The fact is that
stripping your game back to essentials can produce winning bridge in any
circle, not just in cut-around rubber games or open-to-the-public individual
events. Your mind simply doesn't have to be awhirl with Italian artificialities
and short clubs and Landy conventions and weak two-bids and all the other
rigmarole of the collector of conventions. Most of my teaching has been based
on the premise that an uncluttered game is the most brilliant. I've played with
more partners than anybody in the history of bridge: on footlockers in baseball
dressing rooms, on airplanes crossing the Atlantic, in the salons of Europe and
the one-room walk-ups of South Philadelphia, in stuffy auditoriums and
television studios, and I have found that any partner could understand my game
and with hardly any exceptions I could understand his. Once somebody called me
the Simple Simon of bridge. I said, "Thank you very much. I appreciate the
The complex Simons
of bridge, the players who rush from convention to convention and system to
system, give me a pain, not merely because they are slowing down their own
progress toward genuine bridge skill but because they make life so unpleasant
for everybody else. The average player who arrives at a tournament with a long
list of artificial conventions is spending too much time trying to win instead
of trying to have fun. The irony is he'll wind up doing neither. This sort of
player is a burden to himself, his partners and his opponents. He is like the
pseudosophisticate who sits down to his first Chinese meal and insists on using
chopsticks. If somebody doesn't set him straight, he is going to starve midway
between the shark's-fin soup and the egg rolls.
It might be said
that it's his business if he wants to encumber himself with tool kits bigger
than he can use. But it isn't merely his business; we're in the game, too. He
may choose to play all sorts of murky conventions—which is his privilege. But
we, as his opponents, are forced to learn his conventions in self-defense. And
that, to me, is ridiculous.
players use conventions the way a certain lady used pancakes. She told the
psychiatrist that she felt fine but that her family had ordered her to see him.
"Why?" asked the doctor.
"They said I
liked pancakes too much," the patient answered.
nothing wrong with that. I like 'em myself."
do?" the woman gushed. "Well, you must come right over to my house.
I've got a closetful!"
I know players who
have a closetful of conventions and a head full of swirling confusions and a
genuine need to see a psychiatrist. In tournament bridge I am constantly facing
opponents whose lists of conventions reach across the river and into the trees.
That's one reason I cut down on my intense schedule of tournament play. It was
just too wearying to play against "experts" who didn't know what day of
the week it was and yet were announcing all the fancy gimmicks they were going
to play. More than once I had to choke back an urge to say, "Don't bother
explaining your conventions to me. Explain 'em to yourselves!"
If I were cutting
into a game with players I didn't know, I would restrict myself to a single
convention: Blackwood. And even this old standby can cause havoc. It is used
about three times more often than necessary, as Easley Blackwood himself has
often pointed out. A lot of players seem to think that it's illegal, immoral
and fattening to bid slam without first making the Blackwood calls for aces and
kings. Once a woman dropped me at five spades when we held a sure slam.
"You didn't ask me for aces," she explained later.
After years of
experiences like that, I developed a theory about the Blackwood Convention and
its overuse. Basically, Blackwood is the pet of the frustrated married woman.
She's been led around by her husband and now she has a device with which to
retaliate. She bids four no trump, and that big bully of a know-it-all husband
is forced to reply in a predetermined manner. She's got him right where she
wants him; she's running the show, for a change, and even though she doesn't
need to know how many kings he has, she pushes on to a five-no-trump call, just
to make him suffer. (Often as not, he'll hold one king and bid six diamonds;
their suit will be clubs; so she'll be forced to bid seven clubs and she'll go
down one. But she's already had her fun.)