Since many who write about the game nowadays spend a great part of their bridge lives at tournaments, it is probably entirely natural that they should write mostly about some form of duplicate. But the fact remains that fewer than 1% of the estimated 40 million Americans who play bridge have ever taken part in a duplicate game. The rest play some form of rubber bridge or are what I call "napkin players"; they like to work out published hands by playing them in writing rather than actually sitting at a table.
Admittedly, most rubber games are for nominal stakes or no stakes at all. The quarter-a-corner game among "the girls" or the husband-and-wife set game probably account for more bridge than all the other forms of competition combined. And, really, bridge is not for gamblers, in my opinion; the element of skill is so much more important than the element of luck. Nevertheless, there are regular games for a nickel a point; a few go as high as a dime, plus extras from those who are hooked or kibitzers who want a sporting interest.
The recent appearance of Omar Sharif's Bridge Circus in St. Paul reminded oldtimer Wilfred Bland of a 15� game in which he got away with his most successful bit of trickery in more than 70 years of whist and bridge. He sent me this deal from the Minneapolis Athletic Club, and it well illustrates that while the purpose of duplicate scoring is to minimize big swings, the purpose of rubber bridge is to make the most of them.
In the old days, as is evident from the auction, the approach to bidding was considerably different from today's style. Unless he was bound by a rule never to open a four-card major, South would nowadays start the bidding with one heart in order to leave room for a comfortable and nonforcing rebid of two diamonds. The alternative of opening one diamond and then rebidding two hearts would show a strong hand and would be virtually forcing. But years ago, such a sequence was not forcing, and that made Bland's two-spade rebid highly dangerous. There was always a chance that South would pass.
But Bland, down some 2,200 points in the score, had noticed East's double take when he first bid his spade suit, and he was sure that East held a good hand, including spades. So he made the bland rebid of two spades, fairly sure that South would not be inclined to pass. As expected, South disliked spades so much that he went to two no trump in the hopes that North could support one of the red suits. Bland sighed with relief—though not out loud—and raised to three no trump.
East had, he thought, accomplished the purpose of his trap. The opponents obviously were too high on a misfit hand. East doubled with the confident expectation of getting a spade lead and collecting a bundle. South didn't like it much, but he had to pass and trust his partner. And Bland redoubled, hoping either that his deliberate rebid of the spades had talked West out of the lead his partner's double called for or that a spade lead would make no difference to the success of the contract.
Sure enough, West was too much influenced by North's spade bids to lead that suit. Instead, he opened the unbid club suit. After declarer recovered from the shock of seeing dummy, he won with the queen, took the jack of diamonds finesse and repeated it. Five diamond tricks and four more club tricks later, East had to discard on dummy's last club in this situation:
[Jack of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[4 of Hearts]
[— of Diamonds]
[2 of Clubs]