Bridge Players

Bridge is a fascinating game. Not only is the game itself incredibly interesting, but among the players there are lots of great characters. Here are a few I've encountered over the years.

The Chernoff Defense

I was playing in the district finals of the Grand National Teams several years ago. We were destined to come in 2nd as usual, but that's not the story. We were playing against Victor Chernoff and Guy Green. Victor has a bit of a temper and is a little bit rough around the edges. Guy doubled me in a very pushy game contract and they didn't find the best defense, so I ended up with a doubled overtrick. Victor couldn't take it. He started screaming at Guy, "you moron! How could you play like that... blah, blah, ... idiot ... blah, blah, ... moron, etc." This goes on for about 2 minutes at which point I get tired of it and call the director for the Zero Tolerance penalty. The director comes over and asks what's up as if he didn't know. I say, "as of last count, Victor just called partner a moron fourteen times in the last two minutes. It's time for him to stop." The director asks if this is true. Victor admits that it is, but he has a justification. "You see, he IS a moron!"

Thereafter, "you see, he IS a moron" has been dubbed "The Chernoff Defense."

W-P Bellarozzo

Playing in a sectional pair game, on the last round we encounter a player who has a very high opinion of his own game. In second chair, he is dealt  S:AJ H:AQ1072 D:Jx C:QJ10x. My partner opens 1H:, a five card major. RHO overcalls 1NT. I bid 2D:, natural and nonforcing. Mr. Ego's partner thinks for about 10-15 seconds and passes. My partner passes in tempo and Mr. Ego bids 2H:. Gently, we call the director. The director asks everyone about the hesitation. Everyone agrees that it was at least 10 seconds, a significant break in tempo. He has us play out the hand and call him back if we deem that appropriate. Everyone passes 2H:. The play is not without interest, but declarer manages to bring home eight tricks, which is roughly normal on the lay of the cards. It turns out that we are cold for ten tricks in diamonds, so we call the director back. This is the last hand of the event, and there's another event later in the day, so the director asks us if it's OK that he decides how to rule during the dinner break; if we need an appeals committee, we can do it after the second session. We all agree.

Near the end of the second session, the director says he has consulted with other directors and had some good players give their opinions. After due consideration he has judged to adjust the score to 2D: making four. He also informs us that the opponents have chosen to appeal, which is hardly surprising.

Unfortunately, the directors have consulted all the well-known experts in the room to make their ruling, with the exception of one: my partner for the evening session, who of course cannot serve. They are really hard up to find committee members, but after a long search, they find three reasonably experienced players who consent to serving.

At the hearing, the directors explain what happened. They say they consulted three players with 36,000, 26,000, and 25,000 masterpoints respectively (whom we all know are Grant Baze, Roger Bates, and Mike Shuman, all currently defending national or world champions). One of the players said he would bid 2H:, but after the hesitation "has to pass." A second player says it's a toss-up between bidding 2H: and passing, but surely passes after partner's hesitation. The third player passed no matter what. (Good job, directors, by the way.) The committee is a little lost; none of them are completely comfortable with the appeal procedure, so I offer to go over it so that they all know what to do. Everyone accepts this guidance, so after the introductions and directors' statements, the appealing side gets to present their case.

Mr. Ego's case is pretty simple. He claims his judgment is so good that if he thinks 2H: is the right call, nothing else matters. To back up this claim, he announces that he has written two books and innumerable articles for The Bridge World and the Bridge Bulletin. (My partner for the evening session is Marshall Miles, one of the most prolific bridge writers in history. This contrast is not lost on me. Or Marshall when he hears about it later.) Mr. Ego continues, "my peers consider me to be greater than expert, not in the ordinary class of player." (I wonder silently where he finds peers if so.) He argues that if he is playing the hand, he will take two tricks more than anyone else in the same contract, so it is incumbent upon him to try to play as many hands as possible. (Does that mean his defense really stinks? Shhhh, Jeff!) There he rests his defense.

After the committee finishes questioning the speaking side, the non-appealing side (we) gets to make their case and rebut the appealing side's arguments. Not being interested in trying to argue Mr. Ego's claims, I persue the appeal the normal way. I go through the steps one should normally follow when judging an unauthorized information appeal and apply them to the hand in question. I discuss logical alternatives and the various appropriate laws, particularly Laws 16 and 12. This takes a few minutes, but is simple and clear enough.

Again, the committee gets to question the speaking side. After that, the other side gets to speak. Mr. Ego is offered the chance to rebut my argument and to make any further points of his own. He has only one more argument to make. He alludes to the three players the directors questioned, "are you really sure that any of those players are MY peers?"

Copyright © 2002 Jeff Goldsmith