Brother Cameron's Slams

David Bird

Lucius and Paulo had been unavailable for the annual Martyr's Platter encounter against St Hilda's Convent. Contrary to his better judgement, the Abbot had been obliged to call upon the obnoxious novice, Brother Cameron, and his partner. The Abbot was both surprised and pleased to find his team held a 13 IMP lead at half time.

'Disappointing,' observed Brother Cameron. 'I keep a running estimate on my card. I had us 37 IMPs ahead.'

'Did you, indeed?' replied the Abbot. 'It shows how rarely you play against strong opposition. Making 3NT on a combined 25-count doesn't bring in a game swing at this level.'

The third set saw the Abbot facing the Mother Superior. This was an early board:  



'You alerted the Three Club bid?' queried the Abbot, who was on lead.

'No need to, I suppose,' replied the Mother Superior. 'Everyone plays the same, nowadays.'

The Abbot nodded. 'Sixteen points upwards, you mean?' he said.

'No, no, a fit-jump,' said the Mother Superior. 'Your other pair plays fit-jumps. I assumed you did, too.'

The Abbot led the king of spades, won in the dummy. The Mother Superior drew trumps in two rounds, then paused to consider her continuation. Was there any way of making the contract if the diamond king was offside? Ah yes, she could eliminate West's clubs and throw him in with a spade. The opening lead had indicated the queen of spades and the odds were high that West held the jack of spades as well. The Mother Superior played dummy's two top clubs and ruffed a club, West showing out on the third round. She then exited with a spade. The Abbot won with the spade jack and surveyed the scene with no great enthusiasm. Declarer's shape was known to be 2-5-4-2, so the only hope was to find Xavier with the diamond queen. His mind made up, the Abbot exited with a low diamond.

'Twelve tricks,' said the Mother Superior, facing her remaining cards.

'It's no better if you give a ruff-and-discard, Hugo, I can throw a diamond from the table and use two diamond ruffs to set up and enjoy a club.'

'If you hadn't bid Blackwood, I was going to bid it myself,' declared the Mother of Discipline. 'Can't afford to be out of a slam on my hand.'

 Meanwhile, at the other table, Brother Cameron had just reached a different slam. 



  'You play a bid in the fourth suit as forcing to game, presumably?' asked Sister Grace.

'That's right,' replied Brother Cameron. 'Not a treatment that meets with universal approval in our team.'

Sister Grace smiled. 'Hugo's bidding always was ten years behind the times,' she said, pushing a stray lock of white hair back inside her wimple. 'I'm old enough to remember when he insisted that Stayman would be a passing fad.'

Sister Grace led the queen of diamonds against the heart slam. Brother Cameron ruffed in the South hand and cashed the ace of trumps, discovering the bad break. He sat back in his chair. What now? To achieve a trump endplay, he would need to find West with at least three spades. Yes, she would need to have 3-4-3-3 or 4-4-3-2 shape. He would have to test the spades first, to discover how to play the hand. Brother Cameron cashed the ace and king of spades, East showing out on the second round. He then cashed the ace of diamonds, discarding a club. West followed suit when he ruffed a diamond. A spade to dummy's remaining honour was followed by a spade ruff and the top two clubs in declarer's hand. These cards remained: 



Brother Cameron now led the queen of clubs, facing his cards. 'Twelve tricks?' he said.

Sister Grace gave a resigned nod of the head and returned her cards to the wallet.

'Who's South at the other table?' she enquired. 'The MD hasn't a clue on hands like that.'

'Fortunately for us, I think she's sitting North,' Sister Thomas replied.

'The Reverend Mother is South. She should make it, all right.'

When scores were compared, it transpired that the Mother Superior's cardplay had not been put to the test. The Mother of Discipline had played the board in Six Spades, a contract that required no more than two diamond ruffs in dummy.

 The monastery team's lead had been reduced to 6 IMPs as the last set started.  



