Next time you shop for bridge score pads, you may observe that some are printed with a big X at the top. This X marks the spot where the problem of what to do with the fifth player can be forever buried. Its purpose is to help keep score in " Chicago," or four-deal bridge.
The interminable rubber is one of the most vexing problems in the game. With five or six players cutting in and out, that long, long rubber always seems to come up when you are out. With only four in the game, it never fails to come along when you are playing that proverbial "last rubber." Result: You get home late for dinner or lose an extra hour of sleep, depending on when you play.
Chicago solves this with rounds of exactly four deals instead of rubbers. Each player gets one chance to deal. (Passed-out hands, however, are redealt by the same player.) When four deals are completed, you change partners. When you cut the worst player, you know you'll soon escape. The fifth player never sits out more than four deals. And the last rubber never lasts more than four deals.
In those four deals, however, a lot can happen, because bonuses are earned for each game instead of for a rubber and because vulnerability depends on which deal is being played, not on having already scored a game. Chicago is faster and about one-third bigger in points won and lost than the usual rubber game.
The mechanics is simple. On the first deal, neither side is vulnerable; on the second and third hands only the dealer's side is vulnerable; on the last hand both sides are vulnerable. Game is worth a 300-point bonus when not vulnerable, 500 points when vulnerable. Slam and penalty scores are the same as at rubber bridge. Except on the fourth deal, part scores are also the same; they win no bonus but carry over toward making the game on ensuing deals—unless wiped out by a subsequent game make.
The exception for the fourth deal is a 100-point bonus for a part score bid and made on that hand. Obviously, this affects basic strategy. It does not pay to bid a questionable game on the last hand because, assuming that you bid four spades on a hand where you could make three, you have lost 290 points for a chance to gain 400. You lose 90 for tricks and 100 for the bonus you could have made, plus 100 for being set. And if you happen to run into a bad break and are doubled, the loss may be far greater.
However, boldness is equally in order under some conditions. For example, here's a hand from a recent game at Pittsburgh's Concordia Club.
North and South were Arnold Levine and Harold Solof, who tied for first place in the Masters Pairs championship when the Summer Nationals were played in Pittsburgh in 1957.
This deal was the second of a Chicago set, and so Solof, in the South position, had X[1/2] on his score pad to indicate that his right-hand opponent had dealt the previous hand.
This meant that Solof and his partner were now vulnerable.