Friday, January 25, 2019

Don’t disappoint partner

Why do you play bridge? Or what do you like at bridge?

I know the answer to the last question: you like to have points. You like to play the contract. When you don’t have points, you lose interest. And if you have a series of bad hands, you start to complain. So when this hand arrives, first seat, you are out of concentration.

Obviously, partner chooses this moment to open 2♣.

You put your bid on the table carelessly, everyone can guess you've got nothing. Bad, bad!

You and your partner didn't discuss follow-ups to 2. You should have, but you don’t like it when it becomes complicated. You don’t have a spade fit, you have 3 points, you can’t pass 2♠, so you bid 2NT.

Partner continues to torture you with 3. What do you do?

Well, you have to decide. Are you a bridge player or not? Are you still grouchy about your last 2 or 3 bad hands? Do you see only your own hand? Are you going to rebid 3NT because you don't care? Do you still think this hand is BAD?

Don't forget you're in a PARTNERSHIP. Is there anything you can do to HELP partner? Can you tell him something that could maybe be music to his ears? Look at your hand calmly and think.

Partner has a strong hand with at least 5♠ and 4. What are the most important words in the last sentence?

Those words are AT LEAST. Partner has AT LEAST 5♠. If he has 6♠, your Qx would be very nice for him, right? How can you learn about that? Why would you want to learn? Why not TELL him something? Do you see?

Your 2NT rebid already denied a fit. I hope you would not have rebid 2NT if you had 3 cards in spades. Some masterminds holding 3334 would do that. That would be very bad, and very unpartnershiplike. I know this is not a word :).

SUPPORT WITH SUPPORT, said a world champion.

2NT said: Sorry, partner, I don’t have 3 cards in spades. Good bid from you. But now, what can you bid?

Do you think that Qx in spades is nice? I think so. But I have only 3 points, you say.

Stop thinking only about you, think about PARTNERSHIP. You have to imagine partner’s hand. Could he have 6♠? He could. Even if he has only 5♠ like AKJxx, your Queen is gold.

So tell him the good news: 3♠! Partner, I have Hx in spades.

Partner jumps straight to 4NT.

Is he crazy? Didn't I tell him I have nothing? You start to regret your 3♠. Why is he asking me for controls when he knows I have nothing? Because it is the only way for him to verify that your 3♠ bid was showing the Queen.

The 2 hands.

Spades break, a nice small slam with 23 points. If spades broke 4-1, that would be very cruel after this brilliant bid of 3♠ from you :).

You may be disappointed with your hand, especially after 2 or 3 in a row.

But remember: bridge is a democratic game. All players in your seat will have the same cards. So stop complaining.

One thing is certain: you should never disappoint partner by being lazy or sloppy. Even more: beware if that partner is your wife :).

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bridge is a simple (Cats') game

Grisabel (Grizabella) is the main character of Cats, the unforgettable musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. She sings the most recognizable of all songs, Memory, where she remembers her youth: I was beautiful then, she laments.

You play 6.

Take your time so you don't lament: I should have thought about it.

Lead is J. How do you play ?

My partner, BBOer Grisabel from Umbria made short work of the hand, proving bridge is a very simple game for a cat.

Just count your tricks: 6 hearts, 2 diamonds, 1 club = 9. You need 3 other tricks. Where can you find them?

Look at the spade spots in dummy. Once the King is out, you have 4 spade tricks available, but you need only 3 spade tricks for 12 tricks. How do you establish the spades?

Grisabel took the lead with the Ace, played immediately the King and discarded the... ♠Ace

She then ran the ♠Queen, discarding a club, taken by LHO.

Claim!‼ No lament.

Imagination is more important than knowledge

"Imagination is more important than knowledge," said Einstein.

This hand occurred on BBO in a JEC match last week. You have:

And see (not hear!) partner open... 1♣.

You play Walsh, so you know partner has 5 clubs and 4 spades (in some rare instances, partner could have 44).  How convenient!  You envision a club slam. 

