Maugham never forgot the day I trumped his ace

January 17, 1966

Among the many memorable experiences that I owe to bridge was the privilege of knowing the late Somerset Maugham. By expert standards, he was not to be feared as a player, yet he had the ability and the wisdom to bring something quite special to the game. He loved to play and he played to win, but he never lost sight of the important fact that bridge is only a game. Once he wrote, "The essentials for playing a good game of bridge are to be truthful, clearheaded and considerate, prudent but not averse to taking a risk, and not to cry over spilt milk. And incidentally those are perhaps also the essentials for playing the more important game of life."

Some 20 years ago a publishing company asked me who might do an introduction to my Standard Book of Bidding. When I suggested Mr. Maugham I was scoffed at on two grounds: a) he would assuredly refuse, b) he never wrote anything for less than $10,000. Nevertheless, I asked. Maugham agreed, much to my pleasure and excitement, but added in his letter, "I had better let you know at once what my terms are." His terms, it turned out, were that I had to be his guest at dinner and bridge. I have always been especially fond of the introduction that he wrote. Included in his general assessment of the joys of bridge was the cogent note that "I do not engage in postmortems for I think the players who habitually do so make a bore of the most interesting game that the art of man has ever devised."

Now that I look over our correspondence, it confirms what I have long suspected about this wonderfully talented individual, namely, that he is the one who paid me as great a compliment as I ever received, while at the same time being the man who most effectively deflated my ego.

The deflation I discovered first. It is in a letter dated 1949 concerning a possible visit to his home, and to the letter he added this postscript: "Thank you for your new book. I am sure if you read it carefully, it will greatly improve your game." But as I browsed I also found the compliment, which had been written three years earlier. "I wish I could make a novel as absorbing as you make your books on bridge," this letter said. Even then, I must confess, there was the gentle pinprick of the balloon he had so kindly overinflated, for he added, "How lucky for the world that I did not murder you on that occasion when you trumped my best card and, when I remonstrated with you afterwards, you said: 'After all it only made the difference of a trick.' "

As nearly as I recall, the cards were as shown at right. I could have wished that my hand included only three deuces and that my singleton heart was a bigger one, especially when Maugham persisted with his suit by leading the ace after the king.

It was immediately obvious that my partner did not have both the ace and king of diamonds, or he would surely have led the diamond king to the second trick. But how many hearts did he have? From his' free rebid at the three level, in the face of my pass and two bidding opponents, I considered it likely that he held a six-card suit. In this event, South would have only two hearts, would ruff the third heart lead and must surely be able to win 10 tricks in trumps and clubs—perhaps even 11 if we had not taken a diamond trick.

The chance to defeat the contract seemed to hinge upon partner's holding the ace-queen of diamonds, so I ruffed the second heart and returned the 10 of diamonds. If the cards had been as I hoped, trumping partner's ace would have been spectacularly successful. Instead, all I had to do was let Maugham's ace win the second trick, trump a third heart lead and collect the setting trick by leading to partner's ace of diamonds.

All too often, in similar circumstances, I have tried to make myself look good by pointing out the right reason for what turned out to be the wrong play. But I offered no explanation this time. If Somerset Maugham wanted to remember Charlie Goren as a bridge player who trumps his partner's aces, I would still be honored.

PHOTOTHE DETERMINED MAUGHAM AT PLAY

Both sides vulnerable West dealer

NORTH

[Ace of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[8 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[King of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]

WEST

[7 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[King of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]

SOUTH

[King of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[3 of Clubs]

EAST

[5 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[2 of Hearts]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[9 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]

WEST
(Maugham)

1 [Heart]
3 [Heart]
PASS

NORTH

2 [Club]
3 [Spade]
PASS

EAST
(Goren)

PASS
PASS
PASS

SOUTH

2 [Spade]
4 [Spade]

Opening lead: king of hearts

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)