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This morning’s news flash states that bridge will be a demonstration sport at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Those pointy-headed Olympic bureaucrats obviously don’t understand that tournament bridge is a contact competition.

Bridge is the chess of card games. Thirteen cards are dealt to four players. Players then bid. The player with the highest bid indicates by that bid which of the four suits will be trump (higher in rank than the other three suits), or, that there will be no trump (all suits having equal rank). The player to the left of the declarer then leads a card and blah-de-blah-blah.

I have played tournament bridge. While playing bridge I have seen people slapped, screamed at, even had drinks thrown on them. But, of course, that’s nothing compared to murder.

Let me take you to Kansas City and the spacious apartment of John and Myrtle Bennett. It’s September 29, 1929, the Great Depression is yet a month off. Tonight, the Bennetts are entertaining their good friends, Charles and Myrna Hofman. The merry foursome gather around a bridge table, and, to add to the festive nature of the occasion, agree to play for one-tenth of a cent per point.

For a good while the Bennetts simply tore up the Hofmans, but, as often is the case, as time wore on the Hofmans rallied and evened the score. Those who survived were unable to precisely recreate the last hand played on that most unfortunate evening, but the bidding sequence has been established. John Bennett opened with one spade. Charles Hofman bid two diamonds. Myrtle Bennett won the bidding with four spades. Mr. Hofman led and Mrs. Bennett, who was dummy (not an active player in the hand), spread her cards on the table. Afterward, Mrs. Hofman would state that Mrs. Bennett had, “a rather good hand.”

Though Myrtle Bennett knew her hand was quite good, she also knew — by her husband’s bidding — that the pair possessed a winning combination. Tragically, Mr. Bennett played poorly and missed making four spades by two tricks, which meant — besides poor play — that Mr. Bennett lied to Myrtle while he was bidding. There is no more serious crime in the world of bridge.

After the hand Mrs. Bennett made what appears to be an innocuous comment, informing Mr. Bennett that he was a “a bum bridge player.” At the trial, Myrna Hofman testified, “He came right back at her. I don’t remember the exact words. This kept up for several minutes. We tried to stop the argument by demanding the cards, but, by this time the row had become so pronounced that Bennett, reaching across the table, grabbed Myrtle’s arm and slapped her several times. We tried to intervene, but it was futile.

“While Mrs. Bennett repeated over and over, in a strained, sing-song tone, ‘Nobody but a bum would hit a woman,’ her husband jumped up and shouted, ‘I’m going to spend the night at a hotel. And tomorrow, I’m leaving town.’ His wife said to us, ‘I think you folks had better go.’ Of course, we started to go.”

Mr. Bennett walked into the bedroom to pack his things. His wife dashed into a guest bedroom used by her mother and retrieved Mom’s loaded pistol. As Myrtle advanced toward the bedroom, John Bennett saw the gun and fled into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. Myrtle fired two rounds through the bathroom door, causing Mr. Bennett to escape from the bathroom by way of another door that opened to a hallway. Bennett ran down the hallway, reentered the living room, and sprinted to the apartment’s front door where Myrtle dropped him for good with two deadly shots.

At the trial, the judge threw out Myrtle’s first statement to police, which, in turn, gave birth to a new defense, one that argued the gun went off accidentally. All hands agreed that Myrtle Bennett pursued her husband through the apartment, shot at him four times and hit him twice. Even though that’s a mighty fine score for your average deer hunt, Mrs. Bennett was acquitted on the grounds that the shooting was accidental.

Before we clap our hands, remember that Mr. Bennett’s death was ruled to have been caused by an accidental shooting. Bridge players were denied what they wanted and needed most, a judicial precedent that said killing a bridge partner was permissible if it could be proved that the deceased provoked his own death by stupid bidding or stupid play. It was an opportunity lost.

Still, Mr. Bennett’s early demise was completely understood in bridge circles as being needed to purify the game. Myrtle, who collected $30,000 on her husband’s life insurance policy, continued to be welcomed at bridge tournaments for the rest of her long life.

For those interested in taking on bridge, call the Escondido Bridge Club at 760-747-6092 (2427 South Centre City Parkway, Escondido), or, the Adventure In Bridge Club at 619-287-8313 (4659 Mission Gorge Place). Both clubs have programs for novices, although both lack the adequate weapons training that serious players demand.

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