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A MAN ABOUT UNIVERSE
By: Bernard Marcoux

Winner of the Bols Bridge Press Prize

Originally Published in Canadian Bridge Canadien, 1995


There are no child prodigies at bridge. Why? Because bridge needs certain qualities that belong only to adults. At least one quality: the ability to think globally, to collect all pertinent clues and to process them in order to obtain an answer covering all bases, all of them.

The great John Crawford once found himself playing a grand slam, with trumps AKQ10xxx facing a singleton, and no losers anywhere else. While he was pondering (yes, even with 18 tricks, great players make a plan; do you?), he noticed that no kibitzer was moving away. Crawford reasoned that if nobody was leaving, there was a reason. Looking at his cards, he found out the only suit with a possible loser was trumps. That was the reason the kibitzers were not leaving, there might be a problem in trumps. Otherwise people would have left. So he played a trump to his 10 for 13 tricks, East having started with Jxxx. That's really collecting and using all the evidence.

You know the French expression "homme du monde"? In English, we say "man about town" or "socialite". "Homme du monde" means someone who knows his way in society, exquisitely polite and well-mannered. Paul Valery, French author and poet, liked to distinguish "homme du monde" from "homme d'univers", the former being sagacious, penetrating, intelligent, visionary. Valery also said that daily events (which attract the socialite) are like the surf on the sea; the really important events run deep and only a visionary, a poet, "a man about universe", can see them.

You open 1 in fourth seat and find yourself eventually in 4 without interference. West leads the C.

Fred Gitelman of Toronto shows us here all the qualities of a "man about universe". After the A, West shifted to the Q, Fred ducked and West continued a spade for East's K and Fred's A. A, heart to the Q, everyone following. Club ruff to see what's happening. Nothing. Then again, was it really nothing?

Let's follow the thoughts of a real bridge player, and if this trip doesn't leave you in awe, you're missing life itself.

West has passed in first seat (first technical step) and you know he should have 10 points; AK and QJ (second step). So he should not have the Q, for he would have opened (third step). If East has the Q, you are going down (fourth step). But to make 10 tricks, you need 3 diamond tricks, without losing to the Q (fifth step).

Fred concluded that, in order to make 10 tricks, the Q had to be doubleton. Every good technician would have thought along the same lines. But Fred, man about universe, a poet indeed, saw much farther, much much farther, and bridge here becomes poetry.

Do you see a finesse in diamonds (sixth step)? Read again: do you see a finesse in diamonds when you know that the Q is sitting behind the AKJ7? How can you take a losing finesse and still win? The majority of bridge players, "hommes du monde" who live at the surface of things, would have taken the finesse anyway and complained afterwards of their bad luck.

Fred pulled the last rump, pitching a spade and played the AK (seventh step), East's Q fell, as it had to, but Fred unblocked the 10 and 8 (first step of superior order, exclusive to men about universe, poets, real bridge players)!!! Fred ruffed a club back to his hand and played the precious 2 to the 7 (ninth step) for +450.

You see, you needed a diamond finesse all right and every socialite can finesse a Jack; that's a daily event, obvious on the surf. But only an "homme d'univers", a poet, can see so deep as to envision finessing the 7, just for the beauty of it.

Just bidding 4 would have given Fred an above average; +450 translated into 99% of the matchpoints.

Why can't we obtain 100% when we play perfectly? Even Fred will tell you that 99% is quite all right, because, as every man about universe will tell you, the 1% left is a reminder that the game is always greater than the players.

Do you know of a more beautiful game, of a game that shows us so clearly the fathomless power of the human brain?

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