Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

Where is that imp? The Canadian Women’s Team Trials

There were only three teams entered in the Canadian Women’s Team Championship. It would probably worth discussing why there were only three teams but that is for another time.

After playing some matches one team was eliminated and the two remaining teams played an eight segment final, each segment being 15 boards.

The two remaining teams were

Eaton: Joan Eaton, Karen Cumpstone, Katie Thorpe, Sandra Blank, Lesley Thomson, Ina Demme

Summers: Sylvia Summers, Barbara Saltsman, Pamela Nisbet, Brenda Bryant, Hazel Wolpert, Linda Wynston.

At the start of the eighth and last segment the score was 207 for the Eaton team and 205 for the Summers team.

I would normally say that the first two boards were uneventful as only one imp changed hand but in this match in this match an imp was an imp! 

The third board brought a 10 imp swing to the Summers team but on the next three boards Eaton whittled away at that and by board 23 the score was tied… 216 to 216. 

Here are the East West hands

W
West
AKQ743
KJ62
1073
 
E
East
5
74
AKQJ85
A1093

 

 

 

In the Open Room Pamela Nesbit was West for the Summers team and Hazel Wolpert was East. Do you want to be in 6 East-West as Nesbit-Wolpert were (no doubt played from the East hand)? There are probably twelve tricks there but you will have to survive a heart lead.

Not a bad contract and one which made on a trump lead (the  Q was onside) so a heart guess was not required.

In the Closed Room Katie Thorpe sitting West pretty much insisted on a spade contract and played in the spade game.

At the start of board 25 of the Summers team led by 16 imps 216 to 232.

On Board 25 Wolpert had this lead problem

N
East
1095
KQ98
QJ7
753

 

 

 

 

W
Nesbit
N
Blank
E
Wolpert
S
Thomson
1
Pass
1
Pass
1NT
Pass
3NT
All Pass
 
 
 

There is something to be said for a spade lead, nobody bid spades and the 1095 is not a bad holding to lead from (lets call this a passive lead). You could lead a heart (not my choice into the heart bidder). If you do you will have to decide which one to lead. Perhaps the advantage of a top heart is that North may well only have a couple of hearts and if she has say the 10x or Jx a high heart may work out better. Still not my choice.

I probably would not lead a club finding that a bit too passive. What about a diamond from QJ7 that could be the one?

We can argue the merits of each lead (and Ray and I did) but if you found a diamond you are a winner, not just of this hand but of the whole event.

Before we look at the whole hand lets see what happened at the other table. This was the auction in the Closed Room.

W
Thorpe
N
Summers
E
Demme
S
Bryant
1
Pass
1
Pass
1
Pass
2
Dbl
Pass
Pass
3
Pass
5
All Pass
 

At this table Summers patterned out and bid both her suits. Once Summers made that bid North-South was in a big hole. Bryant probed with 2  which gave Thorpe who held

W
Thorpe
8632
642
AK962
10

 

 

 

 

the chance to double for a diamond lead. North-South took what they thought was their only chance for game and bid 5♣. But as it turns out a diamond lead beats both games, 3NT and 5♣.

The whole deal

 
25
E-W
North
N
Summers
AK74
107
84
A9642
 
W
Thorpe
8632
642
AK962
10
 
E
Demme
1095
KQ98
QJ7
753
 
S
Bryant
QJ
AJ53
1053
KQJ8
 

Do you look Bryant’s 3  bid? Was she being “too scientific”? You decide.

Still after this board Summers had a 6 imp lead. 

Summers arrived at Board 27 still up by 6. Four boards to go, I will tell you that the last three boards were pushes so Eaton had to win at least 7 imps on Board 27 to win the event.

On Board 27 both South’s arrived in 1NT on the same auction (East-West passing throughout). South opened with 1 and the auction continued 1  by North and 1NT by South.

