Prager_HeadshotSurely the day will come, must come, when there is nothing more to confess. No drifting off into inner space as the bidding or the play of the hand progresses. No pigheaded umbrage at having my solid gold partial upended by an overcall, only to have my oh-yeah! counter-raise left standing for down one doubled and vulnerable. No falling so in love with a hand that I subconsciously will my partner to have a fit for game, regardless of the opposition’s bidding. No trying to make up for an egregiously blown board by overreaching in the next one. And no more blinking when partner has passed – no more thinking that she’s holding a full opener when, in fact, my takeout double has forced her to bid with a paltry smattering of high card points.

I had landed Jo Ann smack dab in the middle of a minefield, an unmakeable 4X – which she proceeded to make. Why and how? For insight, we turn to an Æsop fable, The Miser:

A Miser had buried his gold in a secret place in his garden. Every day he went to the spot, dug up the treasure and counted it piece by piece to make sure it was all there. He made so many trips that a Thief, who had been observing him, guessed what it was the Miser had hidden, and one night quietly dug up the treasure and made off with it.

When the Miser discovered his loss, he was overcome with grief and despair. He groaned and cried and tore his hair. A passerby heard his cries and asked what had happened.

“My gold! O my gold!” cried the Miser, wildly, “someone has robbed me!”

“Your gold! There in that hole? Why did you put it there? Why did you not keep it in the house where you could easily get it when you had to buy things?”

“Buy!” screamed the Miser angrily. “Why, I never touched the gold. I couldn’t think of spending any of it.”

The stranger picked up a large stone and threw it into the hole. “If that is the case,” he said, “cover up that stone. It is worth just as much to you as the treasure you lost!”

Moral of the Story: A possession is worth no more than the use we make of it.

As indicated in the prior installment of Confessions, reconstruction of the play of the hand at the worm’s-eye level is neither possible nor necessary for exposure and exposition of the heart of the matter. There came a point, a smidge past midway, when Jo Ann’s righthand opponent, Margaret, sitting West, led a Club to dummy’s holding of same, each one a winner. By some intervention of the Order of Angels of the Undetected, Jo Ann’s Diamond losers had not yet been sniffed out and redeemed by East or West.
Winning the trick in dummy as Randolph followed suit with his singleton Club, Jo Ann proceeded to lead another, dumped a Diamond loser on it, and awaited Randolph’s ruff – which failed to materialize. What did come forth, however, was the good fellow’s diaphragmatic grunt of disgust as he discarded a Spade, holding back on his trump suit ammunition.

Nonplussed, but not showing it, Jo Ann led another Club from dummy, pitched another Diamond loser and, again, waited for the ruff – which, again, did not come. This time, to preserve his stash of trump, Randolph contributed what otherwise might have been a Diamond winner – emitting, in the process, an amplified version of the grunt issued one trick prior, accompanied by body language redolent of one delivering lashes from a cat-o’-nine-tails.

With the nonchalance of one who knows they’re getting away with murder, Jo Ann led the sole remaining Club from dummy, got rid of her last Diamond loser, and held her breath. His body atremble with the release of pent-up frustration, Randolph extracted a Heart from his hand as if pulling a tooth, whipped it onto the playing surface, and declared for all the world to hear, “There – okay? I trumped it!”

And by then it was too late. He had end-played himself, allowing Jo Ann to get rid of losers as he discarded at least one winner. By not spending the gold buried in his hand until he simply had to do so, he had performed an act of reverse alchemy, rendering his buried treasure incapable of defeating the contract. He had put himself in the position of having to lead a trump back to Jo Ann for a de facto free finesse, thereby facilitating her ninth and tenth winning tricks.

Randolph seemed to sense that Jo Ann’s good fortune was a fluke. “Why couldn’t you have led something else?” he challenged his partner.

“I’m practically a bust hand. I had nothing to lead,” Margaret protested. Being the charitably patient, understanding soul that she is, she did not parry Randolph’s lunge and risk bruising his gentle ursine ego by retorting, “Why didn’t you ruff her Clubs sooner?”

Picking up on Margaret’s empathetic distress signal, Jo Ann poured oil on the troubled waters: “Crazy, right? One board is all – and it’s off to bridge heaven” – a well-received benediction she had learned from Contessa.

It wouldn’t be until the following year or so that the club graduated from tedious and error-prone manual completion of scoresheets, called ‘travelers,’ to instantaneous electronic recording of bids and results via the Bridgemate Scoring System. Jo Ann penciled in the score, making 4X for Plus 590, folded the traveler twice over to shield the data, and tucked into the North end of the board, to be passed on to the next table, where it would be played for the last time.

Twenty-three minutes later, as “North” at the adjacent table unfolded that very same traveler to record 2S by East making three, he froze and stared in utter disbelief. “You can’t make four Hearts North-South, let along three!” he howled, unfrozen, as he swiveled and grimaced in our direction. “It’s not possible! This has got to be a mistake.”

I tried to be of assistance to the chap, a self-styled Tenured Professor of All Things Bridge, distraught by the prospect of an unseemly low board. “No mistake, my friend,” I consoled him. “Straight-up bid and made.”

“But how?”

“Chalk it up to strategy and execution, I guess. She’s just that good.”

On the way home, a transit of twelve miles in which Jo Ann tends to take maximum advantage of having a captive audience, she lowered the boom. “You’re going to need to spend some time back in boot camp, Grasshopper, paying close attention to the basics. Who’s the dealer? Who’s vulnerable. Who bid what and when? Situational dynamics. Context, context, context.”

“I know all that stuff. I can’t explain what happened today with that hand. I must’ve blinked.”

“I get that, but if you thought I’d opened bidding Hearts, then why would you double having four-card support? Furthermore, given that my bid was two Hearts, it would have been a weak opener anywhere except in pass-out position. The gears don’t mesh. Square pegs in round holes.”

“Well, you made four, didn’t you?” I pleaded, dodging her aptly barbed metaphors.

“Sorry, Mister, but you’ve been busted, all the way down your high-caloric ‘hierarchy of treats’ – all the way down from Ice Cream to Pasta.”

“Pasta, did you say? Angel Hair Marinara? Farfalle Carbonara? Capellini Fra Diavolo? Hmmm. I can live with that.”

(To Be Continued)

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