Do you jump to KCB? No. Control your emotions. Take your time.

You play XYZ where 2 is GF. Here it coincides with 4th suit forcing, more classical.

You know (almost) everything about partner's distribution: 4 spades, at most 1 heart, at least 3 diamonds and at least 5 clubs.  Partner cannot have 4144, he would have opened 1.

Now, if you want to play a slam in clubs, you have to set trumps.  So you have to bid 4♣.

But wait!

You have to ask yourself: who should ask for keycards?  Partner, or you?  This is very important.  Who will benefit more from asking?  Who can extract the maximum information from KCB?  You know you have the KQ of trumps, so that Q is not critical anymore.

Here, if your partner goes KCB, he will know about your Aces and King and Queen of trumps, he will be able to ask if you have the K of heart, but not the spade Queen, which could be the most precious card in your hand if he has AK.  The spade Q is maybe the 13th trick.  Unless you play exotic asking bids, which happen at very high level.  You have discussed sometimes about those rare birds, but never seriously sat down to establish a FIRM understanding of that machinery.

So you say to yourself: I have to ask for keycards.  But wait ‼

If you go 4NT, will partner know you are asking with clubs as trumps?  No.  Hum…!  What now?

The more you think, the less you know how to go about this business.

How can I set trumps and not let partner ask for keycards?  You have to go KCB yourself, before he does.

Think again.

What do you want to know?  You want to know if partner has the Ace of clubs and AK of spades.  That would make 12 tricks with a spade ruff if necessary.  But if partner has the K of diamonds, that would make 13.  Do you see the light dawning a bit in your brains?

Imagination is more important than knowledge chimes into your head, and you see Einstein sticking his tongue out, laughing at you.

In your twisted mind, so much that you can feel your head spinning a bit, you formulate what appears to be a heresy:  if I go KCB for diamonds, what will happen?  You never tried to set a false trump suit to gain critical information from your partner?  Well, you are missing the thrill of your life.  Obviously, partner has to have confidence in you when you will drive him to a grand in a suit he never knew you had a fit.

So here goes:  if you go KCB, partner will think diamonds are trumps (agreed trump suit or last suit bid) and he will answer.

With Kickback KCB, the suit above our trump suit at the 4 level is KCB.  So you have the same space as 4NT with spades as trump.

But wait, you say.  This 4 bid cannot be to play?  No.  In XYZ, responder with long hearts and goodish hand could jump to 4 to play over 1♠.  And he would jump to 3 over 1♠ to show solid hearts and slam interest.  And if he has long broken hearts with GF, he would bid 3 over 3.

4NT says 03 (I know, I know, partner could have KJxx Q  KQx  Jxxxx and bid the same.  Aren't you a party pooper?).  So partner rates to have the 2 black Aces and… the K of trumps (!), diamonds.  Your mind is racing.  Calm down.

The beauty of Kickback‼

Partner hesitates over 7♣. You don't move, don't breathe, don't flinch, poker face, poker everything. Partner finally passes. Phew!

I did that a few times in my bridge career, setting a false trump suit. One of my partners "corrected" 2 times (going down each time) before finally passing the 3rd time. She is still my most precious and adored partner :-)

Let's see now the rest of Einstein's quotation:

For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

Bridge sometimes invites us to travel to another dimension. You can say Yes or you can say No.

If you say No, because you feel it is too complicated, demanding, tiring, stressing, if you don't want to wander out of your comfort zone, fine, it's your life. You will make 6 clubs with an overtrick and saw that others were in 7, making. You will console yourself by saying At least we bid six.

But if you say Yes more often, if you take a risk, a calculated risk, if you embark courageously on an unfamiliar journey, like Theseus, so unfamiliar that you can sense your nerves shaking, and you reach safely the destination you had envisioned, you will feel so much more alive.

But you need a wife/partner who is on the same wavelength as you :-)

Monday, January 23, 2017

The F Factor

I wrote many bridge articles in my time (see my blog), but there is one I didn't write. I had the idea but never wrote it.

