Saturday, June 7, 2014

Trompe - L'oeil

Trompe-l'oeil is a technique used by painters, aiming essentially at creating, with artificial perspective, the illusion of real objects. Basically, it gives the illusion of three dimensions where there are only two. In Italy, in Liguria, you will find many examples of trompe-l'oeil in churches and temples.

But at bridge, can you create trompe-l'oeil ?

Look at this example, from Bob Hamman's book, At the table.

Hamman reports this hand played by John Hancock in 1955 or 56.

Hamman explains also that Sydney Lazard, one of the great names in American bridge, almost gave up bridge when he learned how Hancock had played this hand. "How can I continue to play bridge when there are people making such brilliant plays?" wondered Lazard.

Hancock opened 1NT and his partner bid 3NT, over which East hesitated quite a lot before passing, hesitation noted by everyone present.

Hancock turned towards West and said: "Make your normal lead."

Well, West led a spade, the 9.

West had found declarer's weakness and East, an excellent player, also found the right defence when he played the 10, in order to maintain communication. How could Hancock arrive at 9 tricks with this perfect start for the defence? He had only 7 tricks and, the moment he would play heart, opponents would jump on their Ace and cash all their spades.

So what was Hancock's play at trick one?


He knew East could not have the Ace of heart, for he would have opened with AKJ10xx in spades and the heart Ace.

If Hancock took his spade Queen, he would go down for sure. So he had to throw sand in the eyes of the defenders, he had to use trompe-l'oeil in order to create a false image of his hand for East.

Now, put yourself in East's place : how can he think declarer has ducked with Qxx in spades?

The lead of the spade 9 seemed to come from a doubleton, which would confirm Qxxx in declarer's hand.

Please note this play can only succeed against a good player, a player that counts and thinks. A bad player, seeing his 10 has won the trick, would simply bang down the Ace and the King, cashing the first 6 tricks and afterwards telling everyone who would listen how this "expert" ducked a sure trick and went down 3 in 3NT.

But East was not a bad player and he fell for the trompe-l'oeil created by Hancock.

He saw declarer would never make a spade trick, after ducking the first trick, so he switched to a heart. West won and came back another spade. At trick 3, East won his spade King and, not willing to give declarer a spade trick, switched again. Hancock had now 9 tricks and it is East who looked like a fool.

But what can one do in such cases if not congratulate declarer for such a brilliant play?

At Montreal's World Championship in 2002, a player made such a play and it is just too bad we don't know his name. Here is his hand and listen carefully to the bidding.

Opening your hand, in North, at your local game, your level of interest would probably dip down towards zero because, for the immense majority of club players, to play bridge is to play the hand.

To play in defence is a bad moment to endure : it is boring and it is soooooooo long, you don't pay to be in defence, the only fun at bridge is to play the hand. If we would make a phone call, before the start of the game, let's say to all East-West players, telling them they would defend 15 out of 24 hands that night, I think a majority would not come.

Once the bidding has started like you see, which seems to indicate North-South are going to slam, you would probably have put your hand on the table and start yawning.

3♣ shows extra values and 6 probably shows a void in diamonds. When West bids 7♣, do you think you can do something with your awful hand? The player seating North in Montreal World Championships, instead of complaining silently about his bad cards, thought he could do something. He doubled !!

Follow closely: a double in this situation is a Lightner double and asks for a special lead. In this case, the double would probably ask for a lead in the first suit bid by dummy, spades, and says you will win the first trick, with a ruff. You cannot ruff the first trick, you say? I know and that player knew it also, BUT, using trompe-l'oeil , this player created the illusion he was ruffing spades in order to push the opponents in 7♠, which they did. But why did he do that?

Look at the hand again.

Opponents have established a fit in clubs, North has 3 clubs and maybe, MAYBE, his partner has a void in clubs and will ruff the first trick. The double worked perfectly.

The plan had worked, the trompe l'oeil had pushed the opponents in the contract he wanted : the lead was a club and North waited anxiously, heart pounding, to see his partner's first card. Here is the whole deal :

Alas, partner did not ruff (partners are sooooooooo bad !), but that is not important.

The only important thing is that this player stayed with the hand during all the bidding sequence and that he imagined a way to defeat the grand slam.

I don't know the name of the player who did this, but it is, in my view, the most brilliant bid of the year.

What a trompe-l'oeil (especially with bidding boxes !).

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