Friday, May 16, 2014

The Angel's Share

At the house of wines Ott, in Provence, Mrs Castel takes us around the facilities with exquisite kindness. She explains that the wine ages in enormous casks, called "Foudres", with a capacity of 30,000 litres each. Each week though, they must add wine to the casks because of evaporation, called the "Angels' Share".

At the end of the tour, you taste different years of whites and reds, starting with the youngest and making your way back to their best year. You must not drink each wine you taste, for you will get drunk quite rapidly. You try to maintain a critical mind, to become the Devil's Advocate in order to identify qualities and nuances. The last wine tasted is simply divine and, losing all critical judgement (you did not always spit out the wines), you buy a few bottles.

Bidding a bridge hand is like wine tasting. You must avoid getting drunk, you must try to keep a critical mind, and not fall in love with your hand.

On seeing dummy though, your attitude will depend on your chances. If you got drunk in the bidding and find yourself in an impossible contract, you must continue to drink, you must get drunk with optimism and presume all cards are well placed; you must hope for a miracle and ask the Angels for help.

If, on the contrary, you have attained a sound contract, you must become extremely cautious; you must not go to sleep because it seems too easy; you must prepare for the worst and become the Devil's Advocate.

And sometimes, strange paradox, by becoming the Devil's Advocate, you will receive help from the Angels.

You open 2NT as South, partner bids Stayman; you bid 3 and partner bids 4. The lead is the 2 of spades, 3rd/5th.



Too easy, only 3 losers: a heart, a diamond and a club. A 3-2 break in hearts will see your home.

It is time to become the Devil's Advocate and watch out for a 4-1 break, the only problem you can encounter.

Jack of spades from dummy is winning. You immediately play a club to the Queen; West wins and plays back a spade to your Ace. Club to dummy's 10 and a heart to your Jack. West playing the 9.

Is it the Devil pricking your left shoulder or your Guardian Angel putting his reassuring hand on your right shoulder (everybody knows the Devil stands on our left and our Guardian Angel on our right)? Left, right, Devil or Angel, this 9 shines like a lighthouse in the night and you suddenly know trumps are 4-1. And if East still has K108, you have a trump loser. Or do you?

The Devil has taken you so far, but miracles are not his specialty. It is well known that the Devil bothers about reality and the Angels about surreality.

What do you know about East's hand? The Devil has helped you find out East has probably 2 spades and 4 hearts (KT8x).

If the Angels now have given him 3 diamonds to the Ace and 4 clubs, a miracle is going to happen.

You play the diamond Jack and a diamond towards the Queen; East wins and plays back diamond.

The Angels seem to have done their work. Here is the position you are looking for:



Ace of Clubs to pitch a spade from dummy, East follows; Jack of Clubs... ruffed in dummy, East follows!

Thank you, Guardian Angel! The stage is set: King of spades, East ruffs. A sudden silence comes over the table and everything seems to happen in slow motion as you take a trump from your hand and underruff!!

Your partner looks at you like if you were crazy. West mutters something, devil or hell something.

Only East understands what has happened. Besides, he doesn't play back immediately; he shakes his head, incredulous, not believing such beauty. You and East make eye contact for a moment and you both understand that you are not masters of those events.

In front of such poetry, of such "necessity", you both know that bridge is really the game of gods and that God probably threw the Devil in hell because he went down in a cold 3NT.

East plays back a trump, you duck to dummy's Queen and your Ace captures East's King for the 10th trick.

Who said Devil and Angels were enemies? At bridge, we often need both.

Is bridge the perfect game, which reconciles Devil and Angels, Earth and Heaven, Hell and Paradise? It seems.

The Devil though is only an advocate; his contribution is pedestrian and terrestrial. On the other hand, poetry and miracles, that's the Angel's share.

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