And as it turned out it would be the lead that would decide the winner of the Canadian Women’s Team Championship. What would you have led?

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1
Pass
1
Pass
1NT
All Pass
 
 
 

 

W
Nesbit/Thorpe
AQ84
QJ8
82
10982

 

Remember that 1 imp we were trying to find. You will find it and more on this hand if you lead the right card. In fact you are 50-50. Either major suit lead will defeat the contract two tricks and either minor suit lead will lead to ten tricks for declarer.

 
25
E-W
North
N
Summers
J6
K732
KQ1053
J3
 
W
Thorpe
AQ84
QJ8
82
10983
 
E
Demme
K1075
A1096
J64
65
 
S
Bryant
932
54
A97
AKQ74
 

To win the match Eaton needed 7 imps or more. This board 1NT making 4 for 180 and 1NT down 2 for minus 100 produced exactly that number.

Congratulations to the Eaton team and my condolences to Summers. 

What is an Opening Bid?

A long time ago when I was in high school I learned to play bridge and my main partner was the boy next door, Mark Cosman.  Mark who I have seen rarely recently told me a few years ago his son now plays bridge. I hope he still does.

Mark and I learned to play bridge using Charles Goren’s Point Count Bidding. It does seem kind of quaint now. We played for hours with some other fellows from the neighborhood. In those days bridge clubs were definitely populated by young males.

An opening bid had at least 13 high card points. High card points being counted as today. Distribution points were counted for short suits, 1,2 and 3 for doubleton, singleton and void (when considering suit contracts.)

Over the years I learned to open lighter hands .. because there is an advantage to opening the bidding. But we still taught students that you needed at least 13 points, high cards and distribution together. Instead of counting shortness students in recent years were generally taught to count length points for suits longer than four cards. The results were similar.

So now I come to the US team trials and see this hand. In second chair with everyone not vulnerable both Moss and Meckstroth opened this hand 1. Would you?

 
S
South
1032
AQ96
A1096
63

 

Pluses: You have two and a half quick tricks. Aces are worth more than four points. You are not 4-3-3-3. You have good diamond spots. And all your high cards are in your longer suits

Minuses: You don’t have a long suit. You don’t have much distribution. You only have 10 high card points … okay maybe 11 is you want to count AQ as seven or six and a half. 

I was thinking about whether there is a difference in choosing to open this hand in first chair or second chair. I can’t come up with a reason why it would make a difference.

Anyways both Meckstroth and Moss opened it 1 . In checking the other tables playing in the team trials there were some that opened and quite a few that didn’t.

Opening the bidding is obviously an advantage but as the required  values go down, the spread (the most and least opener can have)  becomes greater which is a disadvantage.

 Most players change the values required to open by seat opening lighter hands in third chair. In third chair there are many other considerations too .. desired opening lead being one.

Fourth chair? Partner is a passed hand (and passing for some pairs seems to show bird poo). So I think most players would probably not reduce opening bid requirements much.

 
30
None
East
N
Rodwell
KQ986
KJ54
4
QJ10
 
W
Willenken
AJ5
1083
Q53
AK98
 
E
Delmonte
74
72
KJ872
7542
 
S
Meckstroth
1032
AQ96
A1096
63
 

How likely are you to make this game? First there is a chance of a heart ruff if hearts are 4-1. This is not inconsiderable because if hearts are 4-1 there is a good chance that the long heart hand can get the lead (whoever has the spade ace) and give partner a ruff. You also have to pick up spades for one loser. Sometimes you can’t and sometimes you have to guess (for example, is the spade jack doubleton offside or third onside?) Definitely a good game vulnerable but not quite so clear not vulnerable.

What happens next? At the Meckwell table the pair got to four spades after Rodwell responded 1  and Meckstroth showed a minimum balanced hand with three card spade support. With everything friendly the game was a make.

In the other room a curious thing happened South also opened 1  (which just shows how old fashioned I am) but this time West, Weinstein, doubled on the balanced 14 count. Grue passed awaiting developments and now it was up to East Levin. With a four count and five good diamonds he decided to tough it out. When Moss also passed he found himself playing 1  doubled on the 4-1. With the good diamond spots and things breaking North-South can make six tricks in diamonds for one down.

As I sit and look at the deal now I wonder if I would have passed 1  doubled on Grue’s hand? I guess he can defend most things but there was just that danger that the East might have a diamond stack. What do you think?

With the spade AJx onside and no bad distribution 4S was made… sometimes bridge is an easy game. 11 imps to the Nickell team who at the end of the segment had narrowed Fleisher’s lead to just 6 imps (103-109) at the halfway mark of the match.

Cheating and sharp practices

Quite a while ago Ray and I played in a number of tournaments in Florida. This seemed to be the home of many “minor” pros. These pros were good players but not really stars and when they played against us we were pretty evenly matched. They also had to contend with their client at the other table. Sometimes to get an edge they would use what I can only call “sharp practices”. This is in a way a kind of cheating.

One of their favorites was to come to the table very late to make us nervous. Our tactics to deal with that was to wait till they arrived and then have one of us say that we had to go to the bathroom. We played quickly and this tactic evened things out.

We also became aware of local players who decided to play pro and then later were caught cheating. Playing pro put enough pressure on them that they went from ethical players to cheaters. In fact in the days where pros were not really allowed, one of the arguments for keeping bridge “amateur” was to prevent sharp practices and cheating. It would ruin the game.

And now as we find that quite a few pro players are likely cheating I wonder if it really hasn’t had a terrible effect on the game.

I love watching great players find incredible plays and somehow make just the right bid on a challenging hand. Now I wonder if they did this as a result of skill or if they are cheaters.

So many things have already been done to prevent cheating. Forbidding electronic equipment, screens, writing notes to opponents to explain bids, having monitors walk you to the bathroom and so on. But in the end no matter what the organizers do if you want to cheat badly enough than you can find a way.

Is the big money pro-client system the problem? There was cheating before and there is cheating in club games and probably even in home games. But maybe the big money provides more of an incentive.

The only answer I can think of is to be ready to have some experts on hand who look for pairs who are getting results that are too good, too precise, too many good guesses. Be alert for cheating and expect it in even the best bridge players.

This just seems too sad to me. For me bridge is “the beautiful game.” It is so sad to see it sullied.

 

Bridge and Sports Pyschology

I am working on a talk on sports psychology. It has three parts to represent the three activities I participate in: Bridge, Running and Tennis. My expertise in each of them is in that order. I consider myself a bridge expert, a running advanced and an intermediate tennis player (although some might argue that I am being too generous in the latter two designations.)

What I have noticed is that many of the psychological issues are consistent in all three of these activities.

The first one may be called things like pregame jitters or performance anxiety or stage fright. It is the feelings you get when you are waiting to begin an important match. These are based on the human “flight or flee” response. In short when humans feel “threatened”, the pitituary gland secrets ACTH and the adrenal gland secretes epinephrine. This is to prime you to either face the enemy or run away (Fight or flee). The body releases glucose and also starts the production of addition energy to prepare muscles for action. Blood is diverted to the muscles, and all parts of your body work to supply extra energy.The heart beats faster, you breath faster, you may start to shake, and so on.

In sports  (and here bridge is a sport) performance anxiety is often worse when the game seems important. It may relate to having an audience (you should have seen me play when I was first on Vugraph or on the Internet – no its best not to!).

If the bridge player lacks confidence than it will be tough for self talk or other similar techniques to help them to do their best.  I remember once when I was playing in the World Championships I met Bob Hamman in the elevator. We were in the quarterfinals I think and I was nervous because we were up against a good team. Bob told me that they put their pants on one foot at a time to reassure me. I have never forgotten his attempt at relaxing me but it really didn’t help. I knew they were better than our team.

Instead of fighting the pregame jitters, better advice is probably to accept it as normal and as part of the natural preparation for competition. Once the game starts you feel better. I think we all have pregame routines. What I have learned in all the games/sports I play is that the pregame routine can calm me and get me ready for the start. Other ideas might be using positive self-talk. “I am going to do my best.”, to smile and try to separate the outcome from just bidding and playing each hand.

Self Talk

Most people have running dialogues with themselves. If you have make a bad bid or play do you shoot yourself down? (I do!) The goal is to replace negative messages with positive ones. “I am going to figure out the right line of play.”

One thing that I do when I run and play tennis is use mantras: short positive statements that are encouraging or provide focus.” In tennis I use one word: “Ball” to remind myself to focus on the ball. In bridge I might use the one word on play: “Count” to remind myself to work and count out the hand. In running as I get tired I use: “You can do it!”

 

One Book to Rule Them All

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In the early days of Master Point Press, Ray put together a writing team for a book that he and I conceived. It all began with frequent phone calls from my mother who was an avid social bridge player. 

Each phone call would go something like this:  

“I opened 1  and my partner bid 2NT (Jacoby); I have 18 points with no shortness,” 

“Yes, mom.”

“Well what do I do?”

“Do you know the responses to Jacoby?”  

“Some of them, but not that one.”  

And the conversation would continue with me walking through the responses to Jacoby 2NT.

Sometimes one of the “girls” who played at the local bridge club would bring new conventions or new ideas about responses or continuations to my mom’s home game, and I would be called to make sure they were on the right track.

After a while it became clear that my mom and her circle really could use a book that would teach them about bridge conventions in a more in-depth way, explaining the purpose of the convention, the responses and continuations so that they could use them effectively.

25 Bridge Conventions You Should KnowI didn’t write the book — Barbara Seagram and Marc Smith did. I didn’t edit the book, my husband Ray did. But if I could I would have dedicated the book to my mother who was the inspiration for 25 Conventions You Should Know.

The book was very well executed. Ray, who had a background in educational publishing, suggested some of the features for the book: chapter summaries, examples, quizzes for the readers and little asides called “By the Way”. The book explained each convention, the various responses and the continuations.  Eddie Kantar, whom we asked to contribute a foreword, wrote, ‘The reader who knows nothing or next to nothing about the convention being explained will leave the chapter thinking he or she can play the convention.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

The book was beautifully designed by Olena Sullivan, with special attention to the cover – we wanted that to be bright and eye catching.

Everything worked out to create a prize-winning book (ABTA Book of the Year) that has gone on to be perhaps the bestselling bridge book of the last 50 years. Sales have gone well over 200,000 copies in English, and 25 Conventions You Should Know has been translated into several other languages. It is one of the few bridge books reviewed on GoodReads (the premier book rating website), getting a top rating from nearly all the many reviewers.

So thank you, mom, for providing the inspiration for this wonderful book. As one of the reviewers on GoodReads said, “If you play bridge – you’ll love this book!”

And so I am going to give this book to my friend Victoria. She used to play bridge many years ago and now that she is coming back to it again this book will help her to learn the more sophisticated bidding  methods of today. Welcome back to bridge, Victoria.

Bridge problems that change the way you look at a hand

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There Must Be a WayI remember the day I first saw the manuscript that eventually became There Must be a Waythe second book MPP ever published.  It was a handwritten collection of bridge problems by a Toronto bridge player named Andrew Diosy – someone I didn’t know, despite the fact that I thought I knew all the good players in the area.  Andrew, it turned out, was a medical doctor who had moved to Canada after the Hungarian uprising in 1956. 

Ray asked me to turn the manuscript into a book, and I accepted the challenge happily. I loved Andrew’s problems. They were different from any I had seen before. They required you to think about the hands in new and interesting ways — practical ways too.  The play was always logical but it did require lateral thinking and the use of the creative part of your brain. The solutions needed deeper thought, some consideration of the moves you could make and also of your opponents’ countermoves.  Often the solution was quite simple (and always elegant) – just hard to spot.

So we devised a new format to present them. (I was flattered some years later when master problem creator Julian Pottage used the same format for two of his books.)

It occurred to me that what Andrew had created were not specifically declarer play or defense problems, but problems in analysis – can you make this hand, or should the defenders find a way to beat you?  We decided to start by showing the reader each problem double-dummy, with the title of the problem providing a small hint to the solution.  Then when you were ready, you could turn the page and see a discussion of the play and its issues, and often a hint or two. You were asked to think about it again before looking at the full solution which appeared later in the book.

I felt as I worked on the hands that the process was making me a better declarer. And I liked so many of the hands.  Even then I knew that this book was a great gift for people who, like me, loved cardplay or for those who wanted to improve their ability to think deeply about a deal.

I wrote the book in Florida that winter.  My parents were living in a condo a few floors below but I was basically there by myself, working in the morning and enjoying the Florida sunshine the rest of the day while Ray was home in the cold. I was punished for my happiness when I was given a work assignment in my real-life role as a computer consultant which required me to travel to Calgary and Edmonton and the -30 degree weather.  My first stop in Calgary was at a store where I bought the wooliest gloves, hat and scarf I could find!

Here’s a typical problem from the book.  It’s entitled

Belladonna’s Class

 
N
North
AQ93
83
J9
97652
 
W
West
J86
K7
A532
QJ103
Q
E
East
K10542
4
K1087
K84
 
S
South
7
AQJ109652
Q64
A
 

Contract: 4 
Lead:  Q

Well, can 4hx be made on best defense?  Try it for yourself before scrolling down to the two parts of the solution.

 

Solution Part 1

The problem on this hand is to avoid losing three diamond tricks:  there is an inevitable trump loser so the diamond losers must be held to two. After winning the first trick with the A, you must defer drawing trumps so that you can ruff a diamond if necessary.  You start by leading a diamond to the nine:  West must duck and East will win the 10.  East will not return a trump, and it doesn’t matter whether you rise or duck, the defense will have an opportunity to remove dummy’s trumps, either immediately or when West gets in on the A.

Is there a way to make this hand?

Solution Part 2

This hand can be made.  The problem is to avoid losing three diamond tricks.  The instinctive play is to lead a diamond from the closed hand towards dummy and finesse the 9 when West plays low, but that does not work on this hand.  The key is to make sure that West wins the first diamond, and to do this you cross to dummy on the A and lead the 9.

East cannot afford to rise on the K because this will allow you to set up a diamond trick by force.  The best East can do is to cover the 9 with the 10, but you counter by playing the Q.  West wins with the A, but he cannot play trumps without losing the defense’s trump trick.  Suppose West continues a club:  you ruff in hand and lead another diamond, East’s king winning.  When he returns a trump, you go up with the ace and ruff your third diamond in dummy.

You Have To See ThisThere is a story to this hand: when it occurred many years ago in a rubber bridge game, the great Italian star Giorgio Belladonna picked the winning line after hardly a moment’s thought!

I am going to give this book to my old friend Mike. He loves to play dummy. He is good at it but I know he will be a better declarer after reading this book.  And next year I can give him the sequel, You Have to See This.

A Gift for my Sister

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Does the idea of history make you yawn? Not me. A good book about some interesting person or event is one of my favorite reads. I can read about the Black Death or the Battle of Gettysburg or Henry VIII, and if the story is well researched and the author tells it in an entertaining fashion then I can gulp it down.

Bumblepuppy DaysBut bridge history? It turns out that the story of our great game can be quite fascinating too. Bumblepuppy Days, The Evolution from Whist to Bridge, by Julian Laderman is a really entertaining book.  If you are unfamiliar with the world ‘bumblepuppy’, as I was, you find out on the first page that it was a term for a poor whist player (and related meanings) – and it’s still listed in the Encyclopedia of Bridge.

The book starts with whist as described in the writings of Hoyle (1743-1863) and Cavendish (1864-1898). There are wonderful discussions of playing cards and trump indicators and more “paraphernalia”, with illustrations .

I suppose it’s obvious when one looks at the two games that whist (or ‘whisk’ as it was originally known) and bridge are related.  But the steps by which one developed into the other are fascinating, and Julian takes us on a journey through the many variants of whist to bridge whist, auction bridge, and eventually contract as we know it today.  Along the route we meet the successors of Cavendish and Hoyle:  Elwell, Work, Foster, Lenz and finally the great promoters — Ely and Jo Culbertson and Charles Goren.  Each in their way contributed to the evolution of the various games – they were larger than life characters whose exploits and writings promoted the games and helped them become popular.

We learn not just how but why the games evolved – how the wishes and needs of the playing public changed them and how they themselves influenced changes in society.  Duplicate bridge, for example, is a direct descendant of duplicate whist, which was invented originally in order to test theories about systems by playing the same hand multiple times in different ways.  Most of our familiar duplicate movements, such as the Mitchell and Howell, were developed for playing duplicate whist, not bridge.

And this is not a dry history – it is filled with living characters, and with Julian’s wit and humor. Julian has a wonderful way with a story. I just have to repeat one from the book:

At times I have been told that bridge is only a game. I counter that with, ‘Without the bridge family tree, the U.S. might not have fought for its independence.’ After receiving a confused look, I make my argument.

In 1765 the Stamp Act was passed by the English Parliament. This was a tax on printed materials, newspapers, legal documents, playing cards, etc. The American colonies united to resist this tax. Prior to that time the thirteen colonies had never cooperated; they were all separate entities, not part of a team, and were happy to keep it that way. The Stamp Act was repealed by King George III in March 1766, but a major step toward American independence had taken place. The colonies felt empowered. It was hard to separate how much of the outcry was over the principle of the tax, and how much was over the financial burden of paying it. Playing cards were not durable, and the popularity of whist and other card games meant that a tax on playing cards could be quite substantial. In The Whist Reference Book, Butler wrote: ‘Whist-players were among the chief aversions of that prosaic monarch, George III. No wonder he lost the American colonies.’

This is a book for my sister Judy. While she is only a novice bridge player she loves a good read, and this wonderful story about the beginning of bridge is sure to entertain her.

A Gift for my Bridge Student Friends

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Ray and I teach bridge during the winter to our friends in Sarasota.  We teach eight or nine classes each year.  Some of our students are beginners but several of them have been beginners for several years now. They are keen and enjoy the game but have difficulty with declarer play. One of them told me on one hand, ‘I know the right bid is four spades, but I don’t think I’ll be able to make ten tricks if I’m playing it!’ I think most bridge players look forward to the challenge of being declarer and I want our friends to learn to play well enough that they actually want to play a hand.

Declarer Play at Bridge: A QuizbookSo I am going to give them Declarer Play at Bridge, A Quizbook by David Bird and Barbara Seagram to Mona and Steve.

I like this book for a lot of reasons. First it teaches declarer play using some of the exact same concepts I use. For example, I always tell my students that when they are declarer in a trump contract, as part of their plan they should draw trumps right away unless they have a specific reason not to do so.  And David and Barbara have the same concept in Chapter One.

I really like the way the book describes all the concepts slowly and carefully with examples and explanations at a perfect level.  And I particularly like that the book is a quiz book. It teaches each concept by example. You try the problem and then, when you are ready, look at the solution on the next page. It is how I like to teach and how I like to learn.

Then the “Points to remember” feature reinforces key points.

Here is Problem 19. Now I know that advanced bridge players or experts won’t have any problem with the plan but I bet you can think of some beginners who will be doing well if they slowly work their way through the book to problem 19 and then confidently solve this problem.

Problem 19

 

N
 
Q72
Q98532
7
K82
J
S
 
KJ10983
7
A62
A64
W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1
1
3
3
Pass
4
All Pass
 
 
 

You and your partner bid strongly to a game in spades. How will you plan to make this contract when West leads the  J?

You have one loser in spades, to the ace. In hearts you have one loser and in diamonds you have two losers. In clubs you have a slow loser on the third round. You start with this position:

Losers:         1 Total: 5

You need to reduce the loser count from five to three. You may be able to ruff your two diamond losers in the dummy, but you will have to plan the play carefully to achieve this. Your first decision is this: ‘Where should I win the first trick?’

This book will be wonderful for anyone who is starting to learn declarer play or someone who is having trouble becoming a good declarer. It is the kind of book that teaches slowly and systematically while still letting the reader have fun. I am confident that my friends will be able to master the basics of declarer play with this book.

Oh the answer? I won’t reproduce it all, but suffice it to say, just think about where you want to win the first trick and it will come to you.

Who Should Get my Favorite Bridge Book?

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I have been a bridge player for a very long time. I started playing bridge in high school.  There was no one to teach me.  There was no ACBL junior program in those days.  My parents played social bridge occasionally (my mother continued to be a social bridge player into her eighties) but I didn’t know that at the time. I started to learn the game by picking up a bridge bidding book (now hopelessly dated, of course). Eventually I enlisted the boy next door, Mark, to play with me and he rounded up some buddies and we would often play most of the evening.
So the way I first learned bridge was by reading books and playing in that neighborhood  game — we learned by mistaking mistakes and just having fun.  A bit later on some of us went to the local bridge club. In those days the club was filled with bridge players of all ages including a lively group of young people. It was there I met Mrs. Whaley (our favorite Little Old Lady), the Shoe, Harry the Owl and all the other many wonderful people who populated bridge clubs in those days.
I was a student of the game and I learned by playing, analyzing and reading books.  But my favorite book was not a teaching book; it wasn’t the book that taught me squeezes, or taught me better bidding methods.  It was the book that made me laugh the most. My favorite book in my early years of bridge described in a very humorous way the type of people who populated my bridge club and it did so with a plethora of beautiful bridge hands – Bridge in the Menagerie.
Bridge in the MenagerieI still love the Menagerie books by Victor Mollo. While there are very few rubber bridge players left and most likely far fewer rubber bridge clubs, the players in the Menagerie still ring true despite the fact that the Bridge in the Menagerie was originally published in 1965! I still love HH (the Hideous Hog), the best player in the club, and it is fun to see him execute some coup or deceit to miraculously make a hand but it is the Rueful Rabbit, who can sometimes quite by accident pull off something incredible, that makes me laugh the most.
There are so many wonderful stories filled with wonderful hands that I can’t move on without looking at one deal at least. But in Bridge in the Menagerie every hand is a story and most are too long for this blog. Still, here is a deal where the play is fun on its own. Suffice it to say that the Hog is playing against good opposition for huge stakes (stakes that he can ill afford) at rubber bridge. After opening a strong 2 and hearing partner bid clubs, the Hog arrives in 6 which is doubled on his left.

 
H.H.
A2
AK8762
AKQ32

The Hog rightly suspected that lefty would not have doubled 6 without a solid holding in trumps. So he removed himself to 6NT, also doubled, and received the lead of the Q.

This was the dummy he faced:

 
Dummy
KJ
1054
109
KQJ1098
 
H.H.
A2
AK8762
AKQ32

How would you play this deal? Take your time now. What was the best chance?


Here is the whole deal. Do you see it now?