With the evolution of the world to become slowly (2 steps forward, one step backward, said Obama recently) a better place, with equality and justice for all, women proclaimed there is a woman's way to do things, different from men, with more empathy, more understanding. They organized marches and manifestations to demand more women at high levels of business, government, etc.

So to keep pace with that movement, I came with the idea of creating a new version of RKCB, the FRKCB, F standing for Feminist. In a slam sequence, 4nt would ask first: Do you have the Queen?

Now there is a new thing in meteorology that again starts with F. No, it is not Feminist, but sort of. They call it wind chill factor, or wind factor, or whatever, that we can all regroup under the word Feeling. You look at a thermometer and read minus 10. The weather woman will add that this minus 10C actually feels minus 14C.

In the summer, you look at the same thermometer and read 30C. The same weather woman will tell you now that you will feel 34C because of the humidex factor, again that Feeling thing.

Would you believe I saw it happen also at bridge recently? First I have to tell you that, in my club, everybody plays the old fashion way: partner opens 1something, if responder jumps to 3 of that same suit, it is the gold old limit raise.

Why do I mention that? Nothing new, you say? Yes but, at my club (maybe at yours too), there is a twist: they all play limit raise game forcing. Facing a limit raise, they all bid game. Don't ask, I stopped a long time ago trying to explain that to them. When they see +420 on Bridgemate, that is all they want to know. And if they see -50 or -100, they say Nothing works today.

So when opener passes this limit raise, you know you are generally heading for a minus score, that will feel like a zero.

Yesterday, at my club, RHO opens 1, I pass and his partner, a woman, bids 3, all pass.

She tables dummy:


When asked why she didn't go to game with 13 points and a fit, she answered: I didn't feel like it.

That's when I understood that the Feeling thing had spread to bridge.

Do I have to tell you declarer made just 3? Did I have to tell you we got a cold zero? And that zero looked like a zero, it walked like a zero, it felt like a zero, it was a real ZERO.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Do you have imagination?

In 1st seat, you have:

You're too weak for 2, you say?  Well, a weak 2 is a weak 2.

You don't open 2 if you have a 4 card major, you say?   Gee, when are you going to bid ?

If you wait for all the conditions they told you about (2 top honours, not even 3 cards in a major, etc.) you will wait a long time.  A little secret here: all those teachers (but mostly those who are not), they tell you "Don't do this," and "Don't do that," "Wait for this" and "Wait for that."  In the end, they don't want you to bid, especially when they play against you.

As I said, a weak 2 is a weak 2, and more so in 1st position.

2NT is the only forcing bid after a weak 2.  A new suit without jump is non forcing, simply saying I would prefer to play in my suit.  It is, IMO, the only way to play.

Let's say Partner opens 2 and I have:

and I have to pass because 2♠ is forcing?  Not for me, thank you.

A jump in a major at 3rd level is highly invitational.  So 2NT is the only force.  Opener has to show what he has.

Here are the options:

3♣ : good hand with at least one 3-card major
3 :  all bad (even with a 3 card or 4 card M)
3 : good hand, 4 spades
3♠ : good hand, 4 hearts
3NT : no M, max with good diamonds

If you bid 3♣, saying good hand with at least one 3 card M, responder bids 3 to ask.

3 : 3 spades
3♠ : 3 hearts
3NT : 3 in both M

All above is from Marty Bergen.  We have been playing that for 20 years at least.  Easy, fun to play, as are most of Bergen's contributions.


WOW!  Your hand just got much, much better.  4 points, you say?  I don't think so.

So you bid 4♠?  Are you asking me?  I will say: NO‼!

Think.  How can you tell partner you like his spades VERY MUCH?  Is there some information you can give him about your hand?  How can I know this info will help him, you ask?  The fact you know or you don't know is not the point.  The point is: tell partner something he doesn't know about your hand, something that might help him.  Yeah, right, you say, like we will go to slam with my BIG 4 points  Do you know partner's hand?  NO.  So what do you bid?

