Long-married couples are notoriously intolerant of one another at the bridge table. It’s as if all their pent-up irritation comes bursting forth — no matter how humiliating for their partner. Frankly, some players are so mean to their spouses that if they behaved like that in everyday life, it would be classified as mental cruelty.
It’s not always so bad, but even the happiest of couples snap sometimes. At least, that’s what I thought until I came across John and Lucy Phelan, from Ireland, at the Summer Festival. Their behaviour left me stunned: they weren’t just nice to each other, they were delightful. And it’s not like they’re newlyweds or care-free amateurs. As I found out when I googled them, they recently won the All Ireland Bridge Pairs Championship. So they must be the exception that proves the rule. Here they are in defence: (see picture).
I was South. West (Lucy) led the ♣6. I won, played the ♥Q, John ducking, then cashed the ♠A. I continued with a heart to my ♥A. It was obvious John was short in spades, so I decided to finesse the ♠9. Bingo! John discarded a club, and now I played a low diamond. John did brilliantly: he unblocked his ♦K. He had rightly envisaged being end-played (after I’ve eliminated clubs, a second diamond would force him to win and play a club for a ruff-and-discard).
I won, finessed the ♠J, and pitched a club on the ♠K. Now I ruffed a club, and exited with a diamond. At this point, Lucy made an understandable error: she automatically played low, instead of rising with the ♦Q. John had to win with his ♦J — and now came a club for 12 tricks. Lucy began to apologise, but John was having none of it. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he said. ‘What was I thinking? I should have discarded my ♦J on a spade.’