Ray Lee

Bridge Jeopardy

Barry Rigal introduced me to a real time-waster in the Press Room a couple of world championships ago – a web site called Sploofus.  Now unfortunately defunct, it consisted of a fantastic collection of trivia and word games, which grew organically through constant member contributions.  At one point, I was inspired to develop a bridge quiz for Sploofus, which (blush) got an Editor’s Award.  Since the site is no longer there, I thought I’d recreate it, with some modifications, for this blog.  No prizes – you can Google the answers in 5 minutes – the trick is to see how many you can get right off the top of your head.  Since this blog has a bridge-savvy readership, I’ve made it a little harder: the original was multiple choice, but for this one, you’re mostly on your own.   I’ll post the answers in a few days.


1.  The exact origins of bridge are murky, although it obviously derives from whist and its precursors.  The trail runs through games such as plafond and biritch, finally arriving at auction bridge and then contract.  The game as we know it today came into being when an American millionaire invented a new scoring table during a New Year cruise on the SS Norway, in 1927-8.  With only minor changes, we still use his scoring today.  Who was he?

2.  Some of the pundits of auction bridge, like Milton Work, made the transition to contract, and continued to play, teach and write about the new game.  One of the most prolific early auction/contract authors became notorious when he was found dying of a gunshot wound in his NY townhouse in 1920, a murder which has never been solved.  It was the subject of a Philo Vance mystery novel by S.S. van Dine: in fact The Benson Murder Case suggested a possible solution.  Who was the victim?

3. Ely Culbertson was the first great promoter of bridge: he founded a magazine (The Bridge World), a bidding system, conducted newspaper columns and radio shows, and wrote dozens of books.  The final pages of his first book were dictated in a cab on the way to catch a transatlantic liner, which was to take him to play a challenge match in the UK.  The book, the first description of his methods, went on to sell millions of copies, making it comfortably the all-time best-selling book on the game.  What was its title?

4. The bridge world was stunned in 1965 when Terence Reese and his partner Boris Schapiro were accused of using illegal finger signals at the world championships in Buenos Aires.  The case generated controversy for years, not least because they were exonerated (or at least the charges were declared ‘not proven’) after an enquiry by a non-bridge-playing judge in the UK.  Today it is generally accepted that they were indeed cheating.  What information did the partners convey to one another?

5. Which of the following is not a type of squeeze?

Clash squeeze

Entry squeeze

Hexagonal squeeze

Knockout squeeze

Mole squeeze

Smother squeeze

6.  Many celebrities have been keen bridge players, including more than one US President and First Lady.  One of the best-known was this comedian, who was still playing cards at his country club a few days before his death at a very advanced age. He was born Nathan Birnbaum; what was his stage name?

7.  Ely Culbertson’s successor as ‘Mr. Bridge’ was Charles Goren, who promulgated Point Count Bidding, an easier method than Culbertson’s system based on Honor Tricks.  Yet the Goren System was not invented by him: it owed much to Milton Work and Bryant McCampbell, but the final touch, the addition of distributional points, came from a Toronto actuary.  What was his name?

8.  One of Goren’s favourite bridge partners was perhaps the best woman player of all time.  When a kibitzer asked her one time what it was like to partner one of the world’s great players, she snapped, ‘I don’t know – why don’t you ask Charlie?’  Who was she?

9.  Far and away the liveliest and most readable history of contract bridge from its beginnings to the early 1950s was penned by Irishman Rex Mackey: The Walk of the Oysters. The title is a reference to a line in a literary work… from which of these authors?  For a bonus point: what does the line have to do with bridge?

Lewis Carroll

T.S. Eliot

James Joyce

William Shakespeare

G.B. Shaw

10. Ira Corn’s sponsorship of the Aces changed bridge forever, and ushered in the era of professional teams.  The makeup of the squad changed several times over the years.  Which of the following players was never a member of the Aces?

Fred Hamilton

Eddie Kantar

Mike Passell

Paul Soloway

Alan Sontag

John Swanson

A Day at the Bridge Museum

Driving home last week from New Orleans, our route took us directly through Memphis, so we decided to make an overnight stop there for two reasons.  One was to sample the local BBQ once again; Brent Manley sent us to Corky’s, which was a great choice – the lineup moved quickly and efficiently, while we inspected the celebrity pictures on the walls, everyone from Bill Clinton and Margaret Thatcher to Elvis’s martial arts instructor seems to have been there at some time.  The food was great – and it isn’t even Brent’s favourite spot; that’s the Rendezvous, which wasn’t open on a Sunday night.  We made a mental note to return next year and try it – if it’s better than Corky’s, it must really be something.

