Sunday, July 21, 2013

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes
I fear the Greeks bearing gifts

If you are like me, boarding school has left you with memories you cannot get rid of: bad meals (all you can eat style), boring lessons, spiritual counsellor (damn sex!). Latin and Greek were mandatory and we have learned there sentences that have stayed with us all those years.

Delenda quoque Cartago, repeated Catton the Ancient (We must destroy Cartago).
Arma virumque cano… sang Virgil. Upon learning that Aeneas was leaving her, Dido tore up her clothes (quick, to the spiritual counsellor).
Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra … shouted Cicero in the Senate. (Till when will you abuse of our patience, Catilina…)

Useless, all this culture? Not a bit. Every bridge player has repeated to his partner, who never listens: Delendo Quoque dummy (We must destroy the dummy). When declarer cashes 7 diamonds tricks in no trump, haven't you never murmured: Till when will you abuse of our patience?

We don't have a spiritual counsellor anymore (purity being a constant problem, we have chosen impurity) and, growing up, we have learned that, in all those classical stories just as in our modern life, everybody sleeps with everybody and that, in certain situations, if you rely heavily on your principles, they will finally cave in and real life can then begin.

In 1st seat you open 1:

At bridge, life begins at 4♠. What is happening? You had planned, after your partner’s probable response of 1, to jump to 2NT.

But those Visigoths, in the Radio Shack armour, are already at the top of the fortress. All your plans blow up in smoke, what can you do?

If you believe those hyper-aggressive Vandals, LHO should have at least AQJxxx in clubs and RHO, at least 7 or 8 hearts to the King. Your partner is left with KQ of spades and KQ of diamonds for her bid of 2♠ (promising at least 10 points).

The more you think, the more you feel, behind you, Achilles steaming with impatience. Him and Ulysses always fight when they have to establish a plan of action. In fact, Achilles always comes up with the same plan:


In your situation, the Achilles approach seems to be best and you jump to 6NT. Your audacity surprises the Visigoths.

Looking at them, you see they received a scientific schooling: full of trigonometry, of canap├ęs and asking-bids, they obviously never heard of Ulysses and Achilles. Perplexed, they pick their nose, study their hand and comment in their primitive language (sounds like American slang).

During all of this, your LHO, the index deep in his nose, examines his hand, undecided about what to lead. Finally, with all the sophistication he can offer, he "throws" the 8 on the table, and puts his index back where it was.

Apparently unfinished business, you reflect silently.

Dummy surprises you, your partner not having what her bid promised. And no heart finesse possible either. Ouch! But it could be worse, as my wife always says, you could be at work!

You understand suddenly LHO's problem: he was end played at trick one. The lead is therefore favourable. Dummy’s Jack forces the Queen from RHO and you win with the ace.

You count your tricks: 5 diamonds, 1 heart, and 5 spades if you find the queen. 11 tricks only.

If you cash 10 tricks (after having found the spade queen), LHO will have to keep AQ of clubs and at least 1 heart to avoid being thrown in and forced to lead a heart into your AQ.

At trick 11, if LHO has played well and kept 1 heart and AQ of clubs, you will have to play Ace of heart and a heart, down one… unless LHO's last heart is the king. Eureka! You shout in your mind...

Why didn’t he lead a heart, his partner's suit? Because he has the King. A squeeze is therefore your only option.

As you have to play spades before diamonds in order to be in your hand at trick 10, you play the spade Ace from your hand, small from LHO, small from dummy, heart 2 from RHO! Wow! You stop to think. Suddenly, RHO expectorates a "Sorry!" and spits a spade on the table.

With the exposed card, the impossible heart finesse becomes possible, 12 tricks glow. The Huns capitulates, Achilles blows his Oliphant (anachronism that will go unnoticed by all scientists), lamenting: What cowards, not even a fight; an exposed card, how pusillanimous.

Cassandra shivers in her diaphanous dress and utters the song of all oppressed people: Timeo Gringos and dona ferentes (I fear the Americans, especially when they offer gifts). As you all know (well, some of you), Cassandra, princess of Troy, was doomed to always tell the truth, yet never to be believed.

What would you have done?

Do you take advantage of the exposed card to play the queen and take the impossible heart finesse?

Or do you stick with your plan of squeezing LHO?

Do you ignore this Greek gift in order to play the hand as it has to be played, for the beauty of it?

In your head, all those great sentences that you learned in your youth, that sing heroism, courage, greatness of heart, and the beauty of the squeeze, soon drown in the ocean of amoral aphorisms that the Gringos have spread everywhere:
  • There is nothing below first place;
  • Show me a good loser, and I will show you a loser;
  • Winning is not everything, it is the only thing;
  • Take the money and run!
Is an elegant defeat worth more than a vulgar success?

The opportunistic ethics of modern barbarians finally wins the battle over the noble heroes of yesterday and you play the Queen of hearts. LHO wins the king and cashes the Ace of clubs, down one.

"O Tempora, O Mores … " said, I believe, Cicero, probably just before drinking the hemlock.

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