Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Abbot and the Hog

I'm a big fan of bridge humor, starting with the relatively serious S. J. Simon's Why You Lose at Bridge and Cut for Partners through all of Victor Mollo's Menagerie series to David Bird's many characters.  Yes, there are other humorous bridge authors but none are as good as these three, in my opinion.

When I first came across the Abbot, I thought he was insufferable, with no redeeming qualities.  But then I found that, like the Abbot of Cockaigne in Carmina Burana, he invites a somewhat grudging empathy in us. Indeed, he has become a much-loved character.  Over the years, and the many books (and bridge bulletins) in which he and his bridge-crazy monks appear, I've come to realize something rather shocking: I'm rather too much like the Abbot myself for comfort.  Indeed, the Abbot is one of the fictional bridge characters that we all should constantly try to avoid becoming. 

He's a good player, though not quite the expert that he thinks he is.  He's an advanced declarer, with skills to which many of us non-experts might aspire.  But his bidding and defense are somewhat pedestrian and at a level that I hope I don't emulate.

What makes him such a good foil for Bird's jokes is his pomposity and his indifference to the points of view of his fellows.  He is constantly performing the bridge equivalent of slipping on a banana skin.

As I mentioned, the worrying part is when I find myself thinking the way he does.  For instance, at the club recently, I witnessed the following auction (we did not contribute): 1 – 1♠ – 1NT – 2 – 3♠ (!) – 4♠.  I was on lead to 4♠ and I asked what the 3♠ bid was all about.  I shouldn't have.  I knew I wouldn't get a sensible reply.  Presumably opener had just found another Ace or King in her hand.  But no, 2 was forcing (!) and 3♠ now showed a max with three pieces.  Dummy had some sort of unremarkable 9 or 10 count but the contract was nevertheless cold and, needless to say, generally not found at the other tables.  I found this all very vexing.  It's the kind of auction the Abbot might hear from the novices, resulting in him having to assign additional homework.  Equanimity and serenity – that's what we should be striving for, not aggravation.

The Abbot's biggest sin, however, apart from gluttony perhaps, is pride.  He can't stand it when his opponents don't realize that he is a grandmaster.  But haven't we all grimaced when we make the theoretically correct but losing play only to have our LOL opponent smile and look at us as if we just learned to play the game yesterday? 

What I find particularly funny and surprising about the Abbot is his Chauvinism (fortunately, I'm not guilty of that characteristic).  For some reason, he has no patience for foreigners, especially when they speak with thick accents.  Even the brilliant Italian monk Paolo (or Paulo), a relatively permanent member of St. Titus, isn't immune from the Abbot's barbs.

Still at the top of my bridge humor list, however, is the Hideous Hog and his fellow Griffins.  I figured that, eventually, some advantage would accrue from all those misspent hours reading about the exploits of the denizens of the menagerie. That moment finally arrived this week.

As is well known, the Hog has more de facto aces and kings than his opponents and is consequently better able to afford to jettison aces when it suits him.  I have rarely if ever gotten to jettison an ace – until this hand came up: ♠KT9 654 532 ♣KQ75.  We were playing matchpoints at favorable vulnerability and my LHO dealt and passed.  Partner opened 1 and RHO overcalled 1♠.  1NT seemed like the right call and LHO now raised to 2♠.  Partner surprised everyone by bidding 3NT which closed proceedings.  ♠5 was led and this magnificent dummy came down: ♠2 QJ32 AKQJ974 ♣A.  I saw at once that I needed to jettison that ♣A as soon as possible and if only RHO would go up with the ♠A, I would get a chance.  He did and returned a spade.  I very much enjoyed calling for "small club, please."  Making four with seven diamonds and three black cards was worth 9.5 of 11 matchpoints.  Not everyone saw the need for this play, although it is possible that some crafty RHOs played their ♠Q at trick one.

We can't all be brilliant but we can at least aspire to the better behaviors of our bridge heroes.

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