Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Big Cat With 99 Lives

How do you become a great card player?  Well, firstly, bad bidding will surely help; another good way is to forget what you play, and end up in ridiculous contracts.  But, as we say in French, "le ridicule ne tue pas".

A third way is for the opponents to let themselves get hypnotised by a big cat, just because he is a big cat.  I have seen Boris Baran survive so many impossible contracts, that I have come to think of him as a great big cat, not with 9 lives, but rather with 99 lives.  Boris Baran has big claws and radiating presence: when he sits at the bridge table, he comes to play.   He is also known to have psychic powers, and he is thus able to hypnotise opponents (who want to be hypnotised, by the way, like the poor little bird in the eye of the cat, or the deer at night that just jumps in front of your car).  Some victims want to stay victims (it is easier).

In the quarter finals of the Canadian National Team Championships 1998, I witnessed this hand.

The auction:

Some explanations. Double showed a four-card major and a five-card minor suit.  2♣ was Stayman, and 2♠ said "I have four spades and an invitational hand, or four spades with a long minor suit and a weak hand."

On 2♠, opener passes with a minimum and four little spades or three good spades (KQx); with two spades and a minimum, opener bids 2NT; responder then passes with the invitational hand with four spades or bids his long minor suit with the weak hand, to play.

If opener has a maximum and four spades, he bids 3♠; responder then bids 4♠ with the invitational hand and passes with the weak hand.  If opener has a maximum without four spades, he bids 3♣, artificial; responder with the invitational hand can now bid 3NT; if responder has the weak hand with a long minor, he passes 3♣ or corrects to 3, to play.  Really a very nice treatment (by Eric Kokish, I think).

On 2♠, Mark Molson alerted on his side of the panel; Boris bid 3♣ (natural !? - he had forgotten his agreement on this sequence) and did not alert.  When the auction was over, Boris woke up and said that he should have alerted 3♣; West then said he would have doubled 3♣, Molson then said he would have bid 3NT anyway, and that was that.  Boris then told West, the 3♣ doubler, that he was on lead; West then woke up himself and realised he had doubled 3♣ to tell himself to lead clubs, which he did.  And the "Big Cat with 99 Lives" examined his options.

On a Diamond lead, there would be no story.  How do you become a bad defender?  Firstly, not listening to the bidding will surely help.  If West had asked what  3♣ was, he would have learned that Boris (who had forgotten his agreement, remember) had bid naturally, so he would have lead the unbid suit, Diamonds.  But...

On the small club lead, Boris looked a long time at dummy, probably trying to figure out how many lives he had already spent playing and making impossible contracts.  Could he survive yet again and fall on his feet?  Well, the lead seemed friendly, Boris ducked in dummy and now the bad news: East discarded a diamond. 

Count your tricks: two hearts, one diamond and three clubs equals six tricks!!  You need three more; where will they come from?  Boris won in hand, played a club to the king, and called for a heart.  East played low and Boris inserted the 10, what else?  HE NEEDS TRICKS!  The 10 won, he is up to seven tricks : three hearts, one diamond and three clubs.  Boris now thought for a long time, a very long time, toyed with the King of spades, then the nine, then the King again.  He decided on the nine of spades and ran it!  East won with the queen, and came back  with the queen of hearts.

With the heart return, you could sense the Big Cat starting to breathe a little: he had a chance to put his claws on yet another impossible contract, just because he is a thinking cat.  Boris won and played the king of spades, ducked all around (long pause by West).   Boris then ducked a diamond to East, who came back a third heart.  Boris won (West discarding a club), played a diamond to the Ace, and announced he would endplay West, making three.  The whole hand:

The position after the ace of diamond (lead in dummy, two tricks lost so far):

A club to the ace and another club put West in hand for a beautiful stepping-stone ending:

West has to play a spade to dummy for the ninth trick of this impossible contract: two spades, three hearts, one diamond and three clubs.  The defence made two spades, one diamond and one club.

The Big Cat withdrew his claws and smiled at me: "Beautiful hand", he said. East commented that Boris had no play from the start! Boris laughed like a kid.

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