Our second motive (ignoring Linda’s determination to empty the local clothes stores) was to see the spiffy new ACBL HQ at Horn Lake (just outside Memphis), and especially the new Bridge Museum, that both Brent and ACBL boss Jay Baum had told me was well worth a visit.

With most of the ACBL folks in New Orleans,  Dave Smith (“Memphis Mojo”) was one of the few left behind to hold the fort, and as it turned out, to kindly take the time to lead us a on a tour of the building.  Eventually we let him get back to work, and he abandoned us in the museum, where we spent the next couple of hours.

You’ll be able to get a sense of it from the photos that accompany this blog, but let me start by saying that the presentation is first-class.  The highlights of bridge history are traced from their beginnings: Vanderbilt and the invention of the new scoring table, Culbertson, Goren (both of whom had TV shows, which are available for you to watch).

Jo and Ely Culbertson

gorenI I Isuppose it was inevitable that the Bennett murder would be included, but at least the write-up emphasized that its real importance was the way Culbertson was able to use the publicity surrounding the case to market the game.bennett

There’s some fascinating memorabilia showcased, from an ace of spades that travelled on a US space mission to antique duplicate boards, one of the earliest LM cards, and even long-playing records from which people could get bridge lessons and tips.lp Joan Schepps’ incredible collection of trump indicators is beautifully displayed – I really like these strange little artifacts, I’m not sure why.trump1

The interactive displays (‘My Favorite Hand’ and the Hall of Fame) unfortunately weren’t working when we went through, but from the description we got they both sounded very well done – I would very much have liked to watch some of the interviews with the Hall of Famers. Ah well, have to leave something for next time!kings

Finally we checked out the library, which has some interesting items – including one of the few complete sets of The Bridge World in existence, as well as a complete run of World Championship books from 1953 onwards.vanderbilt

I hope I’ve done enough to convince you that the Museum is well worth a visit – even if you have to go a bit of your way.  I’ve done my share of ACBL-bashing in print over the years, so let me be fair and applaud when they have done something well, which is certainly the case here.

Enjoy the photos:

The Joan Schepps trump indicator collection

The Joan Schepps trump indicator collection

Equity, justice and the World Cup

Quite a lot of the discussion on this site focusses on rulings and appeals.  Some of the posters are interested in justice — applying the law as correctly as possible.  Others are more interested in equity — trying to restore (if possible) the correct bridge result, while assessing any transgression penalties as a separate issue.  The difference between these two approaches could not have been illustrated better than in today’s FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match between Uruguay and Ghana.

For those who are not familiar with what occurred, the match went to extra time.  In the last seconds of that, there was a goalmouth flurry at the Uruguay end, during which Luis Suarez of Uruguay deliberately handled the ball to prevent it going into the net for the winning goal.  (This description of what occurred is not the subject of any controversy — he handled the ball on purpose, and without that action, Ghana would have scored.)  The ref applied the rules quite correctly: he sent off Suarez, and awarded Ghana a penalty kick, which would be the last action before the final whistle.  Justice was therefore served.  Now I’m not sure what the stats are on scoring from penalties in the World Cup ( in normal pro play they run around 70-80% I think), but the Ghana striker (under severe pressure one would think) slammed the ball against the crossbar instead of into the back of the net, and the match therefore ended in a draw.  This was followed a tie-breaking penalty shootout (always a lottery), which Uruguay won.

So here we have a situation where a player deliberately breaks the rules in the most flagrant of fashions, and derives a benefit from so doing.  Justice?  Maybe.  But certainly not equity.  Ghana should have won, and but for the one of the most appalling acts of World Cup cheating since Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England they would have done so.  Now you could argue that Ghana should have scored from the penalty — but penalty kicks are far from 100%, and why should they be put in that position?  It’s the same argument used by the USBF Trials committee in my last blog, who ruled after a fairly gross CD incident that the non-offending side ‘should have figured it out’.  Sorry, guys — I don’t see why they should have to.

It’s interesting to compare the attitudes in different sports to this kind of thing.  Rugby, for example, in an analogous situation, allows the ref to award a penalty try (think touchdown), AND penalize the offender — a great example of justice and equity both being served.  Basketball, on the other hand, is quite blase about deliberate fouling as a tactic towards the end of a game, which is one reason I never watch it.

Perhaps bridge committees could do better in their decision-making by applying this very simple precept: you should never be able to gain an advantage by breaking the rules of the game.

An unappealing appeals decision

Dealer: W

Vul: NS

Q 10 6 5 3
J 8 4
K Q 8 4
West East
8 7 4 2
K J 10 8 3 2 9 7 5 4
A 10 9 6 5 3 K
3 10 9 7 6
A K J 9
Q 7 2
A J 5 2
West North East South
1 1 3 3
5 dbl 5 dbl
all pass
PDF Print E-mail
This was board 44 of RRII in the current USBF Team Trials. The players involved were:    North John Hurd  South Joel Wooldridge   West Renee Mancuso  East Sheri Winestock.  East’s

The result: 5 doubled by South making… +650 N/S

The director was called after the hand. South asserted that he would not have doubled 5if he was given the same explanation as his partner. He would have

passed since their agreement was that this would be a forcing auction. He’d leave it to partner to make the decision to bid 5 or double… sure that partner would

bid 5 on the hand he held. He did not believe that the same forcing auction rule would apply with 3 being a weak jump shift rather than a preemptive raise.

The committee (Bill Pollack, chair; John Sutherlin; Robb Gordon) upheld the director’s ruling: Result stands.

The committee felt that, despite the incorrect explanations that South was given, no matter which explanation he wanted

to believe about East’s hand (clearly, he could rule out “weak in diamonds”), doubling 5 was the main cause of the poor

N-S result. Even after a forcing pass of 5, however, would North really bid 5 with such poor spades, limited values,

and problematic diamonds?  So the first decision was that N-S’s result would stand. They had ample opportunity to figure out what had happened,

and were unlikely to go right in any event. But for E-W, the rules for an adjusted score are more closely dependent on the misinformation they gave on a straightforward

auction — they should know the meaning of 1 – (1) – 3. There was sympathy and considerable discussion about some kind of adjustment; either a 2 to 3 imp procedural penalty (although the committee generally finds such adjustments unattractive) or an adjusted score. Since we felt it was only between 10% to 25% that N-S would have gone right with proper explanations, we were not prepared to adjust the E-W score to -100 (in 6X, the expected result if N-S did compete to 5). All other adjustments would be to artificial scores, which we were not willing to proffer. So we decided not to adjust the E-W score, either.


The above is the committee report that appeared in this morning’s Bulletin from the USBF Team Trials.  It’s an interesting follow-on to Judy Wolff’s blog of June 15th, and the subsequent discussion about Convention Disruption (CD).

I have the following comments and questions:

1) This committee met after the RR was complete, and presumably therefore knew that their decision would potentially affect the result of the event (or else why bother to hold a committee at all?).  This kind of situation always puts extra pressure on the committee and the ruling itself.

2) Why was there not an automatic 3-IMP penalty to EW for CD?  They gave vastly different explanations on each side of the screen and put the opponents in jeopardy thereby.  That should have been done whatever else the committee chose to do or not to do.

3) North-South “had ample opportunity to figure out what had happened, and were unlikely to go right in any event”.  It would be interesting to know what the results were on this board at other tables — did everyone double 5? But why is the onus on NS to figure out that they have been given the wrong explanation? And why do they get penalized (effectively) when they fail to do so — they should never have been put in this position in the first place!

4) The committee itself felt that NS might have taken the right decisions as much as 25% of the time given the correct information.  Surely, then, there should have been an adjusted score based on that outcome 25% of the time and the table result 75% of the time — I’ve seen that done on a number of occasions in the past.

5) In the end, the committee found reasons not to act — not to penalize EW for CD, not to adjust either NS’s score or EW’s score.  Seems to me that if you took a show of hands and asked people whether or not there should be some kind of penalty or adjustment (without determining exactly what it should be) the response would be an overwhelming ‘yes’.  So why did the committee fail to act?  I think Comment 1 is germane here, and I think they overanalyzed everything, instead of stepping back and asking themselves what needed to be done to restore equity, in so far as they could.

My understanding is that the margin of victory in this match was 1 IMP, so had the committee taken any action at all, it would have changed the result, and in fact affected which teams went on to the KO stages.  As Bobby Wolff has written, once CD occurs, bridge stops and the rest is Alice in Wonderland.  What a pity that important events are decided in such a way.

What are the odds?

One deal from the last session of the CNTC Final on the weekend provoked some heated discussion among the commentators about the relative odds of two lines of play.  Since the deal in question was a grand slam, it was of no little importance to the declarer involved.  This was the situation in the key suit:

West East
A K J 7 6 3 2

Declarer, playing in 7, needed 3 club tricks (obviously without giving up any!).  Since he had lots of entries both ways and an available pitch from the West hand, he had two possibilities:  a) cash the ace, then take a finesse  b) cash the ace and king, then if the queen has not appeared, take his pitch and ruff a club.  So the question is — with no other information, which is the better line?  And for a bonus, is it significantly better, or is it close?

Most people I’ve posed this question to have opted to try the ruffing line — partly, I think,  because no-one wants to make a grand on a finesse, and partly because there’s always the hope of some sort of squeeze if you ruff the club (although on this deal there wasn’t — clubs represented your only possible source of a thirteenth trick).  Linda not only selected that line, but offered the opinion that it wasn’t close.  Hence this blog.  I mentioned on the BBO commentary that the odds were in fact pretty much the same — and everyone disagreed, including a number of spectators.  One of them continued the discussion by email, eventually conceding gracefully the next day!

So here’s how it works.  Assuming you have no other information (and I’ll get to that in a minute), the a priori odds stack up as follows:

a) cash the ace then take a finesse

You win any time South has the queen (50%) plus a little vigorish for a stiff queen in the North hand (one twelfth of 14.53% for all the 5-1 breaks, or 1.21%)  — so 51.21 %.

b) cash the ace and king, then if the queen has not appeared, take the pitch and ruff a club.

You win with a stiff queen in either hand (one sixth of the 5-1 breaks, or 2.42%), a doubleton queen in either hand (one third of the 4-2 breaks, or 16.15%), and clubs 3-3 (35.53%).  Add those up and you have 54.1%.

As I said above — pretty close.  So is a 2.89% difference enough to hang your hat on when you’re playing a grand slam?  Bob MacKinnon discusses this in his recent book, Bridge, Probability and Information: He says, ‘When the odds of two alternatives are nearly 50-50, in a practical sense it doesn’t matter which one is chosen, because the uncertainty is so great.’ You need to take into account everything that has happened on the deal, from the auction and opening lead onward, then take your best shot.  It’s rare indeed that this kind of decision is purely a matter of a priori probabilities.

In the real-life deal, it certainly wasn’t, for two reasons.  The more practical one was that while we discussing the right line of play in 7, the players actually bid to 7NT, where only one option was available — the finesse.  Fortunately for declarer, the other reason was that North had preempted over West’s forcing club opening bid and was marked with six or seven diamonds.  Thus by the time declarer had to play clubs, the finesse was much better than a 50-50 shot owing to the imbalance in Vacant Places between the North and South hands.

So the moral here is two-fold:  if you run into this fairly common situation at the table, it’s pretty much a toss-up — and you should look for every other piece of information you can find to help you choose the line most likely to succeed.

Testimony from a non-material witness

Watching the CNTC final yesterday, I saw a fascinating deal that reminded me of one I had seen recently, in Peter Winkler’s soon-to-be-published book Bridge at the Enigma Club. While Peter’s primary purpose in writing this book is to promulgate his ideas on encrypted signalling and bidding, as well as his relay methods, he’s put together an impressive and entertaining set of deals for the casual reader.  In the one that I was thinking of, declarer needs to find the Q , and knows that South started with either 4-0 or 0-4 in the majors.  He manages to bring the hand down to a 3-card ending before making his guess, thereby forcing a major-suit discard out of South, revealing the entire distribution.  Effectively, this is a non-material squeeze for information.  Keep that idea in mind as you watch what happens on this deal from the CNTC:

Dealer: E

Vul: Neither

A J 10 8 6 2
K 3
A 6 2
Q 2
West East
7 5 9
Q 8 6 4 2 J 10 9 5
9 5 4 3 Q 8
J 4 A K 9 8 5 3
K Q 4 3
A 7
K J 10 7
10 7 6

In the Open Room, Dan Korbel opened 1 , after which North-South bid unimpeded to 4 .  The play was not very interesting, and declarer scored up 11 tricks.  Not so in the Closed Room, where Judy Gartaganis opened the East hand with a Precision 2 .  Husband Nick found a tactical 2 response and Keith Balcombe came in with 2.  Judy, who had every right to expect more than a 3-count opposite, cuebid 3 , and Ross Taylor raised his partner to game. Nick was done now of course, but Judy was not — she pressed on to 5.  Ross persevered to 5 , and everyone finally had had enough.

The defense started with three rounds of clubs, ruffed by West and overruffed by declarer. He drew trumps, cashed his two hearts, and paused to take stock.  East was known to have one spade, and probably ten rounded-suit cards.  Surely for an opening bid and a cuebid she had at least another queen.  On the other hand, she could have the Q, and West was known to have the diamond length.  Eventually, declarer finessed into East, conceding a game swing.

Full marks to East-West for pushing their opponents to the five-level, but I think Keith missed an important extra chance here.  Remember the story from Winkler’s book I started with?  Well, if declarer runs all his spades, what three cards does West come down to?  Obviously he must keep three diamonds, or the jig is up.  So he’s going to have to part with the Q.  Surely now, having seen that card, declarer is going to play diamonds correctly?

It’s an idea I don’t think I’d seen before reading Peter’s manuscript, but obviously it’s one to watch out for at the table — and one that can pay off big-time!

Who are these guys?

Linda and I spent much of yesterday providing BBO commentary for the CNTC semifinals — we found that knowing all the players personally added considerably to the fun for us.  As the third quarter started, RR winners GARTAGANIS and dark horse JANICKI were separated by only 4 IMPs, so we settled down to watch that match.  At our table, the East-West pair were Gordon Campbell and Piotr Klimowicz, both members of Canada’s IOC-winning team in Salt Lake City in 2000 (that was where Canada had to beat Italy, the USA, and then Poland in the final — no cheap victory), although they did not play as a partnership in that event.  South was Jim Priebe, who played for Canada in the 2004 Olympiad, and North was Paul Janicki — a relatively new partnership.

The set started quietly, but soon came to life on the following deal — one whose result was to establish a trend that ended after 18 boards with GARTAGANIS holding a commanding lead.  The deal itself looked innocuous when we first saw it come up on the screen:

Dealer: W

Vul: EW

10 5 4
10 4 3
A K Q J 9 6
West East
A  K Q 8 7 2 J 9 6
J 7 A 9 6 2
Q 10 9 6 K J 7
10 7 4 3
K Q 8 5
A 8 5 3 2
8 5 2

In the other room, Nick and Judy Gartaganis (NS – and also members of Canada’s IOC teams in Salt Lake City) faced Jordan Cohen (E) and Steve Cooper (W).  The auction went:

West North East South
1 2 2 dbl
4 5 all pass

The defense started routinely with a spade to the ace, and a diamond switch.  Nick won this, ruffed a couple of spades in dummy, drew trumps, and led up to the heart honors to chalk up an easy 400.  At our table, the auction was reported as follows:

West North East South
1 2 4 5
pass pass dbl all pass

There had been some mechanical problems with the VuGraph feed, so it’s possible that this somewhat unlikely sequence is not accurate.  However, the fundamentals remain:  East-West bid to 4, North-South went on to 5 , and East doubled.  Just as we were beginning to speculate on whether the contract could be beaten on what seemed to us to be a highly unlikely trump lead, the 3 hit the table from Piotr.  Declarer won this in hand and played a heart: on this trick, Piotr made his second nice, and highly necessary, play by ducking the ace.  If he wins the A, declarer can come to three heart tricks — but more importantly, the hearts give him entries to ruff out diamonds: he gets home with 6 clubs, 3 hearts, and 2 diamonds.  Now declarer, in dummy with the K, called for a spade, and it was Campbell’s turn to shine — he ducked his AKQ to allow partner to win the spade and play another trump.  After this it was all over — wriggle as he might, declarer was always going to lose the two aces, and either a second heart or a second spade.  By now, Janicki could have been forgiven for echoing a famous line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:  ‘Who are these guys?’

These days, one checks all analysis with Deep Finesse, and DF of course points out that a low heart lead also beats 5.  That’s because it allows the defense to maneuver a heart ruff for their third trick unless declarer takes a round of trumps himself, after which a second trump cooks his goose when the defense gets in on a spade.  Back in the real world, only a trump lead, followed by the precise defense found at the table, is good enough.  My own opening lead choice of the  J, to have a look at dummy, would not have worked — the timing is off for both the heart ruff and the trump leads.

From here on, Campbell and Klimowicz were merciless, scarcely making a wrong bid or play, and when the set was done, GARTAGANIS was 60 IMPs up and headed for today’s final.

Bridge book of the year?


It isn’t often a mainstream publisher puts out a book on bridge, and it’s an even rarer event when the author is a well-known writer in other fields.  But that’s exactly what’s just happened.  Doubleday has just released The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar, the bestselling young-adult fiction author responsible for such winners as Holes (which became a popular movie).

When the story begins, Alton Richards is a fairly typical 17-year-old.  He’s in high school, his girl-friend Katie has dumped him for his best friend Cliff, and his parents are bugging him about getting a job for the summer.   Then Granduncle Lester calls.  Lester is the crusty old relative no one wants to spend time with, but he’s also filthy rich, and the family wants to stay in his good graces, and therefore presumably in his will.  Lester needs some help, and Alton, being apparently idle, is duly summoned to the phone by his mother.  Lester asks him two qualifying questions:  “Do you know a king from a jack?” and “Can you play bridge?”.  Alton gives satisfactory answers to these questions (‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively), and is hired: for $75 a session, he’s going to be Lester’s cardturner.

For Uncle Lester, it turns out, is a keen (and very good) bridge player, despite being blind, diabetic, and quite possibly terminally ill.  Alton’s job is to take him to the bridge club three or four times a week, to sit beside him, then to call out and turn his cards.  Apparently the previous incumbent, Toni (also a grand-niece, but reputed to be more than a little crazy, so avoided by the family) began to learn a little too much about the game.  Finally, when instructed to duck an ace, she stopped and inquired “Are you sure?”, the incident that led to her being replaced by Alton.

