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BRIDGE STORIES


by LEE HAZEN,  told to Thomas H. Wolf

 

From CoMers Magazine, December 1946



GRAND SLAM GAGS


No matter how serious they may be about bridge, even the experts see some funny things happen. Here a tournament champion passes on some of his livelier stories.

 There are millions of bridge players in America, Many of  these are duffers. But even among the top-ranking few, an ordinary stick of chewing gum may make a world of difference.

A stick of gum actually did win one national tournament It all came about during the final round of the Men's Pairs Championships in 1934.


Most of the players were finished and were standing around tibe half-dozen games still in play in the center of the huge, smoke-filled Grand Ballroom of New York's Hotel Commodore.

I was in a crowd of perhaps fifty kibitzers who were squeezing around the table at which Ted Lightner and Ely Culbertson ware playing the crucial hand against David Burnstine and Oswald Jacoby. Lightner had won the bidding at six spades.

Having played this same hand myself a few minutes before, I knew that success or failure for Jacoby and Burnstine depended entirely on the latter's opening lead. And the tournament score was such that the outcome of this hand would determine the championship.

When the experts play bridge, the cards themselves represent only  about fifty percent of any hand's value. The other fifty percent Is psy- chology. In this tight spot, Burnstine made full use of his knowledge of his opponents" weaknesses.

He knew that  Lightner and Culbertson are among the most nervous players in bridge. Ely, especially, hates to have to wait. When, as in this case, he is going to be dummy, he fidgets and frets until the opening lead is made. Then he flings down his hand, without even bothering to separate the suits, and races away from the table. He can't stand the suspense of watching the hand played,

Realizing that the championship might well depend on his opening lead, Burnstine decided to take his time. Very deliberately he
reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of chewing gum. He carefully unwrapped it, put it slowly into his mouth and gave a tentative chew.

By this time Ted Lightner was actually squirming in his seat. Ely was beside himself with impatience. But still Burnstine couldn't decide what to lead. And, in any event, he couldn't lead until he had disposed of the chewing-gum wrapper. So he threw it down on the table.

Like a flash Culbertson threw down his dummy hand. An instant later he realized his error and hastily scooped up the cards. It was too late.


Capitalizing on his unexpected look at the dummy, Burnstine made the lead which set the hand.

Small things often Influence the outcome of major tournaments. A bottle of Coke was a big factor in the winning of the National Match-Point Team-of-Four Championship at Atlantic City, New Jersey,



A Finesse or a Prayer?

It happened in a cxocial hand on which I had to guess whether to finesse for the king of trumps or to play my ace and hope for the king to fall. There were only three trumps out and I had no way to guess how they were split .The percentage favors a finesse, but percentages are not infallible.

I fed a low trump from the dummy, and the player on rny right played low with just the proper air of noodhalance. I patised for a moment to see whether I had overfooked any sign which migjit give me a key to this move. The opponent of my left, waiting to play, hailed a passing waiter.


"Will you get me a Coke, please?" he asked.

Then and there I knew that he had the missing king. No man orders a drink in the middle of a crucial hand unless he is trying to be too chalant. I played my ace and the king dropped. Our team won the tournament by one-quarter of a match point.



Hesitation during the play of a hand is perfectly ethical so long as you don't overdo it. On the other hand, hesitation during the bidding is considered extremely bad form. It obviously reveals that the question has some tricky value or that there is a problem in it. This problem can be readily and accurately guessed by an expert partner.

There is a classic bridge story involving Charlie Goren, one of the country's top players. In a local tournament several years ago Goren drew as his partner a somewhat inexpert old lady.

Charlie dealt and bid one club. The opponent on bis left overcalled with one spade. The old lady hesitated and finally passed. Goren then bid two clubs, -which was promptly overcalled with two spades. This time the old lady paused even longer before passing.

Goren finally got the contract for three clubs. When the old lady's hand went down, it contained little trick value. "My," remarked Goren. That  second hesitation certainly was an overbid."


 

As chairman of the Committee on Ethics of the American Contract Bridge League, I can vouch for the fact that unethical conduct is practically unheard of at national tournaments. Occasionally, unwittingly, a player gets a glimpse of an opponent's hand. Some players, even good ones, hold their cards in such a fashion as to make it impossible fear them not to be seen.

The saying that "a peek is worth two finesses** is the greatest understatement in bridge. But peekers quickly become known and are dealt with then and there by the other players.

I remember one local tournament when I was paired with a most charming lady. After the first couple of hands, it became obvious that one of our opponents was intentionally peeking. After the fourth or fifth deal as his eye started roving toward my partner's hand, she turned to him with her sweetest smile and said, "I wish you wouldn't look at my hand. Tm superstitious,"



At another small match I heard an expert torn to the player on his right and remark acidly: "Do you mind if I look at my hand first?"



Actually the Committee on Ethics has little work to do. Not so the committees on interpretation of the rules. I remember one incident in which an old lady asked the tournament chairman to rule on a point.


She had bid four diamonds over an opponent's four-spade bid. The director explained the rutine ruling including the option of making the diamond bid sufficient  with no penalty.

After the hand was over the little old lady sought out the director and complained. "You said I could bid five diamonds 'with no penalty.*


Well, I bid it and went down 1,700 points. What do you mean no penalty?"