A Gift for David
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our informative blog post on BridgeBlogging.com.
David Silver and I met playing bridge, naturally, but then one day I was warming up on the squash court when the door opened and David poked his head in. Having discovered this new mutual interest, we began playing regularly, and continued to do so for many years until David’s worsening eyesight made the proceedings a little too hazardous for us both.
David’s bridge is a product of his upbringing. He is a fine natural card player, who became an expert player by the simple process of playing for stakes he could not afford. That was many years ago, and the bidding was primitive by modern standards. And today, David’s bidding is still primitive by modern standards. But as any old-timer will tell you, that’s what made them all such great card players – they were usually in the wrong contract, and very often too high. They often needed to make tricks appear out of thin air, or pull off some amazing swindle.
I think David will appreciate a book on cardplay, and there’s no doubt what it should be: Eric Rodwell’s The Rodwell Files, certainly the best and most original book on play that has appeared in at least fifty years. And don’t be misled by the ‘with Mark Horton’ on the cover. This isn’t some celebrity putting his name on a ghost-written memoir – yes, Mark did a lot of research in coming up with example deals, but the ideas, the concepts and pretty much all the writing are Eric’s. Given his tournament schedule, I have no idea how he found the time. Even after we were well into production, Eric would send me half a dozen hands from every tournament he played, with the note like ‘Great example of XYZ’ or ‘We have to get this one in somewhere’, until I finally had to say ‘Stop! We have to finalize everything and go to press.’
Every aspect of cardplay is covered, both for declarer and defenders. And while the book is mostly geared to advanced players, Eric thinks almost anyone can pick it up and get something out of the first few chapters. As well as general principles, a great deal of space is devoted to describing specific maneuvers, many of which have never been in print before. Eric strongly believes that giving things names, often the sillier the better, helps one remember them, so the book contains sections on such ideas as the Crossover Stopper, Cash and Thrash, the Shortshake, Gouging, Days of Thunder, Bait and Switch, and a host of others.
Here’s one of my favorites, which Eric calls
THE SPEED OF LIGHTNING PLAY
Now let’s move on to some general tactical ideas — some of them are legitimate, in the sense that the opposition can do nothing to counter them, while others depend on inducing an (often slight) error. The speed of lightning play is one of my favorites. As any fan of the band Queen will anticipate, it can be very, very frightening.
If RHO is the dangerous opponent, you can often lead away from a holding like AJx in dummy toward holdings in the closed hand headed by the ten, on the theory that RHO won’t go up with Qx(x). A common variation is where you lead low from KJx toward 109xxx in hand. Of course, you must be able to afford to lose a trick to RHO later on. This play is most valuable when you have something like Qx opposite AJx in hand in the suit they led (dummy’s queen having won Trick 1), where East can’t hurt you later, only now.
This play is so named because East will play low at the speed of lightning, as a matter of habit. In fact, if he knows that he is the dangerous opponent, there is every reason for him to play the queen (danger hand high!) since if he ducks, declarer will doubtless try some coverage ducking play.
Here’s a full deal showing the play in its purest form.
West leads the ♠6 to dummy’s queen, East playing low. With only six top tricks you need to develop the diamonds. As long as East doesn’t get in on the first diamond lead, with the queen, you are safe. So your best shot is to lead the ♦3 from dummy at Trick 2, hoping East, dealt Qx, plays low at the speed of lightning.
The whole deal is:
This type of play can have some unforeseen consequences if we expand it to include other situations where players reflexively play low when they could play an honor to win a trick.
With this combination:
declarer played low to the jack. When that held, he played low to the king and then a third heart — the suit splitting 3-3 for three tricks!
You might also get away with three tricks with something like:
♠ K 7 3
♠ J 8 6 2
You play low to the king, then low to the jack, hoping West has ♠Axx and ducks twice (I have seen it happen!).