Susanna Gross

Bridge | 05 February 2022

Bridge | 05 February 2022
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I’ve been friends with the England player Mike Bell for many years; as top bridge professionals go, I’d say he has fewer eccentricities than most. But there’s one thing I can never get used to: in the depths of winter, he refuses to wear anything but a T-shirt. He doesn’t even own a jumper, let alone a coat. Last Sunday, it was an unusually cold evening, and as we strolled out of the Young Chelsea bridge club in Hammersmith — along with his wife Sarah Bell and Ollie Burgess — I made the mistake of telling him he was crazy not to put on something warm. His response was to whip off his T-shirt and walk bare-chested down the street.

As it happens, it was Mike’s second strip of the day. The four of us had teamed up to play in a London teams event (which was very enjoyable, especially as we won). On this deal, he performed a perfect strip-squeeze (see diagram).

Playing fourth highest leads, West did well to lead a false ◆2, rather than the ◆3, to suggest he held four, not five diamonds. East won and returned the ◆9 to Mike’s ◆K. Next came the ♣Q and a club to dummy’s A♣. If diamonds broke 4-4, he simply needed to knock out the ♥A. But he had already smelt a rat. If West had four diamonds, then East too had four: so why did he return the ◆9 rather than a low diamond at trick 2? It looked a lot like the top of a doubleton. Mike cashed four more clubs. West discarded two hearts and a spade, then a reluctant second spade. Mike’s assessment was perfect: West had started with five diamonds, the ♥A and the ♠K — and had been strip-squeezed. Mike played a spade to the ♠A, dropping West’s ♠K, and the ♠Q was his ninth trick. Such naked talent!