This classic card-play book by Victor Mollo is given a new dimension by the use of the Menagerie characters. Sophia the Siren has become the bridge tutor to some rich and ambitious ladies. To give them the best education money can buy she enlists the help of the Griffins. Who better to teach them safety plays than Karapet, the unluckiest man since Job? And who could show them how to win the post mortem better than Molly the Mule? From the Hideous Hog, they learn how sheer genius can triumph over adversity, and from the Rueful Rabbit, how sheer luck can triumph over genius.
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Winning Bridge in the Menagerie
By Victor Mollo and Robert King
First published in 2001
© Victor Mollo and Robert King
ISBN 0 7134 8657 0
Published as eBook in the United Kingdom in 2014 by Batsford
1 Gower Street
An imprint of Pavilion Books Company Ltd
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopyimg, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Some leading Griffins ... and a few Sirens
Meet the Cast
1. The First Fateful Move
2. Advanced Problems in Elementary Mathematics
3. Department of Bad Luck
4. The Vital Importance of Remembering to Think Ahead
5. Crystal Gazing
7. The Endgame
8. A Battle of the Sexes
Winning Bridge in the Menagerie includes the best of the deals from Victor Mollo’s Winning Bridge. Although they are now played (or misplayed) by the Rueful Rabbit and other prominent Griffins, much of Victor’s original commentary has been retained. Phillip, who edited the book, has provided a great deal of fresh analysis, and some pithy advice from Oscar the Owl.
Our special thanks are due to Ken Baxter, who scanned the proofs for errors, and who, as a Yorkshireman, is willing to take responsibility for any blemishes that remain.
The Squirrel has done her best to ensure that every deal contains fifty-two cards, and that none of them is duplicated.
The last book Victor, my late husband, wrote was Destiny at Bay, in which he envisaged the future of the Menagerie. Some years after his death I was lucky enough to meet Phillip and Robert King, the leading humorists in bridge literature today.
When the time came for Winning Bridge to be updated and republished, I thought it should be a fun book as well as instructional. And who could do it better than the Kings, who had already produced The Hog in the 21st Century, one of the most highly regarded of recent bridge books?
A plan was devised to allow the Griffins to meet the players from a ladies’ bridge club, The Sirens, not unlike their own. The leading lady is Sophia the Siren, a distant cousin of Papa the Greek. With the support of Papa’s wealth and the wisdom of Oscar the Owl, the famous Senior Kibitzer, the Sirens prospered. It was not long before a match was proposed between the two clubs, no holds barred, feminism against male chauvinism.
I know that Victor would have been happy with the collaboration between himself and Phillip and Robert. He always felt that there should be an element of humour at the bridge table, and I welcome the Kings and the Sirens to the Menagerie of the future.
As the Menagerie characters are so well known, I need say nothing about them; they will be recognised by their traits and their attitude to the ladies when they meet. It should be very interesting, and I can’t wait to see who wins.
Some Leading Griffins ... and a Few Sirens
Although he consumes six large meals a day, the Hideous Hog consistently repudiates the charge of gluttony; he believes that eating on an empty stomach is a health hazard. His appetite for high-stake rubber bridge is equally gargantuan, and his favourite pleasure is to prove that, when describing himself as the finest card player in the known universe, he is being unduly modest.
An obscenely rich Greek ship owner, Papa is a superb technician, whose greatest thrill is to produce false cards so subtle that they fool opponents, partners and, on a good day, even himself.
The lugubrious Free Armenian, who once described Job as an incurable optimist, is doomed by a family curse to wage an eternal losing battle against Lady Luck. He has been known to pass a hand containing thirteen spades, in case he pushed his opponents into an unbreakable seven no trumps.
Potentially the worst player in the Western Hemisphere, the Rueful Rabbit has been prevented from fulfilling that rich promise by his Guardian Angel, who transforms his blunders into bewildering brilliancies. R.R. is believed to be the only declarer capable of making a grand slam in no trumps on a crossruff.
When the humble Timothy Toucan described himself as one of the three worst bridge players in London, he was accused of conceit. Under the Rabbit’s patient tuition, he has learnt more than eighty bidding conventions, and mastered three of them. As the most prized opponent in London, he has received lucrative offers to join every rubber bridge club, but will always remain a Griffin.
