Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

The Rodwell Files – Chapter 1, A Start

When I started this task I thought I would read a section every two days.  There are five parts or sections of the book and seventeen chapters.  After reading chapter one I realize I will read a chapter every two days and that will give me enough of a challenge.  Even in chapter one, the basics, there was a lot to think about.  I also remembered that Eric’s early notes (from which the book was developed) were called The Rodwellian File.  Of course then it wasn’t all that long and easily fit into a file folder.  I know that over the years since it was not for public distribution we referred to it as the X Files and since it is so much longer I suppose The Rodwell Files is an appropriate name.

I liked Mark Horton’s foreword but I did have to look up ‘neologism’ (a newly coined word that is entering the common vernacular).  In this case he was talking about ‘Meckwell’.  Eric Rodwell has been a bridge hero of mine for a long time.  If you watch the Horton-Rodwell interview on U-tube you will see how erudite Eric is and how well he speaks about the game.  The interview was not scripted or rehearsed.  Eric just answered the questions.

So Chapter 1 is supposed to provide the basics.  Before I started I thought I could probably zip right through it.    Eric starts at the very beginning of card play.  When I attended one of Barbara Seagram’s beginner classes in preparation for writing Beginning Bridge she had a key play point.  Play Honors From The Short Side First.  This was a mantra that all the students had to recite several times.  And that is where Eric begins as well.

But the book moves on from there very quickly.  Even in something as simple as cashing winners Eric has some points to make.  For example, he introduces the idea that top winners are stoppers.  So when you have Ax opposite Kx you have two winners but you also have two stoppers (yes, even in a trump contract).

As I read on I realized that even though I knew all of the concepts in Chapter one, it moved so quickly and introduced so many ideas that I couldn’t zip through the text.  It made me think.  As a teacher one of the ideas I have found hard to get across to students is the difference between the finessing position where you have the AQ in one hand and the position where you have the queen in the hand opposite the ace.    I have written about it in books and blogs.  I have sent emails to students describing this.  Eric made one small change in his explanation that really helped.   He started with AQx opposite xxx and Axx opposite Qxx.  This is a more equivalent position.  Doh!  Why didn’t I see that?  In each case you have one or two tricks depending on the position of the king and in each case you lead towards the queen.  He mentions the idea of the Chinese Finesse of leading the queen.  (Later he even talks about when you might do just that.)  I can see that as a teacher there will be a lot of ideas for me along the way.

Some people might not like all of the new vocabulary that Eric is adding to cardplay.  So far I do.  I like the idea of a ‘pusher finesse’.  A pusher finesse is a finesse where you lead a high card (the pusher) from one hand which will either be covered or win the trick.  This concept helps to explain the idea of leading a high card from one hand towards an honor in the other (AKxx opposite J109x) and the many positions like that.  A pusher finesse is quite common on defense too.  It is something we all do intuitively when we lead the J from J109 through declarer with little ones in dummy.  This book discusses card play from both points of view — as a declarer and as a defender.  While doing that it seems to show the commonality between the two types of card play.  I guess I have always known that but I haven’t thought about it much.

So what are the conditions that make a two-way finesse equal in either direction?  (Having enough intermediates to be able to stand a cover either way.)  It turns out it is fun (for me at least) to read through the many aspects of basic finessing and while nothing is completely new to me there are some ideas that clarify the why’s of things.  Eric does a great job on explaining restricted choice and touches on suit combinations (a book in itself)   And we are on to “tricks with trumps”.  Once again he makes me think about teaching.  My rule two when teaching students about playing in a suit contract is “Draw trumps unless you have a reason not too.”  Eric has the same rule but with a corollary.

Finally I get to my first deal.   It is in the section on ‘asset surveys’.  This is perhaps the most important idea in this chapter for me.  Do you ever have problems noticing your seven is high?  Do you lose count of a suit?  Do you miss a finessing position?  An asset survey may help.  (Determine what honors and cards are missing in a suit.)

I am not going to write up the whole deal here but this is a play that Jeff (and “I”) found at trick one.









West led the heart two, attitude (showing interest in the suit).  Jeff put in the seven and it held.  Not brilliant but you can see how you could carelessly miss this at the table.  The rest of the card play on this deal is interesting too, involving using the spots and an endplay.  Later in the chapter there is a lovely dummy reversal from Orlando.  I admit I love reading about beautiful hands and card play.  If I am going to do the hard work of learning new idea I want the fun of admiring great deals.

The chapter ends with a series of basic “rules” to use in planning defense.  Obviously they all have exceptions but they form a framework for defensive thinking.  And once again I see ideas I can use as a teacher.  The ideas aren’t really new.  It’s just that they are so well explained.  So even though this book is not for novices (it moves much too fast) I see how the basic ideas are there and could be helpful for teachers.  An intermediate player could learn a lot from the first chapter but they would have to do it the way I first read bridge books when I started learning the game … slowly, carefully, laying out the deals and walking through them.  An intermediate player could easily spend a couple of weeks on this first chapter.

And my favorite part of the chapter… the idea of a ‘full’ and ’empty’ hand which helps the defense decide if they should use an active or passive defense.  As Eric describes it, a full hand is one in which declarer will get his tricks in time if left alone to do it.  You can work out what an empty hand is!

So while chapter one is a brief run-through of basic ideas it still gives me some things to think about both as a teacher and as a student of the game.  While I knew almost everything in chapter one I was not bored. … not even for a sentence.  It moves fast, it expresses things in an interesting way, it makes me think and it introduces some new concepts.

I am looking forward to chapter two.  The title is “The basics of advanced cardplay.”  Since this is still dealing with the basics I suspect I will know a lot of it but it will help to clarify my thinking.

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