In the middle of one particular hand in the Tolle qualifier at Coventry, Julian Wightwick and I each made an offhand remark which should have allowed the opponents to defeat the contract. By good fortune, they missed the obvious inference, so this is a cautionary tale with a happy ending. This was the hand:
Julian opened 1 as North and East mysteriously passed, allowing me a cheap 1 call. (At another table, Chris Jagger as East overcalled 2 and played there, doubled, for -300: an excellent score.) Julian now showed good hearts and short spades (singleton or void) with a jump to 3. This left me in what chess players call a Zugzwang, meaning that the only moves available are all bad. 4 is decidedly wet but 4, partner's first suit, would imply A (most people play that you cue kings or aces in partner's suit, but not voids - Ed) and 4 would show first round control in diamonds; 3NT might be fine if I knew what it meant. What about 4? After pondering 4 for an eternity, I plumped as usual for the first thing I thought of, namely 4. Probably 5 is best, showing the void, but I was worried about going past 4 , when my hand might be rather unsuitable. Anyway, partner cued 4 and we lurched into 6.
West led A and Julian put down dummy, innocently commenting that he didn't think much of my first-round club control, `if I may say so'. I was concerned that this comment might mislead opponents, and so I fatuously responded `You may not.' Under the circumstances, I could hardly correct `first-round control' to `ace', which is what 4 should have meant.
East followed with the 2, the world's most obvious singleton, and I played a highish card in a feeble attempt to mislead. It would not now, after our ill-advised comments, require a genius in the West seat to place me with a club void, and hence long diamonds. However, after not much thought, he switched to a club instead of taking the diamond ruff and the contract rolled in.
And the moral? We all like to make the game more friendly with jokey remarks. Sometimes, though, careless talk costs costs contracts, to paraphrase the WWII slogan.