A cataclysm at the Cavendish Club

April 10, 1967

It is a fine thing, of course, for various sports and arts to set up Halls of Fame for their heroes. However, I think a lot of us are just as interested in antiheroes, those who could only be commemorated in a Chamber of Horrors. I have a nomination for the Bridge Chamber of Horrors, although, truth to tell, it is already frightfully crowded.

The scene was the "big game" at New York's Cavendish Club, renowned gathering place for the world's bridge masters. Tact prevents me from giving you the name of the man sitting West. Suffice it to say that you would recognize him as a famous U.S. player. As if what transpired was not gruesome enough, it happened that West's partner was a woman—also an expert—who is not noted for amiability.

As an initial footnote to this auction, let me say that most of the bidding was done by the least expert player in the game. Obviously, I am referring to South. His first response of two hearts was eminently correct, but his three-club bid was fatuous, because two no trump was the indicated action. And his redouble of three no trump was an obvious case of trying to bite back at a buzzsaw, especially since the club bid had been doubled by West. South was clearly in serious trouble.

East's double called for West to lead his own suit (in this situation, West's earlier double of clubs was the equivalent of bidding clubs), so West opened his fourth-highest club. Declarer captured East's jack with the king, studied the dummy for a few seconds and evidently concluded that it would be cowardly to quickly take eight tricks and gracefully accept a one-trick, 400-point loss. Instead, he decided to play for the glory of it and made a suicidal move. He led the 9 of diamonds and let it ride.

East won the trick with the queen and returned the 4 of clubs. West topped South's 8 with the 9, but at this critical juncture he fell victim to a fixation. He decided that South had started with a five-card club suit, and then he became convinced that East had the diamond king. So he led his remaining diamond. The result was a catastrophe. Declarer ran off four diamonds and five hearts. Instead of going down four tricks redoubled, a crushing loss of 2,200 points, South was able to make the contract with an overtrick for a plus score of 1,350.

Swings of 3,550 points—at a very substantial stake—are not laughed off by bridge experts, and the lady in the East position was definitely not the laughing type. Nor tongue-tied! Moreover, although I deplore volubility in women, let alone explosiveness, I really could not blame her. It did seem that West might have resisted his notion about the diamond king long enough, at least, to lay down the ace of spades and see what card his partner would play on that trick. With East producing the 9 of spades, it would have become routine for West to cash his two top clubs, planning next to lead a spade. Lo and behold, West would find that he could also cash his last club, South having done his bidding on only a four-card club suit. Then East's two spade tricks would furnish the seventh and eighth tricks for the defense. The uproar at the Cavendish was almost as memorable as the hand itself.

ILLUSTRATION

Both sides vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

[Queen of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[6 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]

WEST

[Ace of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[9 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[7 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

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

EAST

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

NORTH

1 [Spade]
2 [Spade]
3 [Diamond]
PASS
PASS

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS
DOUBLE
PASS

SOUTH

2 [Heart]
3 [Club]
3 N.T.
REDOUBLE

WEST

PASS
DOUBLE
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: 5 of clubs

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)