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“Murder?” She Asked - Bridge

The early rounds of the Crime Writers' Association annual knockout teams tournament produced no surprises and the top seeds reached the last eight. The featured quarterfinal match was a closely fought contest between the teams of the two illustrious British authoresses, Dame Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, Baroness of Baberg. Most of the 24 boards played were pretty flat, promising only small swings, but in one of the early boards, the spectators in the open room were treated to the successful execution of a rare triple squeeze:

        North

        ♠ K

        Q 10

West

         Q J 10 9 7 4 2

        East

♠ 8 7 3

        ♣ A J 2

        ♠ Q J 10 4 2

8 7 6 4 2

        ♥ K J 3

5

        South  

        6 3

♣ 10 9 7 3

        ♠A 9 6 5

        ♣ Q 8 6

        A 9 5

        ♦ A K 8

        ♣ K 5 4

The bidding was as follows:

South

      West

      North

      East

1♣

      Pass

      2

      2 ♠

4NT

      Pass

      5

      Pass

5NT

      Pass

      6

      Pass

7NT

      Pass

      Pass

      Pass

Hercule Poirot, sitting South, dealt and opened 1C. His partner, Dame Christie, bid 2D, showing a good six-card, or longer, diamond suit. Poirot brushed off East's 2SP interference bid and, after enquiring about Aces and Kings, proceeded to a grand slam.

Poirot won the opening lead with the ♠K in dummy. He counted 12 top tricks. Since, as he correctly perceived, the missing high cards were with East and the finesses for the ♣Q was unlikely to succeed, he went about squeezing East for the thirteenth trick. In quick order, he crossed to his hand with ♣K, cashed the ♠A on which he discarded dummy's 10, ran 5 diamond tricks and cashed dummy's ♣A to leave the following four-card ending:

        North

        ♠ -

        ♥ Q

West

        9 7

        East

       ♣ J

         ♠ Q

8 7 6

        K J

-

        South

         ♦ -

♣ 10

        ♠ 9

        ♣ Q

        ♥ A 9 5

        ♦ -

 

        ♣ -

The lead of the 9 from dummy caught East in a vice. Whatever the latter discarded, Poirot would get the extra trick needed. "Well played, Hercule," Dame Christie remarked. "Thank you ma'am" replied Poirot, "but the squeeze was automatic, and, with Chief Inspector Wexford and Baroness Rendell playing our cards in the closed room, I do not expect a significant swing."

How right he was. As it turned out the opponents in the closed room bid and made a grand slam in diamonds and the 80-point difference was worth a mere 2 IMPs to the Christie team. As it turned out the Christie team won the match by 19 IMPs, the only really large swing coming in board 23 with a vulnerable 3NT contract made in the open room and one down in the closed room:

        North

        9 8 3

         Q 10 4

West

        ♦ Q J 10

        East

♠ Q J 10 7 6

        ♣ A 8 7 5

         A 4

6 5 3

         J 9 8 7

4 2

       South

        ♦ A 8 7 6 5

♣ J 9 6

       ♠ K 5 2

        ♣ K 2

        ♥ A K 2

        K 9 3

        ♣ Q 10 4 3

"How's that possible?" remarked Poirot, twiddling his waxed mustache. "It was an open-and-shut case. I dealt and bid INT which Dame Agatha raised to game. West started with the ♠Q. East won with the ♠A and returned the suit. I ducked and won the continuation with the ♠K. I next crossed to dummy's ♣A and continued with the 5 of that suit. East won with the ♣K but had no spade to reach his partner. I still had to knock out theA but, with the clubs breaking 3-2, I ended up with 9 tricks - 3 clubs, 2 diamonds, 3 hearts and a spade. All pretty standard stuff. How did Wexford manage to murder the contract? He's supposed to solve crimes, not commit them."

"Murder?" asked Geraldine McEwan defiantly. She had been playing West in the closed room opposite her alter ego, Jane Marple. "How typical of a male to infer that it was Wexford's mistake rather than our defense that caused his down fall. You of all people should know we are not the dotty "little old ladies" we appear to be. In fact, it was dear Jane's brilliant play that did the trick, so to speak. The early play went exactly as it did at your table. However, when Wexford played clubs at trick four, Miss Marple dropped her King under dummy's ♣A. Wexford could now no longer get a third club trick without conceding a trick to my ♣J and giving me entry to cash a high spade. One off."

Mustering all his Belgian charm, Poirot conceded: "Quite, quite brilliant, my dear Miss Marple. I intended no slight, I assure you, but nevertheless my humblest apologies, Mesdames. My remark was thoughtless."

Later that evening, Dame Agatha further chided the contrite Poirot: "Yes, and quite out of character, I am bound to say."

Author's note: The reader would be correct in the belief that most hands appearing in Bridge columns and books are not taken from real play at the table but are fabricated to convey a point. If they do come from real hands, they are often post-mortem analyses of what should have been played or discarded rather than what actually was done. The above two hands, however, occurred in an online bridge tournament in which I played a few weeks ago. I was declarer in the 7NT contract but that, as Poirot put it, "was an automatic squeeze". My anonymous partner's jettison of the ♣K under dummy's ♣A in the second hand remains one of the most inspired defensive plays I have ever witnessed at the table. 

 

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Wednesday, 17 August 2022

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