Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Queens in the Tower of London

You join the visitors gathering around the Yeoman, British to the tip of his mustache, his cape in pure cashmere making you sick with envy [You have decided not to purchase this splendid cashmere overcoat at Aquascutum, on Regent Street, near Piccadilly Circus; the salesman, a perfect gentleman, brought you three coats to try ("just that you get the feel, Sir"): pure wool (very heavy), wool-cashmere (not to bad) and pure cashmere (shall I say a feather?). The salesman concluded: "The lighter on your shoulder, Sir, the heavier on your pocket". Was he ever right! Reason (i.e. your wife and wallet) finally prevailed.]

The piercing cold of January brings you back to reality.

The Yeoman, perched on a small pedestal, his back against the Bell Tower, explains that, in ancient times, the people sentenced to death (of whom a few celebrities like Thomas More and a Queen or two) were brought from the Bell Tower to the scaffold on Tower Hill (Trinity Square today) where thousands of people awaited the execution. Upon arriving at the scaffold, the convict had one final decision to make: he had to pay for the sharpening of the ax that would cut off his head; the more he paid, the sharper the ax ("The heavier on your pocket, the lighter on your neck."). And the Yeoman tells us of a convict who had to receive five strokes from the ax before his head would fall off. Brr!!

At that time, you were executed for a yes or a no; one simple denunciation and you were beheaded, to the great pleasure of the people gathered.

Catherine Howard, fifth and flirtatious wife of Henry the VIII, was beheaded.

Six years earlier, Anne Boleyn, second wife of the same Henry the VIII, sentenced to death for adultery, chose to be beheaded, kneeling, standing upright, in the interior ward of the fortress. From her room in the Bell Tower, she could hear the executioner sharpening his sword.

Bridge, like those ancient times, has Kings and Queens. But bridge has added a modern twist: Aces and trumps! Aces and trumps are so democratic, their first function is to behead Kings and Queens. When you are declarer, you look for clues that will point towards the location of Kings and Queens; and sometimes, a betrayal can be very helpful.

A declarer who has found all the clues, who has taken advantage of a betrayal (and sometimes two), can become a bloody executioner.

Poor Queens of the ancient times, they didn't stand a chance with Knaves so unfaithful they would give their Queens away.

At the Young Chelsea Bridge Club, in London, England, what strikes you first is the youth of the players; the second thing, they're all drinking Bloody Maries (nickname of Mary Tudor, for the reason you can gather).

In 4th seat, you open 1 ♠ with :

3is a limit-raise. Your hand is not very exciting so you bid 3♠.

The lead is the Ace of heart and the sight of the dummy does not fill you with joy, your partner, as always, consistent with her optimism :

After the heart Ace, West plays the club Jack, this surely looks like a betrayal. You take your Ace. Small spade from your hand, the Jack from West (second betrayal already?), King from dummy and small from East. Those Knaves are surely unfaithful, they have told you everything.

Spade from dummy, small from East, 10 from you hand, club from West.

West has therefore one spade, 2 clubs, 5 or 6 hearts; he has the Jack of spade, the Ace of heart (probably with the Jack), the club Jack, but not AK of diamond, that would give him 13-14 points, he would have open the bidding.

You cash the club King and West pitches a heart.

Betrayed by their Knaves, the two black Queens are with East.

You play a small heart towards the Queen, East following. King of heart, East follows again. East's and West's original hands are now open books (almost):

hand diagram 1

West has made an overcall at the two level, but did not open; if he had had the Ace of diamond, maybe he would have opened... maybe. An idea starts to take form: if..., it would be funny, a bit macabre and so... "bloody historical"!

You were a declarer looking for clues, the enemy Knaves have betrayed, you must now become an executioner, the two Queens in the Bell Tower must be beheaded for a new Queen to be crowned. The faithful Knave in your hand will carry the message of her soon-to-be coronation.

You play a spade from dummy, small from East, the 9 from you and West pitches a diamond. Ace of spade from your hand and Anne Boleyn (Queen of spade) falls under your sword.

The stage is set: small diamond from your hand, West hesitates a bit and plays... the King; with an imperceptible smile, you duck in dummy... and the Ace from East decapitates the King.

What is this sudden and thundering noise? The three ton gate at the entrance of the Bell Tower has just fallen with the Ace of diamond, the death sentence was pronounced. This is the end position:

hand diagram 2

Catherine Howard will not enter the Palace of Henry the VIII. Locked in the Bell Tower, she can see Mary Tudor, all dressed up in bloody red, waiting for her crowning; the poor Catherine can only choose the moment of her death: she can come down right now and be beheaded by the executioner (the faithful Knave will then carry the news to Mary Tudor); or Catherine can postpone her execution by sending first her little companions to their death: on the 13th trick, her head will fall anyway.

The young Englishman in the East position ponders, wriggles about in his chair; slowly, you take your Bloody Mary to your lips, and put it back down on the table. Mechanically, you slide your cards one on top of the other, as if sharpening them.

The young man looks at you, a bit annoyed; you smile back at him, understanding, like an executioner.

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