It is a new bid I just invented yesterday, so it is not surprising you don't know anything about it.  Where did I find it?  In the department called Imagination (In French, "Imagination" is called: La folle du logis.  Well, actually, this bid exists, but it is the first time it will be used this way.  What is it?

Make a splinter!  What?  Yes, splinter.  I know, I know, they told you a splinter is a double jump.  Then you grew up and you learned that it can sometimes be a single jump, when obvious.  Now, with this hand, you don't even have to jump. 

WHAT?  You want me to believe I can splinter without jumping?
Yes, bid 4‼! 

What can 4 be in this sequence?  Certainly not a suit.  It is a control bid, saying I don't have 2 quick losers in that suit.  As we don't open a weak 2 with 2 aces, 4 has to be shortness, showing ace of diamonds by inference.

You don't play inference either, you say?   Well…

What can we call this splinter without a jump?  I created the phrase Invisible Splinter.  We already have "Invisible cue-bids" in bridge, so why not "Invisible Splinter"?

And I don't think you have to alert this.  How can we alert something invisible?? If opponents ask what is 4, answer Splinter and watch the look on their face...

Check this out:

They lead the Ace of hearts, you put dummy down and see partner shake his head.  Is he disappointed?  Mad at you?  After one round of trumps (Jack falling), he ruffs his 3 losers in dummy and claims, still shaking his head.  Cold slam with 22 points.

"What's the matter?"  you ask.
"Bridge is a wonderful game," he says, "and you are the most wonderful partner."

Always try to help partner, never be sloppy or negligent or in a hurry.  Think‼!  Take your time, use your imagination.  Sometimes you will become the gift from the gods of bridge: a good partner.

(On a trump lead, it's another story!)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mother Superior and Sister Bursar

From the distance, you heard them all night, discussing, arguing, attacking more or less the opponents:

"No, Ma'am, I took this trick!"
"I beg your pardon, Sir, I was not down three, that's impossible!"

At a certain moment, you even saw a player trying to protect her cards from Mother Superior who was turning her opponent's tricks ("You played a diamond on my spade, you did not follow suit, I know, I saw you...") In the end, the cards were all mixed up and the director was summoned. When he arrived, the two Sisters thought they recognized their former defrocked chaplain and refused to talk to him. He tried to solve the problem, first by saying he never was a chaplain, and second by asking everyone at the table to reconstitute their hand (the boards had to follow the movement). Seeing that, Mother Superior hissed between her teeth: "Always the same... has to ask everybody... unable to make a decision!" After several minutes, and much patience from the chapl... oops, director, everything went back to normal.

I had already counted the tables and knew we would finish against them. On the first board, with Mother Superior on your right, and Sister Bursar on your left, you pick up:

You almost doubled 2NT, but waited for a 3NT...  that never came. Your partner leads the 6 of hearts (3rd-5th)

Sister Bursar calls for a small heart from dummy; you play the King and shift to the club 6 (second from a bad 4-card suit). Your partner surprises you by playing Ace, King and a small club to Sister Bursar's Jack. What does she have for her 1NT response? If your partner has the heart Queen, Sister Bursar can only have 3 Jacks, in spades, diamonds and clubs. Is it possible? In hand, Sister Bursar plays the 10 of heart, partner covers with the Queen and dummy wins with the Ace. You signal diamond while dummy plays the heart Jack and a heart, won by partner. She plays back a diamond, 10 from dummy, and you win your king. Here is the situation:

On your club ten, Sister Bursar (always thrifty) pitches a spade from dummy and you make the remainder of the tricks, partner showing up with 4 spades to the Jack (!!!). Down three.

Sister Bursar has not yet finished playing to the last trick that she shouts:

"I have nothing, I have 2 points, we said we would always respond to a minor suit opening, I won't answer anymore, it's finished!"
"I had my 15 points, Edith, I think you played poorly..."
"Stop it, I would like to have seen you..."
"Still, I had MY 15 points, hisses again Mother Superior between her lips, looking hurt."

