...with apologies to the late Victor Mollo.
I strolled over to the far end of the room, and was surprised to see the Rabbit on table three. No doubt the Hog, on the opposing side, was surprised to be there too.
"It's our first Swiss Teams," the Rabbit had confided in me earlier, "and I'm not sure I'd have entered if I'd known there were going to be computer dealt hands. All these wild distributions! I have enough problems when the trumps split 4-3, and I'll be in no end of trouble if they're 6-1, 7-0 or worse."
The Hog had been confident. It was unusual to see him in partnership with Papa, but he explained: "There is no-one in the club I trust to handle the dummy better, provided that it's face up in front of him. Many of the country's best squads don't give enough thought to right-siding the team. It's a neglected tactic."
"Anyway," he continued, "while you're getting me a drink from the bar, mull over this defensive problem. Papa got it wrong, but is still defending his choice to the death. Perhaps you could adjudicate later?"
I explained that waiting was not yet a director's duty, and more pressing was the requirement that he stop smoking in the playing area.
"I thought that this was the mis-playing area," he grunted, stubbing out his cigar in a bidding box. "Anyway, here you are:"
"Partner leads the K, and switches to a trump. Plan the defence."
* * *
Midway through the match, the Rabbit's ears twitched. The Toucan, sitting East, picked up - - - AKQJ1098765432. He seemed to have an insoluble problem. The Walrus was sponsoring the team and had insisted that both pairs play his system. "No opening on less than 13 points," he had demanded. The Toucan wondered whether you were allowed to add on anything for voids. Perhaps if he couldn't open 1 he was allowed to pre-empt? He bounced giddily on his chair. The Walrus insisted on some rule of 500 or other. Now what was it? The Toucan was fairly sure he had to make sure he would score -500 opposite a worthless dummy. What level would allow him to achieve that? After exhausting all the options he reluctantly opted for 7. He would have to try playing it badly.
South, Papa, passed. If the Toucan was genuine, there was no need to concede 5 IMPs by doubling. If he wasn't, then defeating the contract should be good anyway.
Holding 85 KQJ1098765 76 -, the Rabbit converted to 7. Surely hearts would play better than clubs, he thought, especially with the Toucan at the helm.
The Hog, who had been planning to sacrifice in 7 now had an easy double, which ended the auction. The Rabbit managed, just, to avoid revoking and conceded five off for -1400.
"13 IMPs away," grumbled the Hog, "through scatterbrained incompetence." For once he was wrong - it was more. At the other table, Colin the Corgi sneakily didn't mention his clubs at the first two opportunities, and the Chimp as South had somehow managed to declare 7NT redoubled.
"How can you bid 7NT on that?" roared the Walrus. "I had only shown 13 points, and you didn't even have an opening bid let alone a stop in their suits!"
"Er, well, probably West wouldn't have a club and I deduced you had the ace of hearts from your double, and of course 7NT scores more than 7," ventured the Chimp, unconvincingly. "Anyway, even if you didn't have two six card suits it might be a good sacrifice against something and after all, if I was wrong, a bottom is just a bottom."
"It's not matchpoints, it's IMPs," pointed out the Corgi, "and I think we have one at this table."
The Chimp was keen to change the subject. Pulling out a piece of paper, he turned to me. "Has anyone told you about the Rabbit's brilliancy in the last match?"
"What are those hands printed on the back of the paper?" asked the Corgi.
"Er, no, they're not hands. It's my bank statement. Anyway," he scribbled, "you open 4, partner raises to 6, LHO leads the A, and RHO follows small. Next LHO switches to the K."
As no-one seemed in the mood to talk to the Chimp, I ventured: "I ruff, and plan to ruff my spade before playing for 2-2 trumps."
"Hang on! East plays the Q under the K," the Chimp interrupted.
"Well," I reconsidered, "when I find RHO with Qx, it becomes percentage to play a heart to the ace, and finesse the heart. With LHO having six spades to RHO's doubleton, the heart length is likely to be with RHO."
"The percentage play," the Chimp agreed, "but...one off. Hearts are two-two."
"So what was the Rabbit's brilliancy? Did he ignore the odds and stick to `eight ever nine never'?"
"The Rabbit was East!"
I was amazed. "The Rabbit found that! Not sticky chocolate almond biscuits again?"
"No, it was his new convention, Smith Peters. Apparently you play high-low on the first suit declarer plays to show you like partner's opening lead!"
The teams scored up, and it transpired that the Rabbit's team had won by 48 IMPs, helped by the hand I watched, another where the Chimp found the only lead (low from Qx trumps) to beat a small slam, and a third where he took a couple of inspired very deep finesses to bring home 6NT.
Sadly the Chimp's form was not to last. During dinner I carelessly left a set of hand records marked `Evening Session' on the director's table. Annoyingly I couldn't find them when I returned, which was inconvenient as I was going to look into why the West and North hands had been transposed by the computer.
The Chimp is still trying to explain to the Walrus why, on the first hand, he chose to force to 6 redoubled on a flimsy 5-1 fit instead of supporting the Walrus' hearts at any point. And the Walrus hasn't yet got on to the inquisition as to why the Chimp ignored his Blackwood response and bid the slam anyway missing two aces.
* * *
There was still the Hog's defensive problem to resolve ...
"I know a diamond didn't work at the table," argued Papa, "but I maintain it's a 50-50 guess."
The hand, as played, was:
Papa had won the ace and returned a trump. Declarer won and played the A followed by a club to the 9 and 10. West exited with a club, and declarer had no trouble scoring two clubs, a ruff, four diamonds, and two hearts.
The Hog explained: "Isn't it obvious? Win with the ace and return a spade. Declarer has no good pitch so has to ruff. Then when partner gets in with the A he can play the A so that you come to a trick in each suit plus an extra one in trumps through the force."
"You are a results merchant!" thundered Papa. "Look, suppose the hand were as follows:
Now if you return a spade, declarer ruffs and plays a heart. It isn't hard for him to score a heart, four trumps, two clubs, and two club ruffs. If you return a trump he's one trick short."
"Papa, Papa," murmured the Hog, "I accept the spade return doesn't work here, but I still have nine tricks on a trump return, even if you don't. Look, if you like, you defend and I'll play, assuming that you can afford the normal stakes."
"Naturally," replied Papa confidently, "doubled and redoubled I trust?"
East won the A and returned a diamond, Papa discarding a spade. The Hog played two rounds of clubs. "Don't forget to unblock," he chided.
Papa mulled. A day of irritating jibes and still the Hog was pretending he could teach him how to defend. Surely though, there was no need to unblock? If the Hog let him win the third club, he had a safe exit with the A. True, this would set up the ninth trick in dummy, but when the Hog ruffed his club, he would then have no way back to hand without forcing himself off.
"I shall defend as I like," he retorted.
As he anticipated, the Hog let him win the third club and Papa exited with the A. However, the Hog then changed tack and drew trumps, abandoning his club ruff and thus reducing himself back to eight tricks. On the last trump the position was:
Papa was caught in a curious squeeze. Whatever he discarded, he would come to just the A. The Hog would come to four cases of champagne.
"You can't say I didn't give him a sporting chance this time," gloated the Hog.
* * *
I met the Rabbit on the way out.
"Did you enjoy it?" I asked, as we walked towards the car park.
"It wasn't as bad as I thought," he rambled, "and it's nice of the EBU to give the Chimp an invitation to visit the Laws & Ethics Committee. I may have misheard but I think they said something about giving him a pension. I hope it's better value than their savings account for gold points though. Is the rate of interest really negative ...?"