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Tales of the Saucepan

Victor Mollo’s Griffins are sadly gone, and as time passes rubber bridge itself is fighting extinction. I hear you might, or might not, still be able to get a game in Paris. I used to play rubber twice a week in San Francisco, but that club passed into legend long ago. There was also an excitable game in Florence, Italy at the Circolo del Bridge where Piero Arganini presided and Grant Baze would hold court once a year or so, but rubber there died around the time they lost their lease in the Piazza Libertad.

Of the few bastions holding out, one of the finest must be TGRs in London. Presided over by Artur Malinowski, one can find games of various stakes almost every day and evening (those by arrangement).

Rob Sheehan, formerly The London Times bridge columnist and still a regular stalwart of the so-called ‘big game’ (30 quid a hundred) at TGRs, brought many of the denizens and characters of that older game to life in a series of books he wrote in the 90’s. Some of those characters are still with us, but a vanishing few.

Amongst the new blood, we occasionally have the company of Saucepan.

In person our young Pole is of medium height, mid-30’s (never asked), balding, and endlessly humorous. He is never seemingly unhappy; rather, an irresistable positive energy follows him around. Saucepan does everything fast, and when something goes awry is always ready with a broad smile and his usual idiosyncratic, ‘What I’m supposed to do?’ to which most of his current partners snarl, ‘Not that’. His real name is the usual Eastern European jumble of an extraordinary number of consonants with a y or two tossed in for flavor.

With that as preamble, here is Saucepan at work.

1-The Saucepan giveth:

Last Saturday afternoon at TGRs I partnered The Great Malinowski. To my left one of the nicest individuals in bridge, Andrew Kay. To my right, Saucepan. I held: Q xxx AKxx Jxxxx. We were at favorable with a 60 partscore. TGM opened a 5 card major 1 heart, The Sauce passed and I bid 2 hearts. This was passed back to TGM whose hand moved to the back of the bidding box as his gaze fell to the scoresheet, and there was just a fractional readjustment as it emerged with the pass card. That last bit was lost on Saucepan, as it should not for any rubber bridge player with a scintilla of a survival instinct, as he was multi-tasking at the time, taking in the Manchester United football game playing on the wall-mounted TV. He bid an immediate 2S. This got back to TGM who now found a red card. Saucepan glanced once more at the telly, looking for succor perhaps, and tried 3D. Thereupon my red card. Andrew retreated to 3S, and a moment later Saucepan was declaring 3Sx. This was the entire deal:

TGM: AKJ8 AKQxx x xxx

Dummy: 109x Jxx 109x KQxx

Saucepan: 7xxxx xx Jxxxx A

Me: Q xxx AKxx Jxxxx

We played three rounds of hearts. Saucepan ruffed and tried a trump. Armageddon. Artur overtook the spade queen, pulled trumps, cashed the rest of his hearts, then my diamonds. -1700. Saucepan threw his hands up in the air, smiled, ‘What I’m supposed to do’. The almost always even tempered Andrew suggested, ‘Nothing, you c^*#’.

2-The Saucepan taketh away:

Two days later, I held: A109xx Qxx void AQJ109. As dealer, all red, I opened 1 spade and heard 2D on my left, pass from partner, and a prompt, effortless 3N from Saucepan. Knowing he is clinically insane, I doubled. I reasoned (you may form your own idea of whether that word should be applied to my action) that diamonds weren’t breaking and that if they didn’t have 8 runners after the club king then we’d be in business. The red card got back to Saucepan and he took an eternity (for him) before passing.

I led the club ace and the following dummy presented itself:

Jx A10x A9xxxx Kx !

I continued with the club Q, and was jolted when, on that black king Saucepan nonchalantly tossed the other one. That was followed rapidly by the diamond ace, on which partner played the 10. Good, I fleetingly thought….partner has diamonds and the lowest of them is the 10….that has to be positive. That hope was dashed immediately when partner began searching for a discard on the second diamond and the whole hand turned out to be this:

Partner: xxxx J9x 10 87654

Saucepan: KQ Kxxx KQJxxx 2 !

Yes…..in real life, for money, with shape and a 12 card fit, Saucepan had eschewed any thoughts of suited games or slams to try 3N, and then had stood his ground in 3Nx with a stiff club. How can you not love him?

On the run of the diamonds I was squeezed out of almost all my clubs so our fearless declarer eventually took 6 diamonds, 2 hearts and one each of the black suits. Saucepan scored up +1150, but he wasn’t done with me. I angrily asked him, ‘Are you really that effing crazy?’ and he just laughed and said, ‘What I’m supposed to do? Partner had to have something’. And he followed up with the zinger: ‘And 5D doesn’t make’. And as ridiculous as that sounds, he is right. There’s the 6-6 fit, but so mirrored that the one club pitch doesn’t solve the heart loser. Ah, Saucepan.

(Not, as a side note, that there wasn’t more going on in this hand: partner had mis-sorted a spade into her clubs, or she would have bid 2S...and then I’d have bid 4S (to make), and 5D would have gone down, and…….

Anyway, if you’re in London with a bit of time on your hands come look us up. Bring a thick skin, a sense of humour, and cash. Maybe you’ll get to play against Saucepan.

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