It’s been six months since the legendary Martin Hoffman died, but I’m still not sure if I’ve quite registered the fact. For 70 years, Martin was an omnipresent figure in London’s bridge clubs, and at 89 he remained as active as ever: he was cheerily playing with a client just hours before he passed away. I keep half-expecting him to pop into the YC or TGR’s, either to play or just to watch, as he liked to do.
Martin was renowned for the lightening speed of his analysis: he could spot complex coups within a nano-second. Popular though he was, this made him the last person you wanted kibitzing you. He had a supremely irritating habit of tapping you on the shoulder the moment a hand was over and saying: ‘You could have made that.’ Even fellow experts were not safe. In Robert Sheehan’s excellent Times Book of Bridge 2, he recalls Martin kibitzing this rubber bridge deal:
Robert (South) ruffed West’s ♥A lead and played a diamond to the ♦9 and East’s ♦10. East’s returned a spade. West covered the ♠7 with the ♠8 and switched to the ♣ J. Robert had a chance of making the contract if East held the ♠K, but he felt sure trumps were 4-1. He decided to limit the damage by playing clubs. On the third club, West discarded a heart (mistake). Robert then cashed the ♥K, pitching a diamond, ruffed a heart, ruffed a diamond, and played a club, pitching his last diamond and forcing West to ruff with a trump trick. Just as he was conceding one down, a voice came from behind: ‘You know you could have made that, don’t you?’ Martin scribbled down the end position: N: ♥8♣1096, S: ♠AQ9♦Q, W:♠KJ10♥J. Instead of playing a club to discard a diamond, Robert could have ruffed a heart and exited with a diamond: West would have to ruff and give him the last two tricks!