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by Frederick B. Turner, Los Angeles

From The Bridge World, 1973

It has now been five years since the mysterious death of Philip Grosvenor in Florida. As a bridge player Grosvenor was fairly well known in the Southeast, but little else of this strange man's life has been made public. He left a modest estate and a large number of notebooks and diaries related to his experiences at bridge, but his will stipulated that none of this material should be released until five years after his death. As executor of Grosvenor's estate I judge it my responsibility to fulfil this last mandate.

Grosvenor moved to the United States from England in 1946, after reasonably distinguished service with the RAF. He lived for 12 years in Boston, working as an actuary, and played bridge rarely. In 1958 he moved to Atlanta, and at the same time began to play bridge regularly. Judging from Grosvenor's notes he was a thoughtful and competent player, though perhaps more interested in the analytical than the practical aspects of the game.

In 1961 Grosvenor had an experience that was to shape his remaining years and, in a small way, to enrich the game to which he devoted so much of his life. He was playing in a monthly masterpoint game when the following deal came up against two local experts. I reconstruct the following from Grosvenor's notes:





Grosvenor was sitting East, and South played in an ambitious 6H. West began with two high clubs. Declarer ruffed and played off three rounds of spades, ruffing with the HJ. He then intended to finesse the H10, making the bid if East had started with Qx or Qxx of trumps. However, on the third round of spades Grosvenor accidentally dropped a small diamond! Declarer now amended his original plan and cashed the HA and HK. When the queen did not drop, South conceded down one. Grosvenor idly faced the trump queen and prepared for the next hand. But South exploded, and even North got into the act - implying that somehow South should have known to finesse in hearts. During the next deal, South - still fuming over the first board - revoked, and Grosvenor fulfilled a hopelessly overbid game contract. The two experts left the table fulminating, and were still talking angrily about the deal when the tournament ended. Grosvenor noted that they managed to score only 41%.

Over the next two days Grosvenor thought more and more about the ill-fated slam. His play had cost nothing. There was no legitimate way the hand could be made. Had he overruffed dummy at trick five, declarer would have claimed the remainder and no more would be said. North and South had scored a natural result, yet the manner in which they had done so had led to a hideous result on the next board. The lesson was not lost on a player of such analytical bent. The result had occurred as an accident, but clearly there should be opportunities to induce such events deliberately. The trick was to watch for chances when, without risk, one could bring about a natural result in an unsettling and disruptive manner. Thus, during the autumn of 1961, the Grosvenor Gambit was born.

Grosvenor's diaries indicate that over the next several years he worked patiently to refine the Gambit, seeking ever more ingenious and satisfying avenues of expression. According to his journal the following hand ocurred during a sectional in Birmingham in late November of 1964:





I quote from Grosvenor's notes: "Played with Frank in the Master's Sunday and had a pleasing result against ---. [Here, in the interests of common decency, I withhold the name of a noted Florida expert.] I doubled 6D as an odds-on bet, and led the CA. When the dummy came down I perceived a likely opportunity for the Gambit. --- won the club continuation in hand and lapsed into a brooding study. I could well imagine that he cursed the Gods for a 4-0 split, with the trumps in the wrong hand. Finally declarer played a small diamond from his hand - perhaps hoping that I had doubled on partner's trumps - and I casually followed with the deuce! Declarer scrutinized me suspiciously. What was going on? After a bit of fidgeting he made the obviously correct play of the king.

"When Frank showed out I was really concerned for ---'s well-being. [Grosvenor was apparently aware that --- had suffered a ruptured aneurysm in the summer of 1963.] The scathing and contemptuous comments were almost a pleasure to endure, and --- was still trembling with frustration throughout the next deal. I noted that he missed an absolutely baby squeeze to make 3NT, and he and his partner were still seething when they left the table. I wish I could have continued to play against them."

It didn't take Grosvenor long to realize that the Gambit was most effective in team matches, for at matchpoints the benefits were all too often distributed to undeserving pairs who had done nothing to earn them. It is not surprising, then, that from early 1965 on Grosvenor's notes refer principally to team-of-four play. For example, following a regional in Memphis:

"Got to the semi-finals in the knock-outs with a bit of luck, and had to play the second-seeded team. Managed the Gambit twice in the first half, and induced a ridiculous psyche which led to +1100. We lost this match, but only by 4 IMPs...."

As Grosvenor's understanding of the principles of the Gambit matured, he was often disappointed when the situation was not appreciated by his opponents. He soon learned that exquisite gambitry was wasted on opaque players, and that the subtlety of the Gambit had to be tailored to the capacitites of the opposition. Grosvenor's diary (September 10, 1966) records an obviously pleasing hand played in New Orleans:





"Frank and I played in a Swiss Team event on Saturday. We reached a good 4H against [East] and his partner.

