I’m writing this from Stuart Wheeler’s beautiful villa in Tangier, in the hills just above the bay, where for a week every September he hosts a high-stake rubber bridge game. There are sometimes one or two new faces, but usually it’s the lucky old regulars who return, like Patrick Lawrence, Alexander Allfrey, and none other than the great Andrew Robson. This is my sixth visit, and I love it: the company, the food, the booze, the distant call of the muezzins. Of course, Andrew’s presence adds an extra layer of magic: it’s a treat to play with and against him, even if he does win our money, and even more so to have him on tap to discuss hands.
The fun started before we’d even got here. On the plane out from Gatwick, Andrew passed us all a bridge quiz, using real hands from the recent World Transnationals. We had to give in our answers at the end of the flight, which kept us unusually quiet (probably Andrew’s plan). No one got full marks. Try this one — but cover the N/S hands as we only got to see E/W:
North led the ♠3. How would you play? If spades are 4–4 there’s no problem, you can knock out the ♣A for your ninth trick. But I was pretty sure North had led from ♠AKxxx, making it unsafe to play a club. I decided to cash the ♥A (in case the ♥Q drops), run the diamonds and then finesse the heart. I was awarded just half a point for my answer, because although I would have made the contract, my thinking was too shallow. There is a way to combine your chances. Start by cashing five diamonds. North can’t discard a spade. Nor can he discard two hearts if he holds ♥Qxxx or ♥Qxx. So he has to discard his club(s). Now you exit with a spade! If spades turn out to be 4–4, you don’t need to finesse a heart; if spades are 5–3, you do!