Through Alton’s eyes, then, we are introduced to bridge and bridge players.  There is a funny incident when he reads out Lester’s cards to him for the first time – and does it in random order (“Jack of diamonds, four of clubs, six of hearts…).  Lester yells at Alton for being an idiot, but later realizes he just didn’t know any better, and demonstrates very neatly to him how memory and organization work together:  Memorize this sequence, Lester challenges him:  g-b-c-d-i-o-a-o-r-y-t-g-l.  When Alton admits defeat, Lester says, ‘Okay, try the letters in this order: g-i-r-l-b-o-y-c-a-t-d-o-g.’

At first, Alton is bemused by what he sees: by the game itself, by the people he meets, and by how they behave and talk to one another.  “These people are from a different planet, Planet Bridge”, he tells Cliff in his first week of duty.  “They even speak their own language.”  But gradually, depite himself, he begins to learn about the game, and realize something of its complexity – that it is more than a substitute for bingo for old people.

He becomes more and more interested, and eventually (of course) begins playing himself – with Toni, who we can soon guess is going to become the ‘love interest’, even though she is currently dating someone else.  We also being to learn a little about Lester’s past – which contains some kind of mystery involving his former bridge parter, Toni’s grandmother Annabel.  It seems some kind of incident occurred at a Nationals, which ended with Annabel in an asylum, and Lester giving up bridge for many years.  Annabel’s unhappy life eventually ended in suicide.

The plot moves along briskly, and I’ll leave you to discover for yourself how Alton and Toni get to play bridge at a Nationals (and, of course, finally get together), and what happens there, by reading the book.  The fascinating thing is how Sachar has managed to weave the bridge background into a compelling story, without making it inaccessible for non-players (who surely must make up the bulk of his audience).   Indeed, as we get to the Nationals, the deals and incidents multiply, and the bridge content gets quite dense.

The key to how he manages this rather neat trick is the little whale icon.  This symbol (which is reference to passages in Moby Dick where any teenage reader will just want to zone out for a while) precedes and warns about any detailed bridge section.  The reader can then either choose to plow through it, or just skip it by just reading the neat boxed summary at the end of the section – which contains all they need to know to continue with the story.  However, the author isn’t in any way apologetic about including all this technical stuff (we get into finesses very early, for example).  Here’s what Alton, the narrator, says:

“Bridge is like chess.  No one’s going to make a movie out of it.  A great chess player moves his pawn up one square, and for the .0001 percent of the population who understand what just happened, it was the football equivalent of intercepting a pass and running it back for a touchdown.  But for the rest of us, it was still just a pawn going from a black square to a white one.  Or getting back to bridge, it was playing the six of diamonds instead of the two of clubs.  Well, there’s nothing I can do about that.  I’m sorry my seventy-six-year-old blind diabetic uncle didn’t play linebacker for the Chicago Bears.”

There’s  a great bridge background to this story too – not just the play by play parts, but stories about bridge and bridge players.  President Eisenhower is in it (Annabel, a Senator’s wife, was a regular at the White House bridge games).  Richard Nixon has a cameo too, but not as a bridge player.  There are funny stories, and the atmosphere of a bridge tournament fairly leaps off the page.

For me, this book actually accomplishes what Ed Macpherson tried to do in The Backwash Squeeze a couple of years ago: explore and explain the world of bridge and bridge players by following a novice as the game gains an ever-increasing fascination for him.  Here, in the hands of a top-class writer, I think the attempt is successful.  But I’m too old and I’ve played too much bridge to be part of the intended audience for the book, and it is non-bridge-playing teenagers who will eventually decide whether or not it’s succeeded.  People like our eldest grandson, Cassidy, for example.

A couple of years ago, Cassidy (who is a keen player of all kinds of games) discovered that his grandmother was away in China, playing in the World Bridge Championships.  He digested this for a few seconds, and then asked his mother, ‘What’s bridge?’.  When this was reported to me in due course, I said to Jen, “Aha – got him!”, and she ruefully admitted I was probably right.  In any event, there’ll be a copy of The Cardturner heading out to Vancouver pretty soon.  If you have teenage kids or grandkids whom you want to interest in playing bridge, this is a book to give them.

I doubt that the IBPA would ever consider The Cardturner for their Book of the Year award, but they should.  It has the potential to do for bridge what Searching for Bobby Fischer did for chess.

And the nominees are…

The IBPA recently released details of the short list of six for this year’s Master Point Press Book of the Year Award, the winner of which will be announced later this year at the World Championships in Philadelphia.  This is a prestigious competition, and I don’t envy the international jury their task in selecting one book out of some excellent contenders.  Let me, however, while declaring my biases since we published three of the nominees, try to give you an appraisal of the six finalists.

1)  ‘Overcalls’ (Mike Lawrence).   This book’s been a classic since the day it first came out, 25 years or so ago.  Anyone who hasn’t read it, and aspires to being a decent bridge player, should go out and get a copy immediately.  Having said that, we recognized that competitive bidding is probably the area of the game that has seen the most changes in the last quarter century, and it was with that in mind that we asked Mike to update the book.  That he did, and thoroughly too (I don’t think he knows any other way to work).  So now, even if you did read the original, you should still get yourself a copy of the new edition, because everything, yes pretty much everything, has changed.  New ideas, new conventions, new uses for competitive doubles – the lot.

2) ‘A new classic’ is a description that also fits our second candidate, the new edition of Clyde E. Love’s tome on Squeezes.  We all remember reading this (or, to be more honest, trying to read it) in our bridge youth.  It was brilliant, but oh, what a struggle.  Love was a math professor, and it came through in his writing.  And, unfortunately, things that were obvious to him weren’t necessarily so to his readers.  Likewise, without the benefit of modern aids such as ‘Deep Finesse’, it’s not a surprise to find that the original book contained errors, especially in the later, more complex, discussions.  In the new edition, Linda Lee, with the able assistance of Julian Pottage, has revised Love heavily.   It’s more approachable, more explicit, and much less is left as an exercise to the reader.  The errors (we hope!) have been eliminated, and dozens of new squeeze types added (although both author/editors admit that despite its title, the book is still far from ‘Complete’).  This book took three months out of Linda’s life, but she really enjoyed working on it, as a supreme challenge to her skill at technical bridge analysis.

3) Larry Cohen’s ‘My Favorite 52’ was another Linda project, but only in the editorial sense.  Originally published by Larry as interactive software, this book takes the reader through 60+ of Larry’s favorite deals.  Never has the ‘over-the-shoulder’ style been exploited so well – you will really feel that you’ve had a peek into the thought processes of an expert, and begin to understand why the same guys end up the winner’s circle with such regularity.  The bridge deals themselves are fascinating, often spectacular, so the book is a whole lot of fun to read as well as being incredibly educational for players at any level.

4) Jeff Rubens’ ‘Expert Bridge Simplified’ gets my vote as the most misleading title of the bunch.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a brilliant book.  It applies rigorous mathematics to bridge situations, and tries to come up with helpful ideas that anyone can use at the table.  But I’m afraid not many people are going to get past Chapter 1.  This is the book I (rightly or wrongly) persuaded Bob MacKinnon not to write, when he was working on the manuscript that eventually became ‘Bridge, Probability and Information’.  I wanted to publish a book that had a sound math basis, but kept it as far in the background as we could, so that we kept the bridge players interested until at least half way through the book.  Jeff isn’t concerned with that – the very first question at the end of the Introduction is, ‘Is the following an equiprobable set…?’  There’s great content here for those who are prepared to persevere, but I fear they will be many fewer than the value of the content deserves.

5) Krysztof Martens has won World Championship medals playing for his native Poland, including an Olympiad Gold in 1984, as well as several European titles.  His credentials are not in doubt, therefore.  His recent series of books, designed to complement his Bridge University online, have been receiving acclaim from expert-level players.  ‘Owl, Fox and Spider’ is, I think, a representative nominee for the entire oeuvre.  I couldn’t navigate through Martens’ site well enough to get my free chapter downloaded, so all I know about this book is that Martens often likes to use animal analogies in his writing, to get his point across.  In this case, a good declarer must be wise, sly and cunning by turns, to be successful.

6)  ‘The Romance of Bridge’ is mostly an anthology of material collected by Raman Jayaram, who writes passionately about bridge, and Ghassan Ghanem.  They formed an Indo-Jordanian collaboration to explore the connection between bridge and romance. They have combined exotic locales with interesting deals and escapades of master players from around the world.  Their obvious love of the game is infectious, but much of material will be familiar to readers from its fairly wide publication elsewhere (for example, there is an extensive rehash of the infamous ‘Losers Win’ Canada-Germany incident from the 1990 Rosenblum – as recently as 2008, Bobby Wolff wrote extensively about this in his autobiography, ‘The Lone Wolff’).

So there they are – the final six.  Which will win?  Who knows.  The three we published are all close to my heart, and any of them would be (IMHO) a worthy winner.  But they have stiff competition.  As I said at the beginning, I don’t envy the jury this year – it’s a tough decision.

