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A Night at the Crypto-club

by Peter Winkler, Murray Hill, NJ, USA


One night, after a hard day of work walking to the underground station to go home, my eyes met a girl with a piece of paper in her hand that resembled a convention card. When I spoke to her she explained she had a quarrel with her bridge partner. I offered to play with her that night, and although she advised me not to, she eventually accepted. I was surprised, because I didn't know of any bridge club in this part of town, but she guided me to a building with oak doors and a shabby Jugendstil lounge, where we took an elevator (of the first generation of self-service elevators) to the sixth floor. She comforted me, we were not going to visit an ordinary bridge club, but the Crypto Club. That was all explanation I got; we entered a large room where about 50 people were playing bridge already.

S 5
H K874
D J753
C Q952

Playing against an older married couple I picked up these cards as South:

East, the male half, was dealer and opened 1S. I passed, and the answer of 3NT was alerted and explained as "Forcing raise in spades, with two out of the three top honors"

Easts 4D was alerted (standard US practice at least in those days) as an asking bid.

I took some time to work this out. It was clear to me, that the spades holding at my left provided her with the information in which suit the control asking had been. It also seemed that by bidding 4C or 4H East could have asked the same for the other suits. But what was this all about ? I raised my shoulders and looked at my hand again.

I finally decided for a kind of Solomon's judgement and put my small trump at the table. This was the whole board:

Board 2
Dealer West
N/S Vul
S J93
H 9
D T982
C AK843
S AK64
H T65
D KQ64
C 76
[  ] S QT872
S 5
H K874
D J753
C Q952

My partner seemed to think that -480 was quite a normal score on this board, but I was irritated that my opponents had been able to bid this board intelligently without expose their club weakness.

Fortunately the opponents did not enter the auction on the next board. I was dealer and opened 1NT, raised to 3NT by my partner

Board 3
Dealer South
E/W Vul
S 972
D K94
C AJT962
S T863
H K84
D T852
C Q4
[  ] S KQ5
H Q76532
D J3
C K7
D AQ76
C 853

West started with the 3 of spades and East inserted the Queen. This seemed like the right moment to impress my partner with my pairs-playing technique. I'll take the lead and play a club to the Ace to take the chance of keeping East of the lead. But I realised I had to look at their convention card to see if they played fourth-best. One glance at it and I saw an ominous green-spot: fourth-best against 3NT on hands with less than 7 points, otherwise third/fifth.

Help, if the lead had been of a five card or longer (rather probable because she would have picked a heart holding 4-4 or 4-5 in the majors), it would be better to duck the lead, and finesse twice in clubs - the latter being after all the best technically. I played the 4 of spades and East returned a heart for 9 and King. West returned a heart into my fork and after losing a club trick I made one overtrick. This was not a score.

D AK42

Our next opponents were two dark faced young men, probably students also working for the CIA. Following two passes to my RHO opened 1H and his partner alerted. "Could be a lead-directing psyche with a suit headed by King or Ace". Holding half of the points of the deck in my hand I doubled:

And so my LHO now knows where he stands; his own heart honor shows whether or not his partner psyched. I thought he psyched, but how could I clarify it or my partner? 2 NT seemed too high even to me, so I doubled again. LHO bid 2H, and following two passes I as your servant was at the helm again.

A little voice in the back of head said "Just be talked out of it" but these crypto-creeps began attacking my nerves, so I doubled again. Believe it or not, RHO held a normal 3rd seat opening, 10 points and 5/5 H/C. I saw the execution of 2S doubled being dummy.

S T943
D AK42

This just went on and on. Instead of having fun in playing the game and playing it with this partner, I tried harder and harder to take revenge for our bad scoring. My partner at the contrary looked very relaxed and seemed to enjoy seeing me having a rough time. When the last board of the evening got on our table I showed, and I am ashamed to say so, signs of active paranoia. As dealer I held:

and opened 1D, LHO bid 1S and partner raised to 2D, now RHO doubled, alerted and explained as a spade raise holding Ace or King. I'd seen that one before, a useful convention to show partner he can easily lead his own suit.

Trying to double them at 3 level I bid a modest 3D, and now it went pass-pass-3S.

I can't recall too much of what happened next, but I have some fight floating my mind, calming words, feeling my feet lost contact with the floor, and then: darkness, concrete and rain.

Furthermore all is clear. My partner's face was very clear in memory the next morning, but I didn't know her name. Eleven evenings in a row I went to that building, but the sixth floor was always empty, and last time a group of workers were rebuilding the floor into an orthodontists' lab. I finally tracked down the owner of the building, who told me he rented the floor just once to a man named Greenspan, but only once. Greenspan hadn't left any address or phone number. The Atlanta telephone book did not give any clue either.

The year following this I met some people in cryptological circles, but without any success. Nobody had ever heard of the Crypto Club or Greenspan; a list of people involved in the research on the Purple Code didn't surface. As far as known there was absolutely no connection between cryptology and bridge. I knew what I had to do.


Editor's note:

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