Who among us has not sat down to a bridge game at an impressionable age and heard somebody say, "Now, Charlie [or Alicia, or whatever], just remember: cover an honor with an honor. Second hand low, third hand high. Lead through strength and up to weakness. Never finesse your partner. Lead fourth from your longest and strongest at no trump. And everything will come out just fine."
For too many years those rules were dogma. Then there came a time when it was considered a la mode to disregard them willy-nilly. And finally we reached a balance, a period of Aristotelian moderation. Nowadays any player worth his salt (including, of course, all my readers) knows that sometimes you break these rules, sometimes you bend them and sometimes, in a spirit of recklessness, you even obey them.
A wise man once said that there is a lot of truth in old saws; that's how they become old saws. And so it is with our faithful clich�s of bridge. They are invaluable to the beginner, and steadfast guidelines for the advanced player. The easiest opponent to beat would be the one who never obeyed any of them. On the other hand, the second easiest to beat would be the player who still followed the old bromides to the letter. There are, surprisingly, a fair number of such players around, and they are more fun to play with than a sackful of Siamese kittens. The pleasure (and the profit) lies in making plays that appear to follow the book but actually give such unimaginative opponents a false idea of what you're holding.
The proper use (and international misuse) of the Golden Rules of bridge is akin to the fine art of quarterbacking. A necromancer like Y. A. Tittle will send his right end out on the same deep-pass pattern two or three times, and each time he will hand off into the line. Now the defensive backs begin to get the idea that Y. A. is using that deep end for a decoy, so they pay less attention to him and more attention to backing up the line. Bang! On the next play, Y. A. flings one 50 yards to the "decoy" and the game is busted wide open.
Y. A. Tittle's counterpart at the bridge table will consistently lead the queen from a queen-jack in obedience to the rule: always lead queen from queen-jack. Then he will pick up the unguarded queen-jack and nonchalantly lead the jack. The rule-bound opponent will say to himself, "He doesn't have the queen or he'd have led it. So I'll have to finesse his partner for the queen." Finesse fails.
But please note: the deception works only because the leader previously obeyed the rule consistently—which brings us to a more or less obvious point: an occasional unorthodox play wins, but too frequent unorthodoxy must lose—in the long run.
Timing and dash and verve are the essence of the matter. The opponents expect certain consistencies in your game, and your play should be reasonably consistent, else you will hopelessly muddle your partner. But if you play the cards and not the rules you will find opportunities to throw the opponents for a loss by doing something irregular. Here is a simple case in point: You are leading against a small slam, and you hold a doubleton king in a suit that dummy has bid strongly. You know that dummy sits over you with the ace. Was there ever a king deader than yours? There is apparently no way to make it good. But suppose you lead low from your doubleton king. Immediately declarer has a problem. He can afford to lose only one trick, and he hasn't the vaguest idea where that missing king is. If he is like many players, he will assume that you would not underlead a king in this situation and therefore he will play your partner for it and go up with the ace. Now your king has returned from the dead and should win a trick.
In the catastrophic event that the declarer outthinks you and refuses to play the ace, what has happened? You have lost a king that you expected to lose anyway. You were, in fact, taking a line of play that offered some slight hope. If it works once in 100 times you are ahead of the game. It is my experience it works far more often, as this hand from a major tournament shows:
[9 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[10 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[Jack of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]