Martin Hoffman is a hero. Now in his eighties, he can still analyse a hand faster than most people can sort their cards and he still plays at the speed of light. For many years he was considered the best Pairs player in the world, splitting his time between Florida and London where he played with a vast array of sponsors, getting some remarkable results.
Born in Czechoslovakia, he was orphaned in the Holocaust and at 14 was liberated by the Americans at the end of the war and sent to England. He started watching bridge players at the local club, and became obsessed with the game.
Between rounds, Martin loves telling jokes. Jokes make me anxious. I never get them and usually force a laugh at the wrong time. Last time I saw him he asked if he could tell me his latest story. ‘No,’ I said forcefully. ‘Give me a hand instead.’ Two minutes later he showed me this:
In a team’s event both Souths opened 3♣ and ended in 5♣. At each table the lead was Ace and another trump.
In the first room declarer won the ♣King and ruffed a heart. He entered dummy with a diamond ruff and ruffed another heart. Next came a spade to the Ace and another heart ruff but when West showed out the contract was down.
‘How unlucky can you be” the admittedly unlucky declarer moaned. ‘The spades didn’t break, the ♥Ace didn’t come down and the defence found the best lead. It could only happen to me.’
His final piece of bad luck was that Martin was declarer at the other table. He too won the second trump with the King and ruffed a heart. He then made the unusual play of a small diamond from hand, pitching a Heart from dummy. Now when he ran all the trumps, his (key) Diamond play would squeeze either opponent who held four spades and the Ace of Diamonds.