Bridge & Humor: A Dip into Bridge’s Rich Past

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In one of the world’s classic short stories, a leading character, Nikolai Dmitrievitich, gets thoroughly frustrated because his regular partner at the card table…

By Ana Roth
On 18 March, 2016 At 18:13

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In one of the world’s classic short stories, a leading character, Nikolai Dmitrievitich, gets thoroughly frustrated because his regular partner at the card table, an old man called Jacov Ivanovitch, is much too conservative in the bidding. The old man explains “I never play higher than four, you never know what may happen”. So Jacov does not go willingly beyond the four level, and if forced to do so he will continue to hold back, occasionally denying “an extra ace he had not wanted to show” in order to maintain his safety objective. That puts pressure on his partner and the frustrations mount. To make matters worse, Nikolai’s one remaining ambition in life is “his dream of a grand slam in No Trumps” bid and made. Finally one day Nikolai loses his patience. Missing the ace of spades the suit which has been bid strongly by the opposition, but having twelve certain tricks outside, he boldly bids a “grand slam in No Trumps”. Unfortunately before the hand can be played, he collapses and dies of heart failure. Jacov eventually takes a look at Nikolai’s last hand and discovers that the grand slam would have been made. He weeps bitterly regretting his own previous conservative approach while picturing Nikolai “taking trick after trick to the thirteenth”.The Grand Slam and other stories

Not surprisingly the short story is called THE GRAND SLAM, but maybe surprisingly for the modern reader the game is not bridge it is VINT, once firmly established as Russia’s national game, the author Leonid Andreyev. The story was written in 1899 well before either AUCTION or CONTRACT BRIDGE appeared on the scene. Bonuses for slams were claimed to be a ‘new feature’ when the modern scoring table was introduced in 1925. That type of slam bonus may have been a new feature as regards the general public’s perception of BRIDGE at that time but THE GRAND SLAM illustrates that bonuses for slams bid and made existed long before 1925.

In their book written in 1900, THE LAWS AND PRINCIPLES OF VINT 1900 by Hoffmann and von Rennenkampff, the authors formally describe the game including bonuses for slams bid and made which were 5000 for the Small and 10000 for the Grand. But for gambling purposes players had the option to reduce the bonuses to 500 and 1000 respectively, exactly the same as the non-vulnerable ones introduced by Vanderbilt in 1925.

The other main milestone in tracing the evolution of slam bonuses occurred on July 15, 1914 when a letter from Sir Hugh Clayton appeared in THE TIMES OF INDIA, in which he described a game called SACC from the initials of the first four to play it. That letter has been quoted in virtually every bridge reference book as the first mention in print of the contract reference but more surprising is the reference made to the proposal “ to increase the rewards for slams”. Yes, you have guessed correctly – 500 for the Small and 1000 for the Grand. It seems too much of a coincidence that the non-vulnerable slam bonuses of 500 and 1000 which still apply today could have been plucked out of the air when they were introduced in 1925. That may explain why Vanderbilt explained that he had evolved rather than invented his new scoring table.

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