The Abbot led the jack of spades against 3NT and Sister Grace won with the queen in dummy.

'Queen of diamonds, please,' she said.

Brother Xavier won with the ace and returned a spade to the ace. When Sister Grace called for dummy's eight of diamonds, Brother Xavier could sense the danger of being endplayed. He rose with the king of diamonds and exited with a third round of spades. With a confident air Sister Grace cashed her two diamond winners. Excellent! East had shown up with three cards in both spades and diamonds. It followed that he had only two clubs and would not be able to escape an endplay. She cashed the ace and king of clubs, arriving at this position with only two tricks so far lost:


Sister Grace now ducked a round of hearts, Brother Xavier winning with the eight.

'Two tricks to me?' she said, facing her remaining cards.

Brother Xavier smiled at his opponent. 'You played it well,' he replied.

'It was your overcall that cost it,' declared the Abbot. 'Leave the auction to them and they'd have played in Four Hearts.'

'Silly of me,' replied Brother Xavier. 'Easy to take your eye off the ball when you have 13 points and a good suit that you can bid at the one level. We'll just have to hope they fall into the same trap at the other table.'

'It's all very well to joke about these matters,' persisted the Abbot.

'That sort of overcall loses points time and again, though. You'll realise it when you've played the game as long as I have.'

Brother Cameron and Brother Damien had been making little headway at the other table. After several partscore boards that offered little hope of IMPs in the plus column, they had gone for 500 in a phantom sacrifice. Brother Cameron feared the worst as he drew his cards for the final board of the match:



The Mother of Discipline led the heart jack and somewhat nervously Brother Damien displayed his dummy.

 'Two good cards,' he said. 'Not much else,though.'

Brother Cameron's eyes were alight. Brilliant! Unless trumps were 3-0 he would be able to ruff all three diamonds, losing just a heart.

'Ace, please,' he said.

A trump to the ace brought bad news. Brother Cameron sat back in his chair. What on earth could be done? One thing was certain. If they went down in the slam and it cost the match, it would be several long years before they played in the first team again. The only chance was to apply pressure on the West hand. Aiming to tighten the position, Brother Cameron exited with his heart loser. The Mother Superior overtook her partner's card and played a second round of trumps. Brother Cameron won with the queen and cashed the ace of clubs. This position had been reached:



When Brother Cameron led a third round of trumps, the Mother of Discipline had to find a discard. If she threw another club, declarer would clearly be able to set up and enjoy a long club. Hoping for the best, she discarded a diamond. Brother Cameron won the trick with dummy's king of spades, cashed the two top diamonds and ruffed a diamond. A club ruff to hand allowed him to ruff his last diamond good and the South hand was now high. 

The final comparison was soon under way and not going well for the monastery team.

'And then they kept out of trouble on the last board,' saidthe Abbot, unable to keep the disappointment from his voice. 'Minus 650.'

There was a pregnant pause. 'Well?' said the Abbot. 'What did you do on the last board?'

Brother Cameron was determined to enjoy the moment. 'We bid Six Spades and all the suits broke badly,' he replied.

'Brother Xavier foolishly warned them of this with a 2NT overcall,' said the Abbot. 'They might have gone overboard too, otherwise.'

'Just the 1430 our way,' said Brother Cameron.

The Abbot grabbed the novice's scorecard. Yes, there it was! A 1430 in the plus column. The match was theirs by just 5 IMPs.

'Well done, Abbot,' said the Mother Superior, as she presented the silver-rimmed Martyr's Platter to the winning captain. 'There was no need to doubt your new team-mates. They played splendidly.'

'I expected nothing less,' replied the Abbot. 'If there's one thing designed to improve one's game, it's having a strong pair at the other table.'

Sister Grace, a distant cousin of the Abbot's, smiled at this piece of pomposity. 'And these two boys managed to play well with you at the other table,' she said. 'A memorable achievement, indeed!'