This is an excerpt from Milton C. Work's book "Auction Developments", published in 1913. Work is best known as the founder of the point count system for hand evaluation still used today. (Ace = 4 points, King = 3 points, Queen = 2 points, Jack = 1 point.)


When Auction players get together at some place which makes the starting of a rubber impossible, but the discussion of the game quite natural, they resemble a party of golfers playing that celebrated nineteenth hole: each is bubbling over with anxiety to tell of some clever play he has recently made.

Such discussions would prove more beneficial, were Auction devotees willing to listen of stories of the achievements of others, instead of seizing any opportunity to curtail such narratives in order to recount how “my partner made a fool bid, was doubled, and was in for 400, when I saved humbly confidently redoubling and thus bluffing the adversaries into a higher declaration.”

Even as it is, the conversation occasionally shifts to instructive subjects, and “Which was the most brilliant play you ever saw at the Auction table?” Is a question often heard, but rarely answered.

It cannot be doubted that the expert players of the country make many coups well worthy of the attention of the student, but unfortunately these plays are generally forgotten with the shuffling of the cards for the ensuing deal. Some few are saved from oblivion by the writers for the Sunday papers, but in the vast majority of cases they are not only not preserved but not even noticed by the others at the table.

It is therefore obviously impossible to accurately answer the question concerning the most brilliant play ever made. To pass upon the most brilliant play ever recorded would be almost as difficult, as no one has ever attempted to collect these plays and place them side by side for comparison; it must be conceded, however, that were a board of judges about to award a prize for the premier coup in Auction history, serious consideration would be accorded to one made by Mr. J.P. Gregg, of Philadelphia, during an important game at the Racquet Club in that city during January, 1913.

The situation is reproduced exactly as it occurred, and is given solely to show the play in question, not as an illustration of sound bidding. As a matter of fact the first declaration of every player might be the subject of at least mild criticism and the same remark is applicable to East’s final bid, to South’s double, and to West’s failure to redouble.

What really happened follows:


Dlr: South       North      
Vul: Both4
AQ98642
WestQJ5East
3253AKQ98765
KJT7
A98742SouthK
76SJTK82
H53
DT63
CAQJT94


South  
1
2
3
Pass
Dbl
West  
Pass
Pass
Pass
Pass
All Pass
North  
1
2
3
4

East  
1
2
3
4


The Play


Trick 1
Trick 2
Trick 3
Trick 4
South  
5
9
A
3
West  
T
6
7
J
North  
Q
5
3
A
East  
7
8
K
A


East, Tricks 5 and 6, exhausted the trumps; then led the King of Diamonds, took it with Dummy’s Ace, and on Dummy’s lead of the best Heart discarded his Deuce of Clubs thereby making his declaration.


Comment on the Play

The coup really occurred at Trick 2, when East played the 8 of Clubs instead of the Deuce. Had he made the natural play of the smaller card, the King on Trick 3 could not have deceived South, if he had been watching the play, as he could then have placed the 8 of Clubs in East’s hand. North by his lead of the 5, Trick 2, announced that to be his highest club.

With the play as it was, South knew, at Trick 4, that North, with the 5, 3, 2 of Clubs, must play them down; it was therefore quite likely that the Deuce still remained in his hand.

South, when deciding on the lead at Trick 4, could be reasonably sure, from East’s unassisted bid of four Royals [Spades] with little strength on the side, that East must have at least eight trumps, and therefore not more than two other cards. They might be two Diamonds, or one Diamond and either a Heart or the Deuce of Clubs. The Club lead, if East be without a Club, is fatal, and so is the Heart lead if East be without a Heart. Between these two the chances seem to favor the Heart (East’s deception being almost impossible to suspect), and in addition it holds out the very faint hope of another trick to be made by a heart ruff.

Of course it may be argued that South could have solved the problem by leading a Diamond. That is possibly true, but at that time his attention was naturally devoted to making, before East could get in, the four tricks necessary to defeat the contract. That he should be duped by East’s strategy and overlook the Diamond lead was distinctly human. Furthermore, he may have been deterred from it by the knowledge that it would prove expensive if East should be able to discard.

It is not, however, for the purpose of discussing South’s play that we examine the situation. Concede if we must that he overlooked a possibility, still it was due to East’s tactics that he went astray.

The foresight of East is well worthy of consideration and commendation. Before playing to Trick 2, he saw he was beaten if South won that trick led the Ace of Clubs, and then another Club for North to trump. He realized that he could only be saved by another lead of Hearts, and he paved his way for the development of his plans should South continue with Clubs as he did, Trick 3.

Such plays may easily be figured out when the hands are all spread, and after due deliberation they may readily be pronounced the only correct thing to do under the circumstances; but during the actual play it takes real Auction genius to foresee such a situation, and without undue hesitation to prepare for it. Only the brilliant player can carry such a scheme to successful conclusion.