A Bridge Phantasmagoria




This was a historic tragedy that took place in Kansas City in 1931. The victim was John S. Bennett, a prosperous perfume salesman, who met his death reputably as a result of a bridge game which he played with his wife against a Mr and Mrs Hoffman. His wife became so infuriated at his play that she shot him after a bitter quarrel. She was later tried for murder but was acquitted.

The alleged hand was as follows:


S A1063
H 1085
D 4
C A9842


S Q72
D AQ1092
C J6


S 4
H Q94
D KJ763
C Q753


S KJ985
H K762
D 85
C K10


Bennett at South opened an under strength One Spade and over an overcall of Two Diamonds from Mr Hoffman, Mrs Bennett, no shrinking violet, went all the way to Four Spades. We are not told the actual details of the play, but Bennett must have made a hash of his hand.

It is reported that the late Ely Culbertson analysed the hand as follows:

“We have heard of lives depending on the play of a card. It is not often that we find that figure of speech true. Here is a case in point. Mr Bennett had overbid his hand. Of that there can be no doubt, but even with this, so kind were the gods of distribution, that he might have saved his life had he played his cards a little better. Mr Hoffman opened the diamond ace and when he saw the singleton in dummy, he switched to the jack of clubs. Mr Bennett won with the king and started on trumps. Here again he flirted with death, as people so frequently do when they fail to have a plan, either in the game of bridge or the game of life. He still could make his contract and save his life. The proper play before drawing the trumps, would have been to establish the club suit. Suppose Mr. Bennett, when he took the club jack with the king, had ruffed his last diamond, he could then lead a trump and go up with the king. Now he could lead the club ten and when West follows suit, his troubles would be over. He would play the ace of clubs and lead the eight or nine.

If Mrs Hoffman put up the queen he would ruff and let Mr Hoffman overruff if he pleased. If Mr Hoffman returned a heart, the contract and a life would be saved. If he led a diamond the same would be true. A lead of a trump might still have permitted the fatal dénouement, but at least Mr Bennett would have had the satisfaction of knowing that he had played the hand to the best of his ability.

There is something about all this that does not add up.

Firstly, my young nephew made the contract without batting an eye, admittedly seeing all four hands, but then so did Culbertson.

He won the jack of clubs with the king and ran the nine of spades. He drew West’s trumps by finessing the ten and cashing the ace. Next came the ace of clubs followed by the nine to ruff away Mrs. Hoffman’s queen. A diamond ruff gained entry to dummy for the two good clubs on which were discarded two losing hearts, and so the losses were restricted to one diamond and two hearts.

Secondly, I cannot accept that Mrs Bennett was acquitted on, say the grounds of justifiable homicide, because of the misplay of a bridge hand. There must have been some other reason, such as chronic abuse etc.


by Carl Dickel