It’s got to be the most bizarre news story of the year: last week, no fewer than 50 Thai police officers burst into a bridge club in Pattaya — a city rife with crime and prostitution — and arrested 32 elderly players, many of them British ex-pats. Gambling is strictly forbidden in Thailand, and the police were acting on a false tip-off that they were playing for money. But even once it was clear that they weren’t, the bridge enthusiasts — who included an 84-year-old Dutch woman on a walking stick — were carted off to the police station and charged with breaking a 1935 law prohibiting card players from possessing more than 120 cards at any given time. They were released at 4 a.m., after being fined 5,000 baht each (around £100).
Well, I can’t say anything so exciting has ever happened to me at the bridge table — though I’m sure many of my partners would have loved to see me arrested on the spot. I was, however, subjected to a different sort of hold-up when I last visited the Portland Club in London. At the club’s annual auction pairs — one of my favourite events of the year — Lou Alsop made a hold-up play against me to bring home 3NT:
My partner led the ♥7 to my ♥K. It’s tempting for declarer to take this trick: by winning, she is guaranteed another heart trick; by ducking she gives it up. Moreover, if hearts are 4–4, she goes down by ducking. But Lou decided the ♥7 looked suspiciously like it was led from Qxxxx; and my opening bid marked me with both minor-suit aces. So she held up her ♥A, and when I continued, held up again. She won the third heart, played the ♦K and on winning I was powerless; I returned a diamond; she won, knocked out the ♣A and quickly wrapped up nine tricks.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.