When I was 12 I discovered books and... Arsène Lupin, the brilliant, congenial and uncatchable thief created by French writer Maurice Leblanc.
Devouring thousands and thousands of pages, novel after novel, I was
everywhere in France, especially in Normandy, in this region called
Caux, a triangle between Rouen, Le Havre and Dieppe, with all those
poetic names, but one in particular, Étretat.
How I dreamt of this name, Étretat, of that landscape, of that view.
In July 1995, and then again in 1998, I finally climbed the famous
enchanted my youth and discovered, for the first time, the Hollow
At the summit of the cliff, a hundred meters above the sea, you find
yourself at the base of a half circle of around a kilometre. To the far
left, you see a rock called Magna Porta (Big Door); to the right,
another big rock called Porte d'Aval
(Door Downstream). They are called doors because the cliff, in both
an arm in the sea, creating a hole though which you can pass. The
Hollow Needle, a rocky cone of around 80 meters high, is situated in
that half circle, on the right side, about 50 meters from Porte d'Aval.
In this novel, "The Hollow Needle (L'Aiguille Creuse)", Arsene Lupin is
chased by a young student, Isidore Beautrelet, who uncovers all his
plans, only by thinking and logic. Young Beautrelet puzzles all veteran
policemen with his unorthodox method of
not looking for clues, but of imagining first a hypothesis and seeing
afterwards if the facts correspond to this hypothesis.
"And if the facts don't comply?" asked the inspector, ironic.
"Well, they will be wrong and I will look for others more docile,"
First position, vulnerable, your LHO, a very capable player, thinks for
a while and opens
3♠. Your partner, non vul, bids 4♥.
RHO passes and you have:
For her 4♥ bid,
partner should show a good hand. You Blackwood and end up in 6NT. LHO
thinks again for some time and leads... a heart.
Oops! A bit high, no? But you're not down yet.
Let's apply the Beautrelet method, let's imagine a hypothesis, let's
place cards in
LHO's hand that will permit us to succeed. You see right away that he
needs to have
a stiff Ace or King of Diamonds.
On the lead, won with the Ace in dummy, RHO plays the 10, maybe a
singleton. We need to extract the second heart from LHO's hand and then
play a diamond. If he has a singleton honor in diamond, he will be
endplayed, forced to play a
Spade or a club. At the second trick, you cash the heart King. RHO
signals violently in Diamonds.
You then play a diamond, small, small, King!!! LHO thinks. Wow, your
hypothesis was perfect. The more LHO thinks, the happier you are. While
he thinks, your mind wanders on the cliff of Étretat and the
analogy strikes you: with AQ6 to the left of your hand and K10xx of
Clubs to the right, like two open doors, will LHO play
into the Magna Porta AQ6, or through the Door Downstream K10xx, the
Hollow Needle being obviously
After a lot of thinking, he plays back... the club Queen, right into
the Door Downstream. That play leaves you speechless.
Does he really have QJx in Clubs?
Too easy!, would say
my friend Arturo. Arturo came to this conclusion while we were looking
for a parking place in Florence and came upon a
big empty place. Let's go
further. Would LHO play the Queen without QJx? It is a fact
that we play the Queen only when we have QJx.
"The facts are the facts," the inspector said to Beautrelet.
"With ordinary adversaries, yes," responded the young man. But, if the
enemy has some ruse,
the facts are the ones he has chosen. All those famous clues upon which
you base your investigation (like opponents' signals in defence), it is
easy for him to give you phony informations (falsecards). And when the
opponent is Lupin (or a good bridge player), you can see to what total
ineptitude he can lead us."
You look and look at the club Queen, trying to calm your heart.
Arturo's words spring again in your mind: Too easy!
"Really, you say to yourself, I only have to win with my King and play
to the 9 in dummy and
I will cash 12 tricks in this impossible contract?"
You give a look to your LHO. He kindly smiles back. Suddenly, you
recognize him: behind this benevolent expression, it's him, Arsene
Lupin, and his words come back to you:
"When you will think you're about to grasp victory, it will escape you.
There will be something...
a detail... the sand pebble I will have placed somewhere that you will
You call upon all your will in order to think and count.
IN BRIDGE, COUNTING IS THE ONLY ANTIDOTE TO STRESS AND ANGUISH.
Lupin knew you could cash 7 heart tricks, 1 Spade and 2 Clubs, for 10
tricks. Why would he play
the Queen of Clubs, giving you 4 tricks if he has QJx? Why would he
play like that? Does he know something you don't know? You can't help
hearing his voice, full of mockery:
"Who knows if the trap where you will fall inevitably is not already
The club Queen is still on the table, shining brightly, so attractive.
Almost ready to succumb,
you succeed in breaking the fascination that paralyzes you and you
decide to count RHO's hand: he has 1 heart, 7 diamonds. If he has 2
Spades, he has 3 little Clubs, which is logical with the bidding and
LHO's club Queen. Too easy,
says your instinct, too
easy. There is something else, you're missing something. Go
back to the bidding.
Suddenly, you have a shock, the light is so bright you have to close
your eyes: LHO hesitated before opening 3♠. Did he open 3♠ with 8 cards
because he was vulnerable? He would
then have 8 Spades, 2 Hearts, 1 diamond and 2 Clubs. And RHO would have
1 spade, 1 heart, 7 diamonds and 4 clubs. If LHO had played back a
spade, he would have submitted himself and his partner to a deadly
squeeze and nobody would have been able to guard the Clubs. The only
option left was to create an illusion, to try and make you believe he
had QJx in Clubs.
This last hypothesis (distribution 1174 in RHO) being the one (if
the facts don't comply, I will look for other ones, more docile,
said Beautrelet) that will
permit you to succeed, you then have to base your plan on that
hypothesis and reject all other clues (attitude signals, count signals,
preference signals, switch that seems to give you the
contract, etc.) that opponents offer you. They are all false leads.
You win the club Queen in dummy with the Ace. You win the club Queen in
dummy with the Ace. The situation should be
You play first the ace of spades. Then you cash the 5 heart tricks in
dummy, watching RHO's discards. He discards all his Diamonds, except
the Ace. At trick 10, on the last heart, if he discards a spade, it
will mean Lupin's got you. It is the moment of truth: you play the last
heart and East pitches a... club. You discard the now useless Queen of
diamond. The situation is now:
You play a club from dummy, small, 10 from your hand, winning. You cash
the last 2 Clubs for +990.
Lupin gives you a look of admiration and murmurs:
"Well played, young man."
The four hands: