Geir Helgemo is the most revered bridge player in the world — and that isn’t about to change just because he failed a drug test at the World Bridge Series last September. You probably read about it at the weekend; some newspapers found it positively comical that the No. 1 player had been suspended for ‘doping’. Yet ever since bridge was recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee in 1998, players have been subject to random drug tests. Helgemo tested positive for synthetic testosterone. There’s no evidence it improves anyone’s game — indeed, no drug has been shown to do that. But it’s a substance that’s been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and as a result, the World Bridge Federation has suspended him for a year. The decision has provoked outrage; many players would rather see bridge de-classified as a sport. Here’s one of Helgemo’s celebrated hands, which no drug on earth could have helped him achieve (see image).
West led the ♥K. Helgemo ruffed and cashed the ♦A. He needed to establish 3 spades for a club discard, but a 3-3 break seemed unlikely. So he advanced the ♠2 from hand, and when West played low inserted the ♠7. East won with the ♠J and immediately returned the ♠5 — which Helgemo ducked round to his ♠9! (Had East not returned a spade, Helgemo would have run the ♠9 from dummy, pinning West’s ♠8.) How did he know? Well, West had played low without thought; he might have hesitated with the ♠10xx. So East’s ♠J had been a false-card — why? And why had East returned a spade rather than a club unless he wanted to force Helgemo to make a quick decision about spades? To Helgemo, it all pointed to East holding ♠QJ10x!
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