Walter the Walrus, a retired accountant since the day he qualified, regards point counting as a religion, Milton Work as its prophet, and making a slam with less than thirty-three points as the worst form of sacrilege.
The Secretary Bird’s philosophy is founded on two fundamental assumptions: that observing the laws of the game is more important than playing it, and that Judge Jeffries was a wimp.
Currently celebrating his fortieth year as the facetious young man from Oxbridge, the evergreen Colin the Corgi is so expert at berating partners, opponents and anyone else within earshot, that only lack of consistent success prevents him from attaining master class.
An inveterate chatterbox, Charlie the Chimp has the enviable capacity to concentrate furiously on every hand except the one he is playing. Fiercely proud of being the undisputed Black Sheep of the Griffins, his life’s mission is to provide constant employment for the Laws and Ethics committee.
A potential grand master in his youth, Oscar the Owl made a wise career change when he took up the error-free profession of kibitzing. Young kibitzers flock to the Griffins to learn the craft under his stern tutelage.
Molly the Mule was the first member of the stronger sex to be admitted to the Griffins. Radiating goodwill to all humankind except the male half, M.M. compensates for her rocky card play with her unshakeability in the post-mortem.
Molly’s partner at the all-female Mermaid’s Club, where they have won every event except the ladies’ pairs, Dolly the Dove’s modest manner is perfectly suited to her modest level of ability.
Sophia the Siren
Oscar’s heir apparent, until she founded the exclusive Sirens club, S.S. gave the Griffins its first taste of glamour since Lily Langtree was blackballed after trumping her royal partner’s ace.
Amanda the Antelope
An intuitive player, who believes that when skating on thin ice, speed is your only hope. Amanda makes up for being the weakest of Sophia’s star quartet by being its most expensively dressed.
Shannon the Sphinx
Shannon’s unshakeable calm, equable temperament and formidable powers of concentration should soon enable her to compete successfully at the highest level.
The experience of twelve engagements, four marriages and six facelifts has developed Cassandra’s powers of observation and deduction to such an extent that she is probably the best card-reader in the group.
Veronica the Vixen
As her nickname implies, Veronica is a mistress of deception (in more ways than one) and although lacking Papa’s ability to false card with a singleton, she has the potential to become a real menace.
Meet the Cast
The Griffins’ fourth centenary was the social event of the year. The club had supposedly been founded by the Master of the King’s Pleasures for the entertainment of Charles II. Now an assiduous archivist had discovered that Queen Elizabeth had slept there on its opening night, though nobody knew why, or for how long. The round amber eyes of Oscar the Owl, our Senior Kibitzer, glowed with pride as he gazed at his fellow Griffins. What other club could boast such an assortment of eccentrics? What other club would have them? A solitary tear trickled down Oscar’s beak-like nose and dropped happily into his vintage Bollinger.
“A penny for your thoughts, O.O.”
The Owl’s spirits soared at the mellifluous voice of Sophia the Siren, a kibitzer of such promise that, long before the end of her probationary period, she had earned the right to be addressed by her initials.
As she melted into the chair beside his, Oscar wondered why every male eye was turned towards him. Perhaps they were admiring the way his crimson cummerbund contrasted with her skimpy black Lacroix frock.
“I was reflecting, S.S.,” he philosophised, “that an alien, despatched from a distant star to study the inhabitants of planet Earth, would have no need to scour the five continents. After a week with the Griffins, he would know everything about Homo sapiens, their virtues and vices, their foibles and follies, their sapience and stupidity – all hugely magnified by that bizarre form of conflict known as bridge.”
“And he wouldn’t even have to leave his seat,” added Sophia. “In our menagerie you can kibitz in comfort while the specimens come to you. Take the Secretary Bird ...”
She regarded a stooped, emaciated figure, whose gleaming globe-shaped head radiated waves of multi-directional malice. “He doesn’t play bridge to win,” she said, quoting O.O. with flattering accuracy, “but to invoke the laws.”
“And since every player transgresses, with varying degrees of frequency,” nodded Oscar, “the bridge club is S.B.’s natural habitat. And his juiciest prey is the Rueful Rabbit.”
“I won’t hear a syllable against R.R.,” smiled Sophia, as she watched her hero, perambulating vaguely around the room, as if struggling to remember where he was, when it was, or even who he was.
