N-S vulnerable

NORTH

{spade} Q J 9 2

{heart} 6 4 3

{diam} A K J 9

{club} Q J

WEST

{spade} 8 4

{heart} J 10 9 8

{diam} 8 7

{club} 10 8 5 4 2

EAST

{spade} 6 5

{heart} 7 5 2

{diam} Q 10 5 3

{club} K 9 7 3

SOUTH (D)

{spade} A K 10 7 3

{heart} A K Q

{diam} 6 4 2

{club} A 6

The bidding: South West North East1 {spade} Pass 3 {spade} Pass6 {spade} All Pass Opening lead: {heart} J

The Battle of Actium had been lost, but Marc Antony and Queen Cleopatra refused to cede control of the Roman Empire to the ambitious Octavian. Instead, they challenged him to a bridge match, winner take all.

"You know nothing of any aspect of the game," Octavian sneered. "I'll take an asp as my partner and beat you."

Today's deal arose at the end of the match, with Antony and Cleopatra trailing. Against Antony's slam, Octavian led the jack of hearts. Antony won, drew trumps and led a diamond to dummy's jack.

The asp took the queen and shifted to a club, and Antony felt like taking an aspirin. He could try the club finesse, or he could take the ace and rely on the diamonds to produce three tricks; he couldn't do both. At length, Antony refused the finesse, but when East turned up with the guarded ten of diamonds, the slam failed.

"You're as dense as asphalt," Cleopatra grumbled. "I'd have made it. Being from Egypt, I'd have known enough to pyramid my chances by taking the A-K of diamonds before leading toward the jack. When the diamonds lay badly, I'd know I had to finesse in clubs.

"You'd still be safe if this reptile, who has no more brains than an asparagus, had returned a heart instead of a club," the queen went on with asperity. "You could test the diamonds, then fall back on the club finesse."

The asp didn't like having aspersions cast on his game.

"Brainless, am I?" he muttered as he prepared to strike.

As for Antony, Octavian had him asphyxiated.

(c)2004, Tribune Media Services