The Hideous Hog (In Training) had cornered me at a break during the Sunday Swiss at the recent Round-Up Sectional. There was no escape, for he had a hand record from the previous day's afternoon session, with the offending board well-circled. HHIT's hand was as shown, and he gave the facts fairly, interrupting himself only to allay the looks of horror on my face at the various atrocities he was proud to have committed.
"So in fourth seat I pick up this 21 count and of course open 2NT. You do not agree? What else would you suggest? Reversing into diamonds would mean I'd have to wait till my third bid to bid notrump, and by that time all hope of my declaring notrump may have been lost, with partner having two chances to bid notrump himself. Partner responds 3, Minor Suit Staymanyes, I too was surprised at this turn of events, but had no choice but to await developments by bidding 4. Partner now bid 4 and I regarded this as forcinghis choices with a weak single-minor suit hand would be pass or 3NT, so this must be a good hand and probably the diamond bid is a cue bid. So of course I bid 6NTreally, McBruce, if you are so shocked at what goes on in real bridge today, perhaps you should stop spending so much time at your computer and start playing more."
I had said nothing. The Hog In Training now showed me the full picture:
"Anyhow, the lead was of course a heart to the ace and a heart spot back to my king, so I had to get the diamonds right to bring the slam home. I was no better or worse off than anyone in a minor suit slam, except that if I made it I would get a better score, so I really don't understand these grimaces at what is clearly pristine bidding on my part. On the run of the clubs both opponents pitched exclusively from their longest suits, hearts on the left, spades on the right, but unfortunately, with nineteen major suit cards between them and only three pitches each, making a trick out of this was impossible. So I played a diamond to the ace and LHO pitched a spadeyour move."
I looked closely at the diamond suit, but no hocus-pocus with the spots presented itself. "Far too late already," said HHIT, interrupting only silence. "You must play the ace immediately, and then look for the impossible finesse."
"What's the difference?" I asked.
"The difference is that if you play the ace quickly, RHO may play a card, establishing LHO's revoke, and you are homecome now, you don't mean to say you thought there was some way to make the slam with four to the QT9 in one hand, now, do you? When LHO shows out the only hope is that he has revoked."
"So you made it on the revoke?" I scoffed. "Not terribly heroic."
"I admit that in the heat of battle, still reeling from the rather unusualeven for meauction, I succumbed to the same fate that you did, and while I looked for the impossible diamond finesse, before calling for the ace, LHO said 'Oh. I have a diamond,' and played the nine. Now what?"
I looked again. "Can you take advantage of the penalty card?"
"I didn't think so, but I had a better idea. I called the Director as a tactical move."
While I wondered what on earth this meant, an older gentleman who had been not far off listening while reading an old Matchpointer, turned to face us. "May I hear the rest of this?" he enquired politely, in a British accent. HHIT assented, and the gentleman, who resembled Winston Churchill somewhat, took the chair to HHIT's left as he continued with the story.
"Before the Director arrived, I knew what my plan had to be. I couldn't make any use of the penalty card, but presumably the Director would stay for the conclusion of the hand and make sure LHO played it at the first legal opportunity. I expected that the diamond return from dummy would fetch the ten from RHO, and I would have to guess the suit. But if LHO had no more diamonds, the Director might be inching forward slightly, to be sure that the penalty card was played at this juncture; whereas if LHO held the queen, it would have to be played, and the Director would not need to be alert. It seemed like an extra clue might be given to me because of the presence of the Director."
I wanted to ask who the Director was, but thought better of it.
"Anyhow," continued HHIT, "I led the small diamond from dummy, and as expected RHO played the ten, and I snuck a peek at the Director, just behind me and to the left, and found that his demeanor was entirely neutral: focused on me in fact. No clue either way."
"Well good," I said. "I don't mind telling you that this sort of business is not reallywell, it doesn't strike me as fair." I emphasized the antepenultimate word, hoping to get some back-up from the other man. He sensed this and spoke.
"On the contrary; I would say declarer is at liberty to draw from any source of clues he feels he can sense. Quite an intriguing situation. Of course, if the Director was quite obvious about it one way or the other, the opponents might well appeal and get an average, but since you can always guess right in any case, that shouldn't affect your score."
"But what card do you now play?" asked the Hog-In-Training. Getting nothing but silence from us, he continued. "I reviewed the hand and found three indicators. One: RHO played low-high and might have echoed with a small doubleton out of force of habit. Two: a player who revokes is more likely to not see a singleton than to misplace two cards of a suit, especially when one of them is an honour." He paused for emphasis. "But the most important clue comes from the unguarded moment when LHO, in the heat of battle, looked upon the table and discovered that he had revoked. What did he now say? What exactly did he say? He did not say 'I've revoked.' He let slip the key to the hand, because in fact what he said was 'Oh. I have a diamond.' Now I know very well that after revoking people tend to say 'I have a diamond' to mean 'one or more'nobody would ever say 'I have some diamonds'but this was different: LHO blurted out the line immediately upon discovering his revoke, in preference to any number of other phrases that do not carry the possible connotation of a singleton diamond, such as 'I've revoked' or 'oh, you led a diamond, I'm sorry' or 'I didn't follow suit.'" The Hog-In-Training had built up to a great crescendo as the light dawned, and even our guest swallowed a great mouthful of his sandwich as HHIT completed his soliloquy with majestic sweeps of his arms: "So?" he said loudly. "We finesse!"
And to his surprise, our guest and the Hog-In-Training mouthed the next line in unison: "WRONG!"
The Hog In Training sank back in his chair: "You played the hand yesterday, sir?"
"No, but one sees a lot of human theatre in this game, and your delivery showed all the signs of a change of pace at the climax. Furthermore, you probably missed the really vital clue that would have allowed you to make the slam."
At this the Hog-In-Training sat up.
"Instead of planning to watch the Director," continued our guest politely, "why not sneak a peak at LHO as RHO follows to the second diamond? You might actually see him semi-detach a card, or, once he sees that a diamond is played from dummy, move his hand to the card he wishes to play. Even if there is no movement of the card-playing hand, there may be body language that tells you what he is about to do. And with a Director present, you can be sure that he won't be fingering five cards as though selecting a discard when he has a diamond to play. Why on earth should you want to watch the Director, the only person nearby who absolutely cannot hold the queen of diamonds?"
Our guest rose from his chair, abandoning two sandwiches that the hotel was selling to hungry bridge players at the break. "These sandwiches are rather filling, and to my surprise I see it is time to leave as my plane will be off in an hour. Please accept the remaining two as thanks for a fine story. It's been a pleasure meeting you both; I received a tip from someone and came here hoping to find you. Clearly you are McBruce, the editor of the local bridge newsletter, and quite obviously you, sir, are the character referred to as the Hideous Hog-In-Training. But I wonder. You resemble an acquaintance of mine named Karapet. Does the year 1329 mean anything to you?"
He left, and after a few seconds the Hog-In-Training and I looked up towards one another and our eyes met as we asked each other the same rhetorical question in awed unison:
"Do you know who that was?!"