"West led clubs, and I won. I ruffed a club, and finessed the SQ. West won, but led a third round of clubs instead of shifting to diamonds. I ruffed in dummy and could see that if hearts were 3-2 my contract was secure. Simply take two top hearts, cash the SA, and lead another spade. But I was pleased to recognize in this situation a chance to try for the Gambit. After cashing two high trumps I led a third round of hearts! --- won and considered the situation carefully.

"Clearly, my hand must be something like:

SAQ HAKxxx D?xx CAxx

"If I held the DQ the contract was unbeatable. With lesser diamond holdings I was down, but if I held specifically Jxx it would be fatal to shift to diamonds. After working this out, East led a club. I ruffed and led ace and another spade. The silence which greeted the final outcome was positively eerie! --- rose quickly, left the table, and did not play out the rest of the set. Between sessions I spied --- walking down St. Charles Avenue and wished to thank him for his thoughtful collaboration, but he turned away brusquely and disappeared into an oyster bar...."

I would judge from Grosvenor's notes that it was probably the spring of 1967 when he first conceived an insidious refinement of the gambit - and quite possibly, in doing so, sealed his ultimate fate. Until this time Grosvenor had been content to make mistakes so egregiously bad that no rational opponent could exploit them: a normal result was achieved by an abnormal route. Grosvenor recognized that it would be more piquant if the Gambit could in some way favorably influence the result. Opportunities of this nature were apparently rare, and Grosvenor's journals refer repeatedly to his fruitless effors to achieve this at the table. But on August 18, 1967, Grosvenor's diary begins:

"Eureka! It has happened. We were playing ---. [Here Grosvenor starts to describe a match against some Texas experts in Dallas.] In the second half the following came up.





"When our partners held the North-South cards, South played in 3NT. West led a small spade and declarer won. A club was led to dummy and East ducked. Our man then passed the H10 and ultimately made his contract. A seemingly normal result - if a bit lucky. At our table --- was declarer and got the same lead. When a club was led to the king I took the ace, and returned a spade. Frank won and cleared the suit. After only a little thought South led a club, and with an arrogant sneer at the completion of Frank's echo, finessed the ten. After all, who could possibly play the CA from an original holding of AJ doubleton? Declarer was eventually down three and we netted 14 IMPs! We won this match by 3 IMPs...."

As Grosvenor became better known, some players began to complain openly about his tactics. Grosvenor's journals reveal that after the incident in New Orleans there was a protest (not sustained), and in March of 1967 a Tournament Committee in Jackson was asked to ban Grosvenor from playing. Once, in Mobile, resentment over the Gambit was so bitter that Grosvenor's team actually forfeited a final match rather than risk victory. In the fall of 1967 three unidentified men roughed up Grosvenor in a parking lot outside the Edgewater Gulf Hotel in Biloxi.

Because of these adversities Grosvenor became increasingly withdrawn, but he continued to hone his peculiar skills assiduously, playing in sectionals and regionals all over the South-eastern United States. As noted abouve, the more perceptive experts came to know Grosvenor and what he was up to. The trouble was, it was sometimes hard to know when Grosvenor was using the Gambit and when he wasn't. Grosvenor's diary for February 13, 1968, refers to the following hand played against an internationally known pair in Miami:





North opened with 1C, and after North-South ultimately bid to 6S over Grosvenor, East doubled. West led a club and declarer played the king. Grosvenor won and tried to cash the CQ. South ruffed and played a spade to dummy's king. When the SJ was next led from dummy, Grosvenor followed with the ten. Interestingly enough, this particular declarer had been exposed to the Gambit two months previously in Houston. Hence, knowing Grosvenor and his strange proclivity, declarer had a thorny problem. Was it possible that the Gambit was in operation? If so, it would be most pleasing to refute it by letting the jack ride.

Most readers will remember the publicity that ensued after declarer passed the jack. Less widely known is the fact that North and South never played together again after this event. It is a tribute to Grosvenor's sense of propriety that he took no pride in this incident. Rather, his notes clearly indicate a sense of hurt that his devotion to the Gambit should have led to such a perverted result.

The rest is common knowledge, of course. Three days after this tournament Grosvenor's body was found on the beach at Key Largo. The dealing fingers of his right hand had been broken, and there were cruel bruises about his head and shoulders. In spite of the note found in his room at the Golden Whelk Motel and the coroner's subsequent ruling of suicide, there are those who still question the circumstances of Grosvenor's death. Certainly the world of bridge is poorer for the loss of this moody man and his peculiar talents. Fortunately, however, we may be sure that wherever bridge is played Grosvenor's strange legacy will continue to be part of the game.