From The Bridge World, 1973
It has now been five years since the mysterious death of Philip Grosvenor in Florida. As a bridge player Grosvenor was fairly well known in the Southeast, but little else of this strange man's life has been made public. He left a modest estate and a large number of notebooks and diaries related to his experiences at bridge, but his will stipulated that none of this material should be released until five years after his death. As executor of Grosvenor's estate I judge it my responsibility to fulfil this last mandate.
Grosvenor moved to the United States from England in 1946, after reasonably distinguished service with the RAF. He lived for 12 years in Boston, working as an actuary, and played bridge rarely. In 1958 he moved to Atlanta, and at the same time began to play bridge regularly. Judging from Grosvenor's notes he was a thoughtful and competent player, though perhaps more interested in the analytical than the practical aspects of the game.
In 1961 Grosvenor had an experience that was to shape his remaining years and, in a small way, to enrich the game to which he devoted so much of his life. He was playing in a monthly masterpoint game when the following deal came up against two local experts. I reconstruct the following from Grosvenor's notes:
Grosvenor was sitting East, and South played in an ambitious
Over the next two days Grosvenor thought more and more about the ill-fated slam. His play had cost nothing. There was no legitimate way the hand could be made. Had he overruffed dummy at trick five, declarer would have claimed the remainder and no more would be said. North and South had scored a natural result, yet the manner in which they had done so had led to a hideous result on the next board. The lesson was not lost on a player of such analytical bent. The result had occurred as an accident, but clearly there should be opportunities to induce such events deliberately. The trick was to watch for chances when, without risk, one could bring about a natural result in an unsettling and disruptive manner. Thus, during the autumn of 1961, the Grosvenor Gambit was born.
Grosvenor's diaries indicate that over the next several years he worked patiently to refine the Gambit, seeking ever more ingenious and satisfying avenues of expression. According to his journal the following hand ocurred during a sectional in Birmingham in late November of 1964:
I quote from Grosvenor's notes: "Played with Frank in the Master's Sunday and had a pleasing result against ---. [Here, in the interests of common decency, I withhold the name of a noted Florida expert.] I doubled
"When Frank showed out I was really concerned for ---'s well-being. [Grosvenor was apparently aware that --- had suffered a ruptured aneurysm in the summer of 1963.] The scathing and contemptuous comments were almost a pleasure to endure, and --- was still trembling with frustration throughout the next deal. I noted that he missed an absolutely baby squeeze to make 3NT, and he and his partner were still seething when they left the table. I wish I could have continued to play against them."
It didn't take Grosvenor long to realize that the Gambit was most effective in team matches, for at matchpoints the benefits were all too often distributed to undeserving pairs who had done nothing to earn them. It is not surprising, then, that from early 1965 on Grosvenor's notes refer principally to team-of-four play. For example, following a regional in Memphis:
"Got to the semi-finals in the knock-outs with a bit of luck, and had to play the second-seeded team. Managed the Gambit twice in the first half, and induced a ridiculous psyche which led to +1100. We lost this match, but only by 4 IMPs...."
As Grosvenor's understanding of the principles of the Gambit matured, he was often disappointed when the situation was not appreciated by his opponents. He soon learned that exquisite gambitry was wasted on opaque players, and that the subtlety of the Gambit had to be tailored to the capacitites of the opposition. Grosvenor's diary (September 10, 1966) records an obviously pleasing hand played in New Orleans:
"Frank and I played in a Swiss Team event on Saturday. We reached a good
"West led clubs, and I won. I ruffed a club, and finessed the
"Clearly, my hand must be something like:
"If I held the
I would judge from Grosvenor's notes that it was probably the spring of 1967 when he first conceived an insidious refinement of the gambit - and quite possibly, in doing so, sealed his ultimate fate. Until this time Grosvenor had been content to make mistakes so egregiously bad that no rational opponent could exploit them: a normal result was achieved by an abnormal route. Grosvenor recognized that it would be more piquant if the Gambit could in some way favorably influence the result. Opportunities of this nature were apparently rare, and Grosvenor's journals refer repeatedly to his fruitless effors to achieve this at the table. But on August 18, 1967, Grosvenor's diary begins:
"Eureka! It has happened. We were playing ---. [Here Grosvenor starts to describe a match against some Texas experts in Dallas.] In the second half the following came up.
"When our partners held the North-South cards, South played in 3NT. West led a small spade and declarer won. A club was led to dummy and East ducked. Our man then passed the
As Grosvenor became better known, some players began to complain openly about his tactics. Grosvenor's journals reveal that after the incident in New Orleans there was a protest (not sustained), and in March of 1967 a Tournament Committee in Jackson was asked to ban Grosvenor from playing. Once, in Mobile, resentment over the Gambit was so bitter that Grosvenor's team actually forfeited a final match rather than risk victory. In the fall of 1967 three unidentified men roughed up Grosvenor in a parking lot outside the Edgewater Gulf Hotel in Biloxi.
Because of these adversities Grosvenor became increasingly withdrawn, but he continued to hone his peculiar skills assiduously, playing in sectionals and regionals all over the South-eastern United States. As noted abouve, the more perceptive experts came to know Grosvenor and what he was up to. The trouble was, it was sometimes hard to know when Grosvenor was using the Gambit and when he wasn't. Grosvenor's diary for February 13, 1968, refers to the following hand played against an internationally known pair in Miami:
North opened with
Most readers will remember the publicity that ensued after declarer passed the jack. Less widely known is the fact that North and South never played together again after this event. It is a tribute to Grosvenor's sense of propriety that he took no pride in this incident. Rather, his notes clearly indicate a sense of hurt that his devotion to the Gambit should have led to such a perverted result.
The rest is common knowledge, of course. Three days after this tournament Grosvenor's body was found on the beach at Key Largo. The dealing fingers of his right hand had been broken, and there were cruel bruises about his head and shoulders. In spite of the note found in his room at the Golden Whelk Motel and the coroner's subsequent ruling of suicide, there are those who still question the circumstances of Grosvenor's death. Certainly the world of bridge is poorer for the loss of this moody man and his peculiar talents. Fortunately, however, we may be sure that wherever bridge is played Grosvenor's strange legacy will continue to be part of the game.
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