While all this is going on, you pick up your second hand, vulnerable against not:


Mother Superior (South), out of turn, asks:

"Don't shout, we are not deaf. What is it?"
"My partner doesn't have 3 hearts."
"How come you know that?"
"That's what we play, Moth... sorry, Ma'am."

Mother Superior examines my partner a few seconds and turns to me.

"How many Hearts does she have?"
"I don't know."
"You're like the Chaplain, you never know nothing..."

* "Excuse me?" (indignantly). "I say, that's peculiar! I pass"
** "That's game, you know..."

You lead the heart Ace. To fully understand what is going to happen, you need to see the 4 hands:

On your Ace, partner plays the 2, upside-down attitude. You continue with the 10, ducked all around. You switch to a small club, partner wins the Ace and plays back a heart; you ruff, play the club King and a club, ruffed by dummy's 3, overruffed by partner's 4.

"I say," reacts Mother Superior.

Sister Bursar cannot stay silent:
"I don't know what's happening to you today, you play so funny..."

Your partner plays the heart King. Mother Superior ruffs in her hand and plays a spade. When she sees you sluff a club, she gives you a piercing look:

"You don't have any spades???"
"No Moth... Ma'am..."
"I find this bridge club very peculiar; she has no clubs, he has no spades. Things are not too catholic in here."
"Maybe you should call the Chaplain," chimes in Sister Bursar.
"He is not a chaplain, he is a DIRECTOR..."
"Let me see your hand!" shouts Mother Superior to me, authoritative and suspicious.
"No Moth... Ma'am..."

You pull away from the table, holding your cards to your chest, waving to your partner to do the same. One moment, it seems that Mother Superior will attack you and take away your cards, like she has done before during the evening.

But she closes her eyes, probably praying, and calms down.

Your partner takes the spade Queen and plays back a diamond. You win the Ace, and play a diamond; dummy's King wins and Mother Superior plays Ace of spades, spade won by your partner who cashes the diamond Queen for + 1400.

Mother Superior, on the brink of a nervous breakdown, becomes indignant:
"I don't know what's happening at this table, I have never seen that!..."

Sister Bursar says, with her sweetest voice: "How much was that, minus 500?" (her name suits her very well indeed) partner replies: "1400."

"1400, that's impossible..."
"Do you want to play it again?"
"No, no, put down what you like, 1400, 2000, it's all the same."
"It is not the same; 1400 is 1400; it is not 500 and it's not 2000..."
"Write down what you like..."
"We won't write down what we like, it's 1400... Would you like to call the chaplain?"
"No, no, we got to go, we must be in the convent by 10..."

You invite your partner to leave the table, before a fight breaks out.

It was an evening like any other, at your local bridge club.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ascoli Satriano

Alas! You will never travel to Ascoli Satriano.

It is not your fault, you say, but I am not sure about that you were born in Canada, not in Italy, and you think it is a good reason. In addition, you don't travel. Or, if you travel, for exoticism you say, you rely only on travel agents, on sure things: you take packages with guides to Rome, Florence, Venice. In winter, you go to Cuba or Florida, always all included, because it is less trouble. You don't like trouble. In fact, when you travel, you do it "accidentally", like if you were staying at home. You look for Holiday Inns and eat steak, like at home.

If you decided to go to Ascoli Satriano, you would have to take a map, to establish a plan, to leave the main roads and travel into the unknown. You don't like the unknown, you prefer freeways, or the reassuring comfort of your house.
All in all, you are a bit (a lot) coward, you don't have the guts to go and see elsewhere, you prefer to stay home and repeat that travelling costs too much. But, deep down, you nevertheless envy those who travel.

In 4th position, you have:

Oh, you just love it when you have big hands! You feel secure with those Aces and Kings. LHO passes, partner passes and RHO shatters your bliss with a 3 ♠ opening bid.