 
N
Dummy
KJ
1054
109
KQJ1098
 
W
West
Q43
QJ93
J876
A7
 
E
East
1098765
54
65432
 
S
H.H.
A2
AK8762
AKQ32
 

“In less time than it would take him to gobble a pound’s worth of caviar the Hog found the solution. He led a spade towards dummy and finessed the knave. Once the knave held the Hog was home. He led a club and threw on it his SA. Then, with a characteristic flourish, he spread his hand.”

There is no way that West can prevent the Hog from getting to dummy for the clubs! 


So who is going to get Bridge in the Menagerie this Christmas?   It should be someone who plays bridge in a club and loves humor and magical dummy play. I think I shall give it to my old friend Mark, my first bridge partner. I know he has read this book but that was a long time ago. And I know that he will love it still.

A Special Relationship

Linda and Ray's Holiday Picks

For December all of Linda and Ray’s Holiday Gift Picks will be on sale for 20% off at ebooksbridge.com. To see a full listing of ebooks on sale visit ebooksbridge.com or
our informative blog post on BridgeBlogging.com.

Bridge Squeezes Complete: Winning Endgame StrategyI am not sure of the exact date, but it was very early in my bridge career that I first came across Clyde E. Love’s Bridge Squeezes Complete.  At the time, I didn’t know what a bridge squeeze was.  I was fascinated by the idea of producing a trick by forcing the opponents to discard a winner, setting up your own high card.

I read the first few chapters of Love very carefully, over and over.  I would lay out the hands and plan out the play and then check the book.  I put a lot of effort into learning how to execute simple squeezes. My friend Margaret had explained to me that you could frequently make extra tricks in notrump by just running your tricks and forcing the opponents to discard. Often this was the result of the opponents simply making wrong choices but sometimes they had no choice. They were squeezed. They had a choice of evils: which winner to throw.

By reading and understanding the book I came to learn the principles of simple squeezes: removing the opponents’ idle cards, managing your entries and so on.  Later on I was indoctrinated into some of the more complex (and rare) squeezes.  The winkle was a favorite – not because it came up, it was very rare — but because when some of my friends executed a winkle they would stand up on their chair and yell “WINKLE” so they could accept some applause.

When we had an opportunity to republish Love in a new edition,  I volunteered to take charge and I soon enlisted Julian Pottage to help with the technical side since things could get quite complex in the later chapters. While the original was a wonderful book, it had become dated over time. Of course, there was some new squeeze theory that had been developed but that was not really the biggest issue.  One problem was that bidding had changed so much since the 50s and 60s that the auctions in the book were virtually unrecognizable to a modern player. And bidding was important to the book because you used the bidding to make play decisions and sort out which cards each opponent held. The text itself was never easy – Love was math professor, and had a tendency to assume a level of comprehension in the reader that wasn’t there for most of us.  In addition, bridge language itself had changed a bit, making things even harder for a modern reader.

So with Julian’s help, I worked through the book.  We kept most of Love’s terminology for squeezes, much of which he invented and which became the standard for anyone describing squeeze positions.  Anyone who has read the book will always remember BLUE!  But we tried to simplify and to add more explanations.  I wrote a whole new chapter on trump squeezes, which were treated in an almost perfunctory manner in the original – it feels like the publisher told Love, ‘Enough already, no more pages!’  And we added the new squeeze positions that have been described in the last fifty years or so, including Julian’s own mole squeezes.  It was one of the toughest assignments technically I have ever undertaken in bridge, but ultimately I was pleased with the result, and very proud of what we accomplished.

As you can tell, I have strong feelings about this wonderful book. There are other books about squeezes, some perhaps more suited to newer players, but I still love “Love”.  It established the theory of squeezes and created a vocabulary that everyone still uses today.

So now I have to think about who I know that will enjoy this book as much as me.  It is best as a gift for a serious advancing bridge player who loves card play.  This is perfect for Leslie, who comes to our intermediate classes in Sarasota, and gets almost all the play problems right.   I think she’ll  “love” it.

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