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August 2014 English Bridge

MY mother was a social bridge player

whose bridge philosophy included three

oft-used sayings. The first was 'Ace, two,

three, four; kiss the dealer'. This is an old

whist expression (I found it in a short

story written in 1880, and in a 1903

Encyclopaedia of Folklore and Superstition)

that means if a trick is made up of the ace,

two, three and four, then the winner of the

trick should kiss the dealer. It came to the

EBU's attention in 1953 that certain

players, in search of osculatory reward,

were winning with the ace when a lower

card would have done the trick. The

excuse that the player was false-carding

was deemed unacceptable, and the

practice was banned in 1954.

Then there was 'One peek is worth two

finesses'. This one gets lots of hits on the

internet and is known, and widely used,

outside bridge circles. A scientific forum

quotes it, and adapts it to 'one good

experiment is worth many speculations'. It

also gets a mention in a 1940 article about

bathing suits. I was surprised that I

couldn't find anything older than 1934.

My mother's third saying was 'I had two

little clubs, both of them singleton'. It

sounds like the caption to a Punch cartoon

to me, but I can't find a reference to it

anywhere. Can anyone help me?

I have been asking players from round

the world whether their countries have

any bridge sayings that aren't known to

the rest of us.

Thailand came up with three. 'When

rich, bid slow' is good advice, so long as

you can overcome your fear of playing a

grand slam deal in a part-score. To 'discard

a tiger but keep a pig' means you have

thrown a winner and kept a loser, not a

good thing to do. And, if your opening

lead finds dummy with the ace-kingqueen

of the suit led, you are said to have

'run into a brick wall'.

India has a couple. They say that if there

is a singleton in your hand, then someone

else will have a singleton too. This has

some similarities with Culbertson's

(discredited) Law of Symmetry. Indians

also have a saying

that with ten cards

in a suit, missing

K-x-x, you should

finesse for the king,

unless the suit is

clubs, in which

case you should

play for the drop.

This seems to be a

distant relation to

the Rabbi's Rule

which states that, when a missing king is

offside and singleton, you should play for

the drop.

Diamonds aren't only a girl's best

friend, they're everybody's best friend. In

Sweden, if you are unsure what to lead

against a no-trump contract, you lead a

diamond. Aus tralians who don't know

what to lead against a slam will lead a

diamond. Russians are less specific; when

uncertain they will lead a diamond against

any contract.

Maybe, with all these international

variations, we should be petitioning the

EBU to have the laws amended so that

asking opponents where they are from is

as legitimate a question as asking what

system of discards they play.

Let us segue to sayings that might

actually be useful to the aspiring bridge

player. 'Eight ever, nine, never', 'Second

hand plays low', 'An apple a day keeps the

doctor away' and 'Cover an honour with

an honour' are all popular in England.

Although you would be better off if you

always followed the advice rather than did

the opposite, they are merely guidelines

and not cast-iron guarantees of success.

Another of our most quoted mantras is

that if you don't draw trumps you will end

up walking the embankment. I analysed one

hundred consecutive deals in Croatia. 21

were played in no-trumps. Of the remain ing

79, declarer started drawing trumps as

soon as possible 43 times, and played on a

side-suit first 36 times. Hardly a ringing

endorsement. Maybe the French have got it

right with their version: '10,000 Englishmen

threw themselves into the Thames for

drawing trumps too late, and 10,000 for

drawing trumps too soon.' It sounds as

though the Grand Old Duke of York's men

played bridge in the evening after being

marched up and down hills all day.

The Poles have a variation on the trumpsembankment

saying, and theirs rhymes as

well: Kto nie sciaga atutow, ten chodzi bez

butow (literally: 'He who doesn't draw

trumps walks without shoes').

There is another Polish rhyming couplet,

this time about spades being the boss suit:

Kto gra piki, daje wyniki ('He who plays in

spades, gets results').

Bulgarian bridge players have a rhyme

about hand evaluation: Chetri-tri-tri-tri,

burzo tochka izvadi ('If your hand is fourtriple-three,

quickly deduct a point').

Your partner opens the bidding and you

have a four count; should you pass or bid?

The Israelis use a catchy little ditty that

rhymes in Hebrew: Eem aas aal tagid pass

('Don't pass with an ace'), so their advice

is clear: if your four points are all in one

card, bid.

And here's one from Germany - yet

another rhyme: Spaet geeinigt in Atout,

spiele Trumpf heraus im Nu ('If trumps are

agreed late, lead a trump').

Is there something special about sayings

that rhyme? Are they easier to remember?

Should we be reworking some of the

classics? What about 'Second hand plays

low, don't cha know' and 'Cover an

honour with an honour. If you don't,

you'll be a goner'? No? OK, back to the

drawing board.

Please send me (via Elena) your favourite

bridge sayings and superstitions. r

by Simon Cochemé

Bridge with a Twist

A Kiss, a Peek and Two Singletons

Simon looks at some famous bridge sayings




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