Do you really want to travel, like you say you would if you could? I am giving you here the opportunity. Or are you fearful? If you feel fear, you will pass and hope that partner will double, in order to "get" them. You like it so much when you "get" them, those players who bid, too much to your liking, those players who jump into life with gusto (in fact, you are a bit jealous; you feel it is not permitted to love life like this, and to enjoy it so much). When you get them, you are so happy. When you don't get them, well, it is not your fault, you're not lucky, you didn't have a bid, partner did not double, etc. It is "so you": you want everything, but you want to stay home, in front of your TV set.

You are daydreaming, of course, partner will never double (he is more afraid than you are), you will get a bad score and you will complain about your bad luck, or about those opponents who never let you play bridge.

Or you can dare, you can pull all the stops and bid 3NT, and you will feel like when the plane starts on the runway: this irresistible thrust, that inebriates you each time, this void deep down your stomach that confirms that you are leaving, that you are airborne, that you are flying, that you are "living" at last.

Your belt fastened, you decide to listen to me, to get in there, to jump in there, and che sera sera: you take a deep breath and pull out the 3NT card. Nobody doubles and you already feel better.

LHO leads a small spade.

The sight of dummy makes you already regret your audacity: where are you going to find tricks? You were so secure, you should have passed, shouldn't you? All those small cards in dummy give you the creeps. What you like at bridge are those Aces and Kings, those sure things that nobody can take away from you, like Rome, Florence, Venice. Lower than the Queen, you don't like bridge so much any more.

You don't know what to do with those 6's, and those 7's, or 8's, or 9's. They are like those unknown destinations on road maps, where nobody goes, like Ascoli Satriano, and all those mysterious names: Bitonto, Corato, Canosa, Cerignola ... Maybe we'll get lost ...

You are breathing heavily: you really don't know what to do with this dummy. You feel anguish down your stomach and panic is creeping into you. Don't panic, count!! To count at bridge is the best antidote to panic: count, count, count. Count what? Your tricks, obviously. You have 1 trick in spades, 2 in diamonds, and ... well, don't panic. The Diamond Queen could be doubleton?

That's it, start to dream again. Count, I told you, don't dream, don't feel sorry for yourself, don't take it out on me, you dove in, you're in it now, that's life, real life. You are the master of your destiny.

Let's count something else then: RHO has probably 7 spades, that's at least a useful information. He has then 6 cards in the 3 other suits. See, we are making progress.

You can probably develop 3 tricks in clubs, if you guess them properly, obviously. Do you feel better? No? Let's go anyway.

RHO plays the spade Queen, you win the Ace and play a club; LHO plays small and it is up to you: don't play the Jack. Do you really believe clubs are breaking 3-3 on this auction? Let's be serious.

In addition, at bridge, you must try to get the opponents to play their big cards on your small cards. The 9, that card that you never look at, becomes suddenly interesting, and you play it: RHO plays the Ace!! Do you feel better now? I hope so. For my part, I am breathing a little easier. RHO plays back the 10 of diamonds, showing probably a doubleton.

You take your Ace, play a small club to the Jack, then KQ of clubs, RHO sluffing spades on the last 2 clubs. His hand should be:

See how much progress we made with nothing. All you have to do is count. West probably has a 1444 hand. If he had had a 5-card suit, maybe he would have led it. His hand should then be:

Count again: you have 1 trick in spades (eventually 2, but you have to count only sure tricks), 3 in clubs, 2 in diamonds, 6 tricks in all. Better than what we had at the start, no? You need 3 more tricks, and the location of the Ace of hearts means you won't make a trick with your King. Don't give up, don't feel discouraged, think and count, it is the only way: count, count, count. This is the position:

You are sitting on the edge of your seat, fully awake now, concentrated at 100%, that's real life (thank me now for having forced you to overcome your fear). Do you see the solution? LHO has only Hearts and Diamonds ...

You begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel: if you play the King of hearts, LHO will take it and won't be able to play diamonds, for he will give you 3 tricks. He will have to play back a heart and, if RHO doesn't have the Queen, you will be in dummy. Can RHO have the heart Queen? Maybe. Maybe she is singleton.

If she is doubleton, what will happen? LHO will win you King, play back a heart to RHO's Queen, who will cash his spade and get out with a diamond, leaving you a trick short: 3 spades, 2 diamonds and 3 clubs. This solution has therefore to be rejected. At this point in your contract, you have to root for the position that will permit you to succeed. LHO must have AQ of hearts if you want to make 9 tricks.

You don't really see clearly the rest (like when you take the road for Ascoli Satriano), but you decide to sacrifice this heart King. West takes it with the Ace, East following, and comes back a heart.

You are at the crossroads: which card do you play from dummy? Verifying once again in your mind your hypothesis of necessity, you finally play the Jack in dummy and East produces the ... 10. You heart skips a beat.

The position is now:

You are almost home. You're in dummy; count your tricks once again: you have 1 spade (eventually 2), 1 heart, 2 diamonds and 3 clubs. You can make another heart trick with the 9 8 combination in dummy. Incredible, isn't it?
You see the rest now very clearly. If you play the 9 of hearts, you will pitch a small spade, West will be in hand again with the 3rd trick for the defence.

If he comes back diamond, you will play the Jack, making 3 tricks in the suit. You will then cash the 8 of hearts. You will come back to your hand with the King of diamonds, stripping East of his last diamond and you will exit with the Jack of spades.

East will take his King, 4th trick for the defence, but will have to give you a spade for your 9th trick.
If West comes back a heart, you will make the 8 in dummy, pitching your diamond, come in hand with the King of diamonds and the rest is easy. Fascinating, isn't it?

Those 8, 9, 10 and Jacks, how they appear suddenly under a new light. In fact, you have made almost half of your tricks with these cards you don't really look at generally: J9 in hearts, J9 of clubs, and you will make the Jack of diamonds or the 10 of spades.

While you are floating, your opponents get impatient (like those people in a hurry who want to arrive in big cities very quickly and don't care for small villages). You let them huff and puff, and enjoy.

Ascoli Satriano appears on horizon, amidst the green plains and the golden pasture of Italy's heartland. High on its pinnacle, it looks like those J98xx of hearts in dummy, apparently without interest, in the middle of nowhere, out of reach.

But there was a way, all you had to do was to search for it, and you found it.

You play the 9 of hearts, pitching a small spade. West wins and comes back a heart. You win the 8 in dummy, pitching your small diamond. You play diamond to your King, and place the spade Jack on the table. East wins and comes back a spade, you win the 10 : 9 tricks and this sensation of floating, of soaring, of living, that you never felt.

At bridge, every card counts and, to succeed in a contract, you cannot afford to be snob, in a hurry or negligent: every card is important, and sometimes you have to s acrifice Rome, Florence and Venice if you want to discover the real pleasure of travelling, the real intoxication, the real world, these 8's, 9's and 10's that nobody talks about in travel guides.

If you go one day to Ascoli Satriano, you'll see, nothing has changed. You enter the village on the right, by the only street. The house of Arturo's grand-parents is just there, the third on the right, with this veranda on top on the second story that he remembers so well, even if he went there only once, 70 years ago. A little further, you arrive on the plaza. You stop at the bar and Arturo asks if the village still has some people called Rolla, his surname. The barman says: "Certainly, the mayor is a Rolla."

I told you : nothing has changed.

Sadly, it is not really the truth, one thing has changed. If you go to Ascoli Satriano, it will never be at the same time as my friend Arturo, and you will never hear him tell you how, when he was a little boy, the farmers would walk the streets of his village, in the morning, and stop at each door in order to milk the goats for the housewives.

Have a nice trip, dear friend*.

*In memory of my beloved friend Arturo Rolla, from Trieste (Italy), lover of life, who died the 28 of September 1997.