The Griffins visit Derby

by Jonathan Mestel

(With apologies to Victor Mollo)

"What a dull session," bemoaned Papa the Greek, as the Griffins congregated in a small Italian restaurant between sessions at the Derby Swiss pairs. "I've never seen so many flat boards. Scarcely an occasion arose for me to demonstrate the full extent of my technical prowess."

"That shouldn't require too many," quipped Colin the Corgi, the Cambridge graduate who frequently mistook himself for witty.

"Papa, Papa," murmured the Hog through a mouthful of Crostini. "Is ever a board truly flat? You neglect, as always, the human factor. In the hands of a master," - here the Hog paused modestly to help himself to another breadstick - "no hand is devoid of possibilities. And you underestimate, as always, the ability of our colleagues to generate swings in a roundabout sort of way." Here he nodded at the Rueful Rabbit, whose ears adopted a Burgundy hue, and at Walter the Walrus, who was studiously counting the items on the menu.

"How did you get on on Board 23?" the Hog continued mischievously.

"A good example," said Papa. "-670. I assess it as slightly below average, because not everyone plays weak twos."

"Ah," beamed the Hog. "Yes, I suppose it might make. At our table it was one down, and might have been two down. Or plus one. I was playing with my favourite partner, RR, against the Secretary Bird and Walter:

Dealer N
S A4
H J8763
D 42
C K654
Both Vul
S 10
H AK10
D J983
C AJ1032
W         E
S K875
H Q52
D K107
C Q97
S QJ9632
H 94
D AQ65
C 8
   SB       HH       WW       RR   
P P 2s* X

"We had the same auction," snapped Papa. "Declarer has 5 trump tricks, two diamond tricks and a ruff. No other result is possible. A good board for the weak two."

"Well, not quite. I opened 2h as North," began Colin the Corgi, a devotee of the "rule of 1700" preemptive school. But his story was drowned out by the shocked silence which greeted this admission.

"What happened, HH?" interjected Oscar the Owl hurriedly. The Hog turned to me: "You were Kibbitzing - you tell them," and reached over to borrow the Crostini from an adjoining table.

I was sitting behind the Rabbit, who led hK. At this point the Walrus, who was never happy opening even at the 1-level with fewer than 13 points, grunted "I supose you've got no trumps, partner." The Secretary Bird, who was in context quite proud of his hand, responded "I've two - no trumps indeed!"

The Rabbit's ears flushed crimson. He hadn't been concentrating. He'd thought the contract was 2s, not 2NT. What would the Hog say? He'd made the wrong lead. How fortunate that he still had an entry. Quickly he switched to cJ, the correct honour card from that holding. When that held the trick, he continued with c10. Things were working out well. Declarer would duck again, he'd lead a club to partner's queen, and he'd shown partner where his entry lay with his opening lead! A deceptive masterpiece; he could hear the Hog's plaudits already. His reverie was shattered when the Walrus ruffed c10, and cunningly led s9.

"In case of a singleton king," was his enigmatic explanation when I later asked why he'd chosen that particular card.

The s10 was covered by the ace and dQ finessed. At this point the Walrus led his last heart. The Rabbit pounced on that with hA and attempted to give partner a heart ruff. But it was declarer who ruffed, while the Hog dropped the hQ and cQ on the table in unison.

"Penalty card!" shouted the Secretary Bird, who had hitherto lain dormant.

"Eh, what?" started the bemused Walrus. "No no, I couldn't take advantage of an accident."

"A noble sentiment," inclined the Hog, "However, you have a duty..."

"...both towards partner and to the other players in the tournament," concluded the SB sternly.

Thus it was that the cQ lay exposed on the table, while declarer played dA and ruffed a diamond. All WW needed to do to earn two more tricks was lead a winning heart in this position:

N to play
S -
H J8
D -
C K6
cQ exposed
S -
H -
C A32
W         E
S K87
H -
D -
H -
D 5
C -

But cQ smiled up at him enticingly from the table. Hadn't he a duty to use her? And he knew from the earlier play that HH held cA, so he could make an overtrick! He led cK and the HH ruefully followed with cQ. WW discarded a diamond, and fell off his chair when RR won cA. The Hog ruffed the dJ low and made the last two tricks with sK8.

Papa sat dazed throughout my recital. "Ha ha," chortled the Hog. "So you see, the board was not at all flat. At trick 1, declarer had 8 tricks. At trick 2 the cK could have been his 9th. The, um, imaginative lead of s9 brought the total down to 7. Exiting with the heart, rather than taking a diamond ruff brought the count down to 6, as I could win with hQ and exit with a low trump. RR's hA brought the total up to 7, if he continues with a diamond, but when he established dummy's hearts, it was 8 again. And there it would have remained had I not had the presence of mind - " at this the Hog faltered somewhat. "Er, I mean the absence of mind, to drop, carelessly yet perhaps fortuitously, the cQ on the table."

The main course finally arrived, just as the Hog finished the last breadstick. "You see, Papa. The Human Factor. Never forget the human factor. And maybe I too am human."