“Our E.T. wouldn’t know what to make of the Rabbit,” mused O.O. “For how could a space conqueror comprehend a man for whom working a zip fastener is an intellectual challenge?”
They were joined by Colin the Corgi, the facetious young man from Oxbridge, whose sardonic wit when vilifying opponents and partners entitled him to expert status.
“I bear ill tidings,” he announced solemnly. “Karapet is looking for you.”
Two blinks, followed by a restrained hoot, indicated that Oscar was steeling himself for the arrival of Karapet, the Free Armenian, the unluckiest mortal north of the South Pole. In the 15th century, the Witch of Ararat had doomed the Djoulikyans to an eternity of five-nil trump breaks and other distributional devilries. Karapet claimed that whenever he found an opponent’s card in the right place it was because the Witch had psyched.
“Here he comes, Oscar,” whispered C.C. “You’re in for a riveting hour of Greek tragedy, and there’s no escape. Noblesse oblige, and all that.”
Sophia fled. Although she had come a long way in the kibitzing game, she wasn’t quite ready for Karapet. But in eluding Scylla, she came face to face with Charybdis in the massive shape of Walter the Walrus.
“Ah, there you are, S.S.,” he boomed through his large ginger moustache. “This afternoon they made six spades redoubled against me, and ...”
“And you had twenty-two points,” she hazarded. “The Hog told me all about it.”
“He wasn’t there.” Walter’s vast bulk quivered with indignation. “And I had twenty-three.”
A retired accountant by birth, W.W. had searched in vain for an alternative fiscal occupation, until he discovered the ecstasy of counting points, suits and bridge losses.
“Even better,” said Sophia, and sped to the safe haven of Timothy Toucan. T.T. was far too modest to tell hard luck stories. Oozing humility from every pore, he regarded it as a privilege to be thrashed by his betters, firmly believing that the meek should inherit the tab.
“I hear that your cousin Themistocles has bought you a bridge club,” he ventured in a discreet murmur, for this was a secret known only to a select score of Griffins. “Congratulations on the name, by the way. The Sirens. It has a nice ring to it. I’d like to come along one day, though I expect the standard will be far too high.”
“I’m sure it will, T.T.,” proclaimed the rich, resonant voice of the Hideous Hog, as he deftly switched his empty champagne flute for the Toucan’s full one. “I hear it’s to be a pied-à-terre for those obscenely rich socialites known as ‘ladies who lunch’. If the stakes are high enough, put me down for a guest appearance.”
“Thank you, H.H.,” replied Sophia, “but you might find the table money a bit steep.”
“Yes, your cousin Papa told me all about it,” snorted the Hog. “Luxury penthouse in the heart of Mayfair. Complete with cordon bleu chef, Regency card tables, Chippendale chairs, hand-blocked wallpaper and antique Turkish carpets.”
“It’s lavish,” admitted Sophia. “But I call it home.”
“I wish you luck,” said H.H. and chortled his way to the vast empty space surrounding Molly the Mule, the Griffin’s rampant feminist.
“You won’t catch me joining any club run by that shameless hussy,” she assured him. “Nor will any of us Mermaids. Just look at that minuscule miniskirt. It’s hardly more than a pelmet. Besides, she’s giving lessons in advanced card play. As if I needed them.”
“You certainly don’t,” confirmed the Corgi as he sidled up to them. “Not until you’ve mastered the simple finesse.”
Sophia closed her eyes in the forlorn hope of discerning a snatch of civilised conversation amidst the bacchanalian babble.
“The spades broke five-one, hearts were four-nil ... ”
“The woman had opened with only nine points ... ”
“Law Twenty-six is quite specific. Each subsequent revoke ... ”
“A backward infant could have broken up the squeeze, but of course Papa hasn’t reached that standard ... ”
“I can smell something burning. Has someone dropped a cigarette? No, I think it’s Molly the Mule’s bra? ”
Suddenly she had a flash of inspiration for her bridge class. The back numbers of the Griffins’ Chronicles housed a treasury of deals, instructive in themselves, but with the added spice of deadly conflict between man and man, as the Hog strove to squeeze or smother Papa the Greek, or the Rueful Rabbit blundered his way into a Byzantine brilliancy.
Oscar would help her collate the deals into categories, each illustrating a single aspect of card play. On a champagne afternoon, ladies who lunched could handle only one topic at a time.
