Susanna Gross

Bridge | 05 September 2019

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Benjaminised Acol, better known as ‘Benji Acol’ — and its variant ‘Reverse Benji’ — is one of the most commonly played bidding systems in Britain. So popular, indeed, that it’s easy to forget that ‘Benji’ was a real person — the Scottish international Albert Benjamin, who died nearly 15 years ago at the age of 96. He invented his system — a combination of weak and strong two-level opening bids — in the early 1970s, and had no idea how popular it would become. Not many people can boast that their name is cited thousands of times a week up and down the country. It must have been tempting for Benjamin to exclaim: ‘That’s me!’, but he was a modest chap and never did.

His fellow Scottish international, Ross Harper — a renowned lawyer — partnered him occasionally, and I’ve always remembered a story Ross told me. When Benjamin was about 85, the two of them were playing at the Isle of Man Fours, when their opponents announced: ‘We play Benji Acol.’ ‘Really?’ said Ross. ‘And have you ever met the great Albert Benjamin?’ ‘ No,’ they replied — ‘have you?’ ‘No,’ he answered. ‘I very much doubt he’s still alive.’ The opponents proceeded to bid the following grand slam (via a sequence too elaborate to reproduce here).

Benjamin (West) led a club. Declarer won in hand and cashed the ♠A. Had Benjamin followed with the ♠2, declarer would no doubt have continued by cashing the ♠Q and taking the marked finesse when East showed out. But Benjamin decided to give declarer a losing option — he made the classic deceptive play of the ♠9. Deciding this was a singleton, declarer now tried to pick up East’s supposed Jxxx by crossing to dummy’s ♠K in order to play a spade to the ♠8.

Of course, when East showed out, the slam was doomed. Declarer looked at his elderly opponent with astonishment. At which point Ross piped up with: ‘May I introduce you to Mr Benjamin?’