Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

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.

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