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Let My People Play!

The director delivered the bad news when Mo and his older brother Al arrived at the club for the weekly duplicate. “I'm very sorry, guys, but this will be the last time you'll be able to play here,” said the man, producing a sheet of papyrus. “This club is being closed and its players have been banned from all organized bridge events in the Land of the Big River. Pharaoh's orders.

Mo's hands trembled as he read the hieroglyphics. “Doesn't Pharaoh remember the seven fat and seven lean years, and promise his ancestor made to our forebears, Little Joe and Poppa Jake? Joe's advice saved the dynasty, and he and his father taught that pharaoh how to win at the game of bridge with his card play and bidding, not the divine right of kings.” (See A Tale You're Not Liable to Read in the Bible)

The director, dressed in a long flowing robe of Sudanese cotton (cheap imports that were flooding the country, displacing local workers) nodded sadly. “He's a new pharaoh, who knows not Little Joe. He noticed that teams from this club have been winning all the major titles – the Pyramid Pairs, the Oasis Open, the Delta Teams. Too many for his taste. 'If you can't beat them, ban them,' that might be what his advisers have told him.”

"That can't be right. I'll appeal, to the EBF, even the AWBF,” said Mo, referring to the National Bridge Organization and the overall body, the Ancient World Bridge Federation.

"It won't do any good,” replied Director-Man. “Orders came straight from the top.”

Mo wasn't satisfied. “Then I'll go to the palace. 'Let my people play,' that's what I'll tell them.”

After his entreaties to the responsible authorities had achieved nothing (“Come back next year,” was the standard reply) Mo decided to approach the Grand Vizier, a distant descendant of the Vizier who had partnered the then-pharaoh in the classic match with Poppa Jake and his sons. Access to GV wasn't easy. When reminding him that Mo's relatives had built the pyramids failed, a generous double helping of baksheesh got Mo and his older brother Al an audience.

GV, decked out in the finest palace finery, could hardly keep from laughing at the supplicants, whose raggedy garments made them look like two schlemiels right out of a sketch by the Palace Jesters. Despite their outlandish appearance, he decided to test their skill to see if they should be admitted to the Royal Cardroom.

As was often the case, the bidding didn't work out quite as expected; Al thought his 2NT was asking for the minor suits while Mo, who didn't recognize the bid because minor-suit Stayman wouldn't be invented for another two or three millennia, took it for a quantitative raise, and pushed on to game.

 

Grand Viz
95
Q96542
AJ8
82
Al
K82
7
10643
AJ763
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
 

The opening lead was the 5, to East's 10. Mo, holding AKJ, considered winning this trick with a deceptive king, “placing” East with the J10 to encourage a heart continuation if and when West was on lead again, but thought better of it. He therefore won with his J and crossed to dummy's A. “Small diamond, Esteemed Partner and Brother,” he said, observing the niceties prevalent in this part of the world. When the queen appeared on his right, he smiled and covered with the K.

Before winning the trick, GV paused to take stock. He turned to the Junior Royal Kibitzer sitting by his side. “I'm going to take two tricks in diamonds anyway, and it's probably better to duck this trick and give partner a chance to signal.”

The youngster nodded appreciatively. Tips from a famous expert would certainly come in handy in his ascent up the pyramid to the much-coveted position of Senior Kibitzer, sitting to Pharaoh's left. (The prime spot on the right of the Pharaoh, naturally, was reserved for the Grand Vizier when he wasn't seated opposite Pharaoh as the Royal Partner.)

On winning the second diamond (with the ace), GV heard his partner cough twice. In the afternoon harem duplicate, he remembered, that demanded the higher-ranked suit. Nodding wisely to JRC, he placed the 9 on the track and whispered: “Note that if partner has AJ10 and two small, declarer will let this trick run around to his presumed Q. But on winning my second diamond trick I'll lead another spade through, defeating the contract. It's an important lesson: Patience pays, so don't rush to take tricks. Now he'll play low from dummy, and win the queen. When I win the next diamond, a spade lead will quiet this interloper and his plans for a royal audience.”

 

Grand Viz
95
Q96542
AJ8
82
Al
K82
7
10643
AJ763
Lesser Viz
AJ1074
1083
Q
Q1054
Mo
Q63
AKJ
K9752
K9
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

To GV's surprise, Mo did exactly what wasn't expected. "Spade king please, Esteemed Brother,” said Mo. It was all over, faster than you say flying feluccas. CV won the A. Seeing that a spade continuation was useless, he returned a heart won by Mo, who cleared the diamonds and claimed nine tricks – three hearts, three diamonds, two clubs and the Q. Junior Kibitzer was open-mouthed; all he could say was “Holy Moses!”

Despite his ragged garments, Mo had the look of a desert prince when he turned to the Senior Vizier. “Your duck of the first diamond would have worked much of the time. But you were not the only one to hear your partner's cough. I spotted it as a variation on the infamous Schwarzwald Sneeze, attributed to a pair of tribal healers from the Black Forest across the sea. As long as you had no more than three spades, the contract was safe; playing the king blocked the suit so that East couldn't enjoy more than two spade tricks – which together with your two diamonds were all you'd get.”

The Senior Vizier tried magnanimity, the best known way of concealing his chagrin."Well done indeed,” he said. “But it takes more than one hand to earn entry into the Royal Cardroom. Your severest test is yet to come.”

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