The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXXIII: Team Porcupine vs. the Silver Fox
By Ray Adams
Part I: Negative Kowalski
Lately I have been getting several requests from readers who wondered why I had not included the big match Team Porcupine played several years ago vs. the Silver Crusader team, led by the legendary Silver Fox, now gone to the big bridge tournament in the sky. “The match between Team Porcupine and the Silver Crusaders was one of the best bridge matches of all time,” a reader from New Jersey writes, “Surely fans of Team Porcupine should be able to enjoy it in your blog.” Well, I agree. My next seven blogs will be a coverage of all seven hands in that wonderful match.
The setting was a regional in Las Vegas where many of the country’s best teams were competing in a Swiss Team event. After seven rounds, both Team Porcupine and the Silver Crusaders were 7-0 and would meet head to head in the final match of the day. The crowd was electric with excitement and kibitzers were three deep around both tables.
Tension ran high as the teams shuffled and dealt boards 15 to 21. Readers of this blog are already familiar with Team Porcupine’s crew of Stanislaus Kowalski/Porczouk Nograwowicz sitting NS and Stari Pas/Harrington Konejwicz in the EW seats. The Silver Crusaders consisted of Diego de la Plata/the Silver Fox in the EW chairs, while Joe Crowfoot/T.O.D.C.J. opposed Pas and Konejwicz. Diego de la Plata, a rich silver baron from Durango, Mexico, was the team sponsor, while everyone knew that the Silver Fox was its star player. However, Joe Crowfoot and T.O.D.C.J., who normally went by his first three initials of T.O.D., were certainly formidable.
In the auction, Kowalski was rather surprised by Diego’s 1♠ overcall and decided to double it for penalty, forgetting that in this situation, his double was actually negative. So, rightly or wrongly, the pair ended in 4♥, declared by Nograwowicz.
Diego, a short man with aristocratic features and an extremely well-groomed mustache, led the king of spades. When the dummy hit, the Silver Fox, a huge fellow with long, silver locks that overflowed from underneath a Minnesota Twins baseball cap, could not restrain himself.
“A most unusual negative double. Were you searching for a 4-3 heart fit?”
Kowalski turned red but made no reply.
Nograwowicz was quick to defend his partner. “We call that bid Negative Kowalski,” he said, “and it is, indeed a search for a 4-3 fit in the majors.”
“A likely story,” the Fox muttered under his breath, and play continued.
Kowalski smiled to himself. It was nice to have his partner ride in to rescue him. Then he got lost in his own thoughts as he mechanically played the dummy. After all, he, Stanislaus Kowalski, had created several new bids during this particular day’s competition. Perhaps he should write a book. Maybe Bridge Per Kowalski or The Kowalski System, oh, or better yet Precision Kowalski.
Meanwhile, Nograwowicz won the lead with dummy’s ace then led a low diamond for a finesse. Diego captured the queen with his king and returned the queen of spades. Declarer ruffed this and played the ace of diamonds, dropping Diego’s jack. Now, if only the heart suit would split evenly.
The Fox threw fear into Nograwowicz’s soul, following with the eight, then the nine, but declarer really had no choice but to try for a 3-3 split, and when that materialized, he claimed eleven tricks, conceding a club at the end.
“I had no cards, no cards at all,” the Fox said. “I had to have some fun. Did you sweat? Did I make your heart palpitate if ever so little?”
Nograwowicz smiled at the Fox’s antics. The Fox was certainly one of the top card players in the country, but was his skill at bridge any match for the cloud of B.S. he created at the table?
Pas and Konejwicz took time to study their opponents as they sat silently while T.O.D. and Joe bid up to 5♦. T.O.D. looked a lot like Elton John and had an interesting habit of tilting his face to one side and staring into space. He wore a Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt and black and white shoes. Joe Crowfoot was a Chippewa Indian with the stocky build of most of his tribe. His clothing style seemed designed to intimidate his opponents. He wore a red Apache-style headband, an Oakland Raiders jersey, and faded jeans held up by a belt with a silver buckle in the shape of a human skull. His boots were made of rattlesnake hide. “I’m certainly glad I met him at the bridge table and not in a dark alley,” Harrington Konejwicz said to himself as he followed the auction.
Pas led the king of spades, taken by dummy’s ace. T.O.D. played a diamond to his ten, losing to the jack. Pas returned the queen of spades, ruffed. A small heart went to dummy’s ten and another diamond led from the board. When Konejwicz followed with the six, T.O.D. was faced with a choice. He tilted his head and stared into spade for several minutes. Then T.O.D. refocused his eyes and stared at the six of diamonds. He pulled out a card, almost threw it on the table, then put it back in his hand. He stared for a few minutes more, then grabbed another card, coming very close to dropping it in front of him, but finally placing it back in his hand at the last moment. When T.O.D. started to repeat this performance, Joe said, “I can’t stand it anymore,” and reached across the table and slapped the card from his partner’s hand.
The ace of diamonds hit the table. Pas disgustedly threw his king down. T.O.D. later conceded a club to claim 5♦ for plus 600. Since Nograwowicz had picked up 650 at the other table, it meant that Team Porcupine had the early lead 2 imps to none.