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Despite such alluring names as honeymoon bridge, two-hand versions of the game have never achieved widespread popularity. Now Clifford Mortimer Crist of Houston, former editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf's College Department and a longtime bridge player, has come up with a new version, one that has a twofold chance of becoming successful because it can be played either by two people or as a game of solitaire.
The Crist Twist, as Clif's friends have come to call it, is a game of slam or no score at all. The first player to be the declarer (South)—i.e., whoever cuts the higher card—simply builds toward a slam hand by turning up an ordinary deck four cards at a time, selecting one card from each group before turning up the next four. The defender (West), who is fully aware of the declarer's choices—all hands are left face up on the table—must then try to foil his opponent's slam plans as he selects his own hand from the remaining 39 cards, which are now thoroughly reshuffled and turned up in packets of three.
A lost cause? Not quite. The declarer, who is the only player allowed to "bid," has a second chance to ensure a slam when he next draws his dummy from the last 26 cards, reshuffled and turned face up two at a time. But he is not always going to be successful even at that. Crist's game, which at first might seem to depend entirely on the luck of the draw, involves a considerable amount of skill.
For one thing, a packet of four cards will frequently contain several of value to the declarer, all but one of which must be passed up. Or a packet may contain all "useless" cards, one of which he has to take. If this leaves some holes in the declarer's hand, and indeed it might, the defender can be similarly stymied. He, too, must sometimes pass up a valuable card in order to keep an even more essential one. Thus the deciding factor is often the selection of the dummy's hand. The declarer knows exactly which cards West has had to pass up, and with some pretty planning he can establish a dummy that will take care of his losers—or change his strategy and go for a slam contract different from the one he had in mind. The final layout—the remaining 13 cards form the East hand, which the defender plays—can also provide situations demanding real skill.
Sound confusing? It isn't really. Try it a few times, either by yourself or with your intended victim. Since the hands are played openly, there is no harm in giving each other advice—or pointing out errors. And even when playing alone, it can be almost as much of a challenge to try to beat yourself as it is to trounce a flesh-and-blood adversary.
According to available statistics on the game, the declarer will be able to name a slam he can make about four hands in five. The rank of the slam is the key to the competition, and Crist has devised three scoring categories: small slams, which can earn a declarer one point; grand slams in a suit (two points); and a grand slam at no trump (three points). The game is played in rounds of two deals each, but only one declarer can score on each round. The first declarer naturally tries for a grand slam at no trump or in the highest-ranking suit (spades are high, clubs low, as in regular contract bridge) but may have to settle for a small slam. The second player, who becomes the declarer on the second deal and thus has the advantage of knowing exactly what it will take to win the round, must then better his opponent's slam or go scoreless.
To even the chances, the second declarer on each round automatically becomes the first declarer on the succeeding round. To increase the possibilities for scoring and to break ties, honors are also taken into account—six hearts made with 150 honors beats six hearts made with only 100 honors, and so forth—but in the case of an exact tie, neither player scores on that round. Also, the declarer has the right to concede defeat without playing the hand out, for which he scores zero, but should he elect to play and then fail to make his announced contract, the defender scores double the value of that slam. The winner of the game is the first player to reach 15 points.
When drawing his hand, declarer will almost invariably keep any ace or king. As a rule he should also try for a largely two-suited hand as being the easiest to build as well as posing the most difficult problems for the defender to draw against. Having decided which suits he will try for—frequently the choice is forced according to the luck of the early draws—declarer will often properly choose a small card in these suits in preference to, say, a queen of another suit.
The defender, on the other hand, must try to corral enough of the valuable cards remaining to 1) stop the declarer's suits and 2), even more important, thwart the declarer's attempts to reach his dummy. The more key cards outstanding, the more difficult it will be for the defender to garner all of them.
To see how this axiom applies, consider the following deal. The declarer first draws these 12 cards: