In the early 1970s, Steve Landen, an American from Ann Arbor, Michigan, used to attend a lot of bridge tournaments in Ontario, just across the border in Canada. We returned the favour, playing frequently in our border states of Michigan and New York. Steve, with tongue only slightly in cheek, frequently referred to a ‘Canadian slam’ as one which required a couple of finesses, a three-three trump break and a squeeze. Canadian International John Gowdy always retorted, “… and an American on opening lead.” The following deal epitomises what Steve meant by a Canadian slam, but this one had a Canadian to make the losing lead.
For me, one of the most entertaining things to achieve at bridge is to drive an opponent crazy (this tells you something about how my twisted mind works!), especially if it’s a close friend. In 1974, in a Toronto Team-of-Four League match, my partner, John Guoba, and I faced George Mittelman and Diana Gordon, then, as now, life-mates, though no longer bridge partners. In those days, George was something of an enfant terrible.
1♣ = Strong (17+ HCP), artificial, forcing
X = Positive (8+ HCP)
5♥ = Bid on with ♠ control
5♠ = First-round ♠ control
John and I were new to the Modified Blue Club/Precision schema we’d adopted and, as you can see, we were not quite on the same wavelength as to the meaning of double and the number of hearts promised by North. (When asked about our system, John used to reply, “We took the worst aspects of Blue Team and Precision and combined them to form the Toronto Club!”)
Nevertheless, had I simply passed three spades doubled (which everyone would do today at that vulnerability), we could have collected – on perfect defence, promoting the jack of spades – eight tricks for plus 1100 (taking our top six winners, leading a third heart, forcing declarer to ruff his winner, and then winning the ace of spades and leading a fourth round of hearts). But it turned out to be way more fun with the actual table result.
Since North was known to have at least two spade losers, George led the king of spades. (Benito Garozzo rules! – “If you have a singleton, lead it,” he says.) I had to think for a few minutes to even conjure up a layout of the cards which would allow me to make our ‘Canadian’ slam.
Eventually, I came up with a solution: West needed to be precisely 7=2=3=1, holding one heart honour and three low diamonds. I could take one spade, three hearts, four diamonds and four clubs, twelve in all. That was not impossible on the bidding. Another option was for hearts to be three-three and West to hold a singleton- or doubleton-queen of diamonds, with East compelled to win the first or third round of trumps. That might require some help on defence, so I discounted it.
Accordingly, I won trick one with the ace of spades and led a heart to the eight. Diana won with her jack (trying to look innocent of deception) and led a club, attempting (since he had not led one) to give George a ruff. Since I’d need two later club entries to the dummy, one to take the diamond finesse and the other to return for the thirteenth diamond, it was necessary for me to win with the ace of clubs. A heart to the queen and king and a finesse of the nine of hearts drew a sigh of relief from me as George discarded a spade. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel now. I drew the last trump, discarding dummy’s jack of spades, cashed the ace of diamonds and crossed to the jack of clubs.
When West showed out he was known to hold the miracle distribution – I just needed Diana to have the diamond queen now. (Had George shown in on the second club, meaning he had only two diamonds, I’d have needed him to hold the doubleton queen to make six hearts.) This was the ending:
I led the jack of diamonds: nine, eight, three. A diamond to the king and a club to the queen left dummy high. John and I had eschewed a routine plus 800 or a well-defended plus 1100 (against our putative non-vulnerable game) for a hair-raising plus 980.
As I claimed the contract, George threw his cards up in the air to the ceiling! “George,” I said, “you might at least congratulate me on playing it well.” Despite his bad temper but, being the good sport that he is, George did say, “Well played.” I did not bother to mention that had he led his singleton club, à la Garozzo, I’d have had no way home.
I later tried to calculate the a priori odds of bringing home this slam – firstly, I needed Diana to hold precisely one spade; secondly, four hearts to two-of-the-three missing honours; thirdly, three diamonds to the queen; and, finally, no club lead. All I can say is that it’s still the lowest-percentage slam I’ve ever seen made! And it’s now 48 years later.
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