Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Five Extraordinary Bridge Moments

1. The Deadliest Game
In 1929, John and Myrtle Bennett of Kansas City invited their neighbours Charles and Myrna Hofman over for a friendly game of bridge. For the first couple of hours the Bennetts had the distinct upper hand. However, the Hofmans managed to catch up and were leading by a small margin when the fatal hand occurred. Mr Bennett overbid a 4 Spade contract, failed by two tricks and had the audacity to criticize his wife's bidding. This pushed Mrs Bennett over the edge and she subsequently shot her husband dead.
The jury chose to ignore the physical evidence of one dead husband, a pistol with her prints and multiple bullet holes and acquitted her (there were rumours that the presiding judge was a keen bridge player). She even managed to collect a sizeable insurance payment, but had trouble thereafter finding a bridge partner.
2. How a stick of Gum won a Bridge Tournament
In the final round of the 1934 Men's Pair New York Championship, Ely Culbertson partnered with Ted Lightner against Oswald Jacoby and David Burnstine. To win the championship, Lightner risked bidding 6 Spades with Culbertson to be dummy. Burnstine, knowing Culbertson's reluctance to wait, decided to take his time. He deliberately paused to take a stick of gum from his pocket, took it out of its wrapper and chewed it for a moment.
At this stage, Culbertson was in a heightened state of anticipation and was actually writhing in his seat. Burnstine hadn't decided what to lead and eventually threw the chewing-gum wrapper on the table. Quick as lightening, Culbertson threw his dummy on the table, realized his error and scooped them up. But it was too late - Burnstine had seen the cards, realized what was needed for a killer lead and defeated the contract.
3. The Alcatraz Coup
Alcatraz or "The Rock" is an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay that was a Federal prison until 1963. Supposedly contract bridge was very popular there and the term "Alcatraz coup" was coined. The "coup" is declarer's intentional and unethical attempt to locate a finessable card by revoking.
For example, South is declarer and holding the Ace, Jack, 10, 8 and 5 of Hearts in Dummy and the King, 9, 7 and 6 in his hand. He can't locate the Queen and doesn't want to risk a Finesse. Since he had no other losers he claims the remaining tricks, pretending that he has "forgotten" about the Queen. The Alcatraz Coup has just occurred.
Poor old West pipes up that declarer must play on, thus revealing that he must have the Queen. Treacherous. Everyone now knows that finessing West is a sure winner. In the outside world, a furious West would call for the tournament director. However, there were no such directors on the Rock, but you would imaging the guards would be called to calm the ensuing riot.
4. The Bermuda Foot-Tapping Scandal
The Bermuda Bowl is a biennial world championship contract bridge tournament for national teams. The best known controversy occurred in 1975 when it was held at home in Bermuda. While watching one of the Italian pairs, journalist Keidan reported that partners Gianfranco Facchini and Sergio Zucchelli were touching each other's shoes under the table in an apparent attempt to relay information about their hands.
This sinister discovery, which was confirmed by several witnesses, was presented to the presiding authorities of the event, who "severely reprimanded" Facchini and Zucchelli for their activity but allowed the players to continue competing in the event. However, to prevent any future temptation to foot-signal, the Bermuda Bowl authorities placed blocks underneath the tables.
5. The Buenos Aires Affair
In 1965, Britain's Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro were accused of cheating at the world championships in Buenos Aires. At a hearing held at the tournament, the World Bridge Federation found them guilty of transmitting finger signals to each other indicting how many hearts each held. Both players were banned for the remainder of the tournament. British captain Ralph Swimer forfeited all his team's matches and withdrew Great Britain from the competition.
This accusation, however, was mired in doubt. After many months of analysis the "Foster Enquiry" concluded that Reese and Schapiro had not been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore acquitted them. The British Bridge League eventually found Reese and Schapiro innocent of cheating; however, the World Bridge Federation found them guilty and banned them from WBF events for three years.

By Naomi Mooney

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