Susanna Gross

Bridge | 23 March 2017

Everyone knows him, but hardly anyone can pronounce his name — which is why Jacek Pszczola is universally called Pepsi. He’s Polish, of course, but lives in the US, and is one of the world’s most successful — and popular — bridge pros. He does, however, have one very disconcerting habit. As soon as he’s dummy, he opens a dog-eared crime thriller and starts to read — it doesn’t matter who he’s partnering, or how important the tournament. The first time I saw him do this, he was sitting opposite a client and I thought it was incredibly rude. But she didn’t seem to mind — and nor, it turns out, does anyone else. Clearly, that’s because neither Lee Child nor Michael Connelly nor John Grisham has ever put him off his game, or indeed stopped him from becoming a world champion. As soon as he puts his book down, his mind is as sharp as ever. Take this hand from the recent Australian National Open Teams:
West led the 9. Here’s what happened at the other table, where the bidding and lead were the same: East played the A and declarer played the J under it to try and avoid a ruff. East, unsure whether the 9 was a singleton or doubleton, found the perfect switch instead: a low heart. The contract now had to go one off.
Pepsi was more far-sighted. He played the 2 under East’s A, making it obvious that West had a singleton. He wanted East to return the suit precisely to cater for the layout above. East did; West duly ruffed and shifted to a heart but it was too late. Pepsi won with the A, cashed two top trumps, led a club to dummy’s ace and played the K for a heart discard. West ruffed but that was the last trick for the defence.

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