All the best people play bridge. Stephen Sondheim, who died two weeks ago, was mad about the game. In his memoir Big Deal, the concert pianist and bridge professional Augie Boehm recalls playing with him in a game organised by Alan Truscott, the New York Times’s bridge columnist. Sondheim had at first declined the invitation, fearing the others would be too good for him. As it happened, Truscott and Boehm had recently collaborated on a musical review of bridge songs. When Truscott asked Sondheim if he could send him some lyrics to look at, Sondheim changed his mind about coming. ‘If you have the temerity to send me your lyrics,’ he wrote back, ‘I can summon the nerve to play bridge with you.’ They got a suitable fourth and Sondheim ended up impressing them all. This is the hand Truscott wrote up in his column:
Truscott (West) led a club. Sondheim (East) won and continued with the ♣Q. Boehm (South) won the ♣K, and ran his diamonds. East is under pressure to find 3 discards. He can’t afford a spade. If he discards 2 clubs and 1 heart, South can cash his ♥A and exit with a club, forcing him to lead a spade to dummy’s ♠AJ. If he discards 3 clubs and holds on to ♥QJ, South can play ♥A and a low heart, a rare ‘winkle’ coup: if West wins with the ♥K, South’s ♥10 becomes a winner, while if West plays low, East is end-played as before. However, Sondheim had planned his discards in advance and with an air of complete insouciance, threw a club, then a spade, then a club. Boehm was now convinced that the ♠Q was on his left, and finessed the ♠J for down one. Well-defended, maestro!