Like Dylan Thomas, S.S. would begin at the beginning, and start with The First Fateful Move.
The First Fateful Move
“On many a hand,” perorated Oscar, “the point of no return comes at take off.”
“As soon as dummy comes down,” suggested Sophia.
“Sometimes even before that,” corrected O.O. “Even dummy has a part to play, or rather not to play. If she helpfully flicks a singleton on the opening lead, she may ruin declarer’s chances. Suppose she throws a bare queen on West’s low card. East covers with the king. If South stops to think whether to take the trick, he will be proclaiming to all the world that he has the ace.”
“Of course,” yawned S.S., wondering when the Owl was going to say something remotely novel.
“Don’t make the mistake of overrating your ladies who lunch,” the Owl rebuked her sternly. “It so happens that none of the deals I have selected illustrates that point. Nevertheless, you should make it, and make it forcefully. The essence of good bridge is discipline.”
He paused to sip his Madeira while she glanced at the deals he had selected. “How would you describe their standard?” he asked.
“Tactfully,” smiled Sophia. “But the four who have signed up to my advanced class are quite useful.”
Oscar the Owl winced. “You make them sound like kitchen implements,” he complained. “Although I don’t suppose any of them would be seen dead in a kitchen.”
S.S. decided not to correct his male misconception. “They’ve all entered the trials for the English ladies’ team,” she told him proudly. “It’s my job to make sure that they don’t disgrace themselves.”
“I’m sure you’ll succeed,” said Oscar, with more charm than conviction.
As Sophia glanced through the extracts from the Griffins’ Chronicles, she saw that the first two were about whether to duck the first trick ...
To Duck or not to Duck
“I have it on good authority,” remarked an ancient Griffin, “that the Secretary Bird can swear fluently in fourteen languages.”
“If only he could keep his mouth shut in one of them,” rejoined Colin the Corgi.
Playing with S.B. against the Hideous Hog and the Rueful Rabbit, C.C. had squirmed helplessly while his partner twice snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Game All. Dealer South.
After capturing the K lead, the Secretary Bird (known to his parents as the Emeritus Professor of Bio-Sophistry) played the ace and jack of hearts, and hissed malevolently when the 4-1 break came to light. He could not afford to draw trumps before forcing out the minor suit aces, so he advanced the 5, calling for dummy’s K when H.H. played low.
When the king held the trick, S.B. turned to clubs. The Hog won with the A, cashed his A and, seizing his only chance, flamboyantly tabled the 2. Coming in with the J, the Rabbit amazed everyone, including himself, by giving his partner a diamond ruff. This was the complete deal:
“Bad luck, Professor,” exulted the Hog.
S.B. scrutinised him through narrowed eyes. “How generous of you to admit it,” he rasped. “And how untypical.”
“Your bad luck was to be pitted against me,” guffawed the Hog. “Mind you,” he conceded, “I would never have had the chance to shine against a fellow exp ... er, a luckier player. Fortunately, you lived down to my expectations.”
“Are you suggesting – ?” began S.B., his Adam’s Apple ululating dangerously.
“I am!” snarled H.H. “Even a talented beginner would have ducked the opening lead. It is sound technique, it costs nothing, and it severs communications between defenders.”
S.B. could think of no suitably acid retort, but the hairs protruding from his ears vibrated vengefully as his tormentor dealt the next hand.
Love All. Dealer West.
As the Hog led the 6, the Rabbit was feeling more rueful than ever. Taking a maudlin mouthful of cherry brandy, he wondered why, on the previous hand, nobody had praised his inspired return of a diamond to set the contract. Successful returns were hard to find at the best of times; with three suits to choose from, they required flair. Focussing groggily on the Hog’s card, he sulkily produced the 8 and waved it defiantly at his curmudgeonly partner. It was only then that his befuddled brain took in the shape of the pips as well as their colour.
“I, er ... that is, I didn’t intend ... You see ...” he squeaked, making a frantic attempt to replace it.
“Too late,” cried S.B. “Exposed cards must be left on the table.”
“Absolutely,” concurred H.H. “Observance of the laws is the cornerstone of civilisation. You must place it on the table, R.R., and play it at the first legal opportunity.”
S.B. shot a suspicious glance at the Hog, but could think of no excuse to withdraw his objection.
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