by Pamela Granovetter
(Kabbalah and Bridge)

According to the Kabbalah, everything, absolutely everything, even a leaf rustling in the wind, is the result of Divine Intention. Mankind has free-will only when it comes to making a choice between doing (or at least desiring to do) good or not-so-good. The way the Jewish Sages express this concept is, Everything is in the hands of Heaven except Fear of Heaven.

In sports and games (as in so much of life), Divine Intention is often referred to as luck. Good luck occurs when you don't deserve to win on your own merits, but you (or your side if it's a team sport) win anyway, due to a fortuitous situation that arises, or perhaps because the other side makes more (or worse) blunders than your side. Of course, the luck is really none other than our friend, Divine Intention, disguised as a naturally good [or bad] break.

As we bridge players know, in the game of bridge, the cards are dealt out randomly and the 13 cards that each player holds is a matter of predestiny. The job of each player is to make the best of the situation he's been, well, dealt. It often happens that the bridge players will make the same bids and plays with a variety of hands that fall into certain broad categories. Therefore, if you would give four players a deal, and then take back the hands, exchange a card here or a card there, and then pass out the hands again, the players might easily make precisely the same bids and plays they made with the slightly different original layout. However, if one little spot card is in the East hand instead of the West hand, for example, the bidding and play remain the same but the result can be radically different!

Let me give you a dramatic illustration of this:

In the fall of 2003, in Monte Carlo, the final match of the world team championships between teams from Italy and the United States was decided by the smallest possible margin. After 128 bridge hands, one trick decided the difference, with the USA winning. On the very last hand, an incident occurred that the world of bridge is still buzzing about.

The Italian declarer, Lorenzo Lauria, reached to play a card from the dummy and played the wrong card because he didn't see which card his opponent had played. According to the rules, once a card is touched it is played.

The incident was exacerbated by the fact that the other player for Italy, who was dummy, and who was supposed to sit there and play the cards that his partner directed, was too excited to sit still; it was the last hand of a 14-day tournament and he wanted to see how his teammates had done, so he dashed out of the room after putting his cards on the table, leaving his partner to reach for the cards himself.

What a scenario! What (or, more precisely, Who!) could have induced both players to be so careless at such a crucial moment? Not only that, but look closely at the end-position:

  North Dummy
K Q 9 8 7
West Soloway
A 6 5 4 3
  East Hamman
J 10
  South Lauria

At one point in the middle of the hand, Lauria, sitting South, played the king of spades from dummy. East, Bob Hamman for the USA, played the jack, his higher card, to show an even number of spades. West, Paul Soloway, won the trick with the ace and led the 4 of spades to the next trick. Lauria could win the trick by playing the queen (this would tie the score, sending the world championships into overtime). But Lauria didn't notice that the 4 of spades was led, because he was expecting Soloway to lead a heart, and perhaps because he was playing both his own cards and dummy's and, therefore, wasn't focusing clearly on Soloway's card. In any case, he thought that Soloway had led a heart! Because dummy was out of hearts, the South player's intention was to discard a spade on this trick, so he leaned over and pulled the 7 of spades. Hamman played his ten of spades, the only spade left in his hand, and Lauria suddenly saw what he had done. He wanted to take back his play of the 7 and play the queen from dummy instead. The tournament director was called and he ruled that he could not take back his play.

Notice that West held four small spades in the end-position and East held one (the ten). Even though South made the error of playing the 7 from dummy, he would have survived his mistake if East had held one of West's small cards instead of the ten, because the 7 would win the trick.
The odds were 4-to-1 against East holding that ten! Who put that 10 of spades there in the East hand, which decided the world championship?

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