A Bridge Phantasmagoria
GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY
Be it film or television, there is nothing more engrossing than a court scene in which rival counsel are at the top of their profession.
After prosecuting counsel has done his stint you are in no doubt that the man in the dock is as guilty as sin, but in no time at all, defending counsel convinces you that the accused is as pure as the driven snow and should be released forthwith and be awarded compensation for wrongful detention. There must be a flaw in someone’s argument. The trick is to spot it.
On this occasion, you are on the jury panel and will be required in due course to give your verdict. Will it be “Guilty” at the conclusion of prosecution counsel’s speech on behalf of Mr South or will there be a change of heart after hearing the case for the defence on behalf of Mr North.
Listen first to prosecution counsel.
“The charge against Mr North is one of careless and reckless overbidding which resulted in serious loss to my client in a high money game in a high class London Club. The blackboard in front of you gives full details of the hand in question.
Game all: North deals.
“I am content to rest my case on this one hand, despite similar other offences.
“The final slam contract can in no way be attributed to my client whose bidding was careful and controlled in the extreme. The leap into slam after my client’s bid of Three Spades, which was not unconditionally forcing, was utterly reckless and without any consideration for my client, who does not have money to burn like the accused.
“Defending counsel will no doubt claim that the loss from the failed slam was simply due to misfortune and had the spade suit split 3-2 all would have been well. He will carefully omit to mention that a diamond finesse of the queen was also required to get rid of a losing heart on the ace. The actual lead of the spade two did not affect the issue because if South were to ruff two clubs he would lose two trump tricks, and if he ruffed but one club, he would lose a club and a trump. The fault lies squarely with North who, without any justification whatsoever, pushed my client into an unmakeable slam with only one chance in three of success. At £1 per point, my client lost £100 instead of gaining £650 and I ask you to award him full compensation with costs.”
Now hearken to defence counsel.
“My learned friend has accused my client of utterly reckless bidding. In any slam attempt controls are of prime importance. Note that my client had three aces and a singleton in the remaining suit. Furthermore, I submit in evidence a notarised deposition by five ranking players, all confirming that South is a notorious underbidder and that all his partners have to balance with some degree of overbidding. These two points alone should suffice to absolve my client of the charge of reckless overbidding.
“Nevertheless, the defence in this case is one of impeachment against South and a counter claim for compensation on the grounds that he ought to have made the contract. He simply took the diamond finesse and relied on a favourable trump break after one club ruff. I will mark off the cards one by one, as they ought to have been played. The spade ace wins trick one and a club to the king is followed by a finesse of the queen of diamonds and a discard of a heart on the ace of diamonds. A diamond is ruffed by South and the ace of clubs is followed by a club ruff in dummy. On a fourth diamond East helplessly discards a heart and declarer ruffs. After a heart to the ace, a small heart is led and South obtains a third small ruff. The king and queen of trumps remain for tricks eleven and twelve, leaving East to ruff his partner’s good club at trick thirteen.
“Poor dummy play was the reason for the defeat and I submit that the only course open to you is to find in favour of my client.”
Prosecuting counsel now returned to the fray.
“My learned friend has “discovered” a play which as it happens, brings home the slam contract but it involves a play which equally well have lost a contract which makes on normal play. Note that a fourth diamond was led - a dangerous and foolhardy play, which risks an overruff by West with a doubleton trump and consequent defeat, when all the time the trump divide was favourable. I therefore ask you to disregard that line of play and accept that the contract will fail on reasonable play.”
It now fell to defence counsel to take up the argument.
“Members of the jury, I had anticipated my learned friend’s reply and in rebuttal, I call my expert witness.” The witness duly entered the witness box and was thus addressed. “Please state your name.”
“William Coyle, sir.”
“And am I correct in stating that you are a player of international repute and can therefore be regarded as an expert in the field of bridge?” “That is so, sir.” “Let me take you back to the point where a fourth diamond is led. Would you regard that as dangerous and foolhardy?
“By no means, sir.”
“If East is out of diamonds and discards, South can ruff small and make contract even against a bad break in trumps. On the other hand, if he follows with the king he should not ruff but simply discard the losing club and he will succeed, provided the trumps break 3-2.”
“Thank you Mr Coyle. To sum up, South would make contract even against a bad trump break and he will also make contract if East has four diamonds when the trumps would break 3-2.”
“Exactly, sir,” said Coyle.
Defence counsel now addressed the jury, saying, “It has now become abundantly clear that South has not played the hand to best advantage and accordingly you must find in favour of my client.”
The jury, which had been chosen mainly for some knowledge of bridge, now retired and having been appointed foreman by reason of your bridge expertise, you start the ball rolling.
“We certainly have a problem here. I was at first inclined to agree the charge of reckless bidding but can it be excused when we learn that South is a known underbidder? Also is North entitled to hope for some kind of fit in a red suit considering that South has not rebid Three Clubs which would have made North fear a misfit? Then again the witness has demonstrated that the contract would be made on expert play but is North entitled to expect such a high standard from South, or should he simply take the money and content himself with game?”A heated discussion followed and finally the jury concluded that the case against either party had not been proved beyond the shadow of a doubt and the case was dismissed without costs being awarded to either party.