Links for more information about the finalists:


Love on Squeezes

My Favorite 52

Owl, Fox and Spider

Expert Bridge Simplified

The Romance of Bridge

Steve and Me

Anyone who has been following Linda’s blog over the last few months knows that MPP is busy preparing to offer its books in digital form for e-readers.  Our titles are already available in PDF format from our own www.ebooksbridge.com site, but to reach a wider audience, we need to convert them to the ePub format, which is fast becoming the industry standard.  Bridge material offers some technical challenges in this regard,  but we’re getting there.  We are hoping to have an agreement with Sony in place in the near future, and similarly with Apple, for their new iBookstore.

We were, of course, very excited by the new Apple iPad, since new products like this from Apple tend to be game-changers. So it was with some disappointment that we heard the Canadian release date had been rolled back from mid-April to some indefinite time in the future, possibly May.  However, we were determined to take advanatge of our vacation in Florida last week to secure one of the new devices, and see what our books looked like on it.

Arriving at our rented apartment last Sunday evening, we located the nearest Apple store, and headed out to it on Monday morning.  We were told no iPads were in stock (we expected that), and we duly put our name down for one when they did come in.  They would email us, we were told, if and when one arrived.  Off to lunch we headed, and it was not unexpected when I picked up an email on my iPhone, confirming our reservation and assuring me that we would be told the instant our iPad was available.  If you’ve ever been to an Apple store, you would, as we did, have every confidence this would happen, but even we were surprised when not half an hour later we got another message saying our iPad was now ready for pickup!

Back we went, picked up our iPad, and headed home to play with it.  First impressions were favorable – it looks like a big iTouch,  a device to which Linda has been umbilically attached since acquiring one last year.   However, delight turned to dismay when we logged in to iTunes and attempted to get at some apps.  As Canadians, it turned out we were entitled to access only the Canadian iTunes store, which – guess what – wasn’t offering iPad apps yet.  Without an iTunes account backed by a credit card billed to a US address (which we don’t possess), we couldn’t download anything – even the iBooks application (which in my view should have come with it, since the iPad is being sold as an e-reader).  The nice folks at the Apple store were genuinely sympathetic, but couldn’t do anything to help.

More than annoyed, my thoughts at this time turned to an old Peter Cooks and Dudley Moore comedy routine we’d listened to on our drive down.  The key part went like this:

Peter:  Do you remember World War II?  Dreadful business, don’t you think?

Dudley:  Well, yes, I think we all were against it.

Peter:  Yes, well – I wrote a letter.

It occurred to me that I had seen somewhere on the net that Steve Jobs could actually be contacted by email fairly easily, and I decided to try.  An hour later, having found a couple of likely email adresses, I sent him the following:

Dear Mr. Jobs

As a dedicated Mac supporter for many, many years, I have been looking forward immensely to the iPad as a probable game-changing device for reading ebooks.

Let me elaborate:  I own a book publishing company in Canada, and we have been working on converting digital versions of our titles from PDF to ePub format prior to making arrangements to offer them for sale in the Apple iBookstore.  We were disappointed when the iPad release in Canada was rolled back, but I am currently vacationing in Florida, and took the occasion to purchase an iPad, so I could take it home and have my staff begin testing our files.

Imagine my dismay, and astonishment, when I found that not only did the iBooks app not come loaded on the iPad, but I could not download this app, since I do not possess an iTunes account backed by a US-based credit card. No date has yet been announced for the iPad release in Canada, and until that date, I am apparently now the proud owner of a big iTouch.

Apple is promoting the purchase of the iPad in large part as an ebook reader.  I can’t imagine any reason for not either supplying or allowing the download of such a fundamental app as iBooks from Apple — but the result is that the iPad is useless to us for our work indefinitely, and we feel seriously discriminated against. We can’t be the only people in the world with this problem — surely there are people in the US who have sent iPads as gifts to friends and relatives in other countries, only to have them find the devices essentially useless.

Will you help us, or at least give me some kind of rational explanation a situation that to me is completely incomprehensible?

I wait your reply with great interest.

Yours sincerely,

Ray Lee


Master Point Press

I was intrigued to find that less than an hour later, I had a reply:

From: “Steve Jobs” <sjobs@apple.com>

Sent: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 9:41pm

Subject: Re: Canadian ebook publisher needs your help

We have not yet launched in Canada yet.  I don’t think that is a secret.  Sorry.

Sent from my iPad

Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that my email really got through to the Man – I’m sure there’s a whole staff of people filtering Steve’s emails, and only passing on to him the ones deemed worthy.  On the other hand, the terse, rather snarky tone was suggestive… perhaps I really had got through.  So I thought it worth one more salvo:

“Yes, I know that”, I sent, “but that wasn’t my point.”

But answer came there none.  There it rests.  We still have no release date in Canada for the iPad, but when the iPad does arrive here, at least we won’t have to wait at the Apple store to buy our hardware.  Until then, Linda’s surfing and playing Sudoko on a much bigger screen.  Sigh.