and what it meant. What would a bridge-playing Scrooge make of the deal? Would he start to see the errors of his ways and his foolish greed? Or would he continue to shout "humbug" and ruff low for no earthly reason? And would I be visited again by the ghost?

Watch this space to find out...