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It was in this atmosphere of slide rules and equation-covered blackboards last week that the engineers were found brushing sandwich crumbs and milk cartons to one side to play a card game that makes a kibitzer think he has stepped into a Kafka nightmare.
"You should have trumped my ace," one player glaringly accuses his partner. "Fine work; you took only three tricks," another offers in a sincere, if topsy-turvy congratulation.
What has befallen the most vicious of seated sports that its values should be so reversed? Not much. Simply the introduction of an added bid: a minus bid at any level.
A bid of minus four hearts, for example, means that you pledge you can avoid taking all but three tricks if hearts are trumps. If you take four tricks you are down one; five tricks, down two; etc.
As Peter Bolles, one of the founders of antibridge, explains, normal positive bids may also be made, though a corresponding minus bid is higher—minus four hearts is higher than four hearts but lower than four spades. The rules of play and scoring are unchanged, except in a minus contract declarer's partner plays the hand.
Thus antibridge combines regular bridge with a hint of high-low poker and the nasty venom of hearts, that game in which devious means are used to keep from winning tricks. What the new bidding does for bridge, Bolles claims, is end the traditional complaint that "we sat here all night and didn't hold acard." Now low hands are as interesting as high ones.
It also turns a good bridge player into a better one, says Bolles, for you must keep track of low cards as well as high ones during the play of all negative bids. If you don't you suddenly win tricks with fives and sixes that you didn't want to win at all. About 30% of all hands are played at negative contracts, say antibridgers.
Steady antibridge playing has led Bolles & Co. to develop bidding conventions, some of which must be watched as closely as a card shark's sleeve. Six points or less in high cards, for example, makes an admirable minus-one no-trump opener, says Bolles, but a minus-one bid in a suit actually shows an opening positive hand with a singleton or void in the bid suit.
The word on antibridge is beginning to get around; to the point, in fact, where the Los Angeles engineers have printed instructions for their game and passed them to friends on the outside, so to speak.
But if it becomes popular, look out. Those chaps at Thompson Ramo Wooldridge sound like a restless lot, and one of them is sure to start working on a new game soon called anti-antibridge. When it happens, you'll be told.