Bridge & Humor: Extra Tricks For Dummies by Eddie Kantar

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Next time you and your bridge partner play two sharks, flatter their egos by suggesting that on every hand you get a little spot—like the ace of spades

Eddie Kantar
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july 02, 1979 for Sports Illustrated
Billy Eisenberg

Billy Eisenberg

A friend of mine—call him Walter—thought up the idea. One evening several years ago he and I, along with Billy Eisenberg and Billy’s girl Barbara, decided to play a few hands of rubber bridge. By the luck of the draw, I cut Billy. Eisenberg and I play bridge professionally, are frequent partners and, at the moment, are members of theU.S. team that holds the world championship. Walter and Barbara are, well, amateurs.

“We need a spot,” Walter announced as we sat down. “A handicap of some sort.”

“We’ll give you 500 points,” I told him.

Walter shook his head. “We can think of something spicier than that,” he said. He pointed out that in golf, for instance, there are many intriguing handicaps beyond the standard one of so many strokes per nine or 18 holes. He said that Jimmy Demaret, a three-time Masters champion, used to bet that he could beat any member of his Champion Golf Club in Houston while standing on one leg. If a 90s shooter happened to be playing Tom Watson, he might challenge him to a match without handicap strokes, provided that once every hole he could pick upWatson’s ball and throw it—anywhere. An 80s shooter might play Watson without the usual handicap, if he could name the club Watson had to hit on every shot—wedge off the tee, driver in a trap, and so on.

“We will play you even,” Walter concluded, “but you and Billy may not mention the word spades during the bidding.”

My first thought was that Billy and I could probably convert our four spade contracts into three no trump, both game bids, but on reflection I knew that the world was full of this kind of hand:  A K Q 8 7 6  A 4 9 8 Q 7 6 and you find your partner with:  10 5 3 2 Q 3 2 7 3 A K 5 2

Four spades is a lock, but with no stopper in diamonds, three no trump will fail, even against Walter and Barbara. Alas, we were interrupted after only three hands, none of which tested the handicap, but the idea still seemed appealing.

Recently Walter was on a business trip in Los Angeles, where I live, and as we waited for a paddle tennis court to become available at Venice Beach, I told him I had lined up Don Krauss and my girl friend Judy for bridge that night. Krauss, a stockbroker, has played in two world championships.

“If Don and I end up being partners, we might try out that no-spades handicap,” I suggested.

“Either that, or Judy and I get the ace of spades on every deal,” Walter said.

Halk Sims; playing in a Coke Add

Now there was a thought. Walter told me that the legendary P. Hal Sims supposedly thought up that one. Sims, who was one of the world’s great gamesmen during the ’20s and ’30s, would play money golf all day with the agreement that the same foursome would get together for bridge that evening. Sims might lose a little on the course, but he would win it back at the bridge table. As a handicap, he would give an opponent the ace of spades and then deal the other 51 cards. It was not as much help as you might think. Sure, the opponent held the ace—but Sims knew he held it and could bid and play accordingly.

“O.K., we can try that, too,” I said. The courts were still filled. Walter reached into his running bag and produced a pen and pad. “Handicap No. 1: no spade bids by stronger pair,” he wrote. “No. 2: weaker pair gets the ace of spades on every deal.” Over the next 15 minutes or so we came up with six more handicaps, some sensible, some really far out. For the record, here they are:

3. THE BETTER PLAYERS ARE ALLOWED ONLY ONE BID EACH, NOT INCLUDING PASS OR DOUBLE.

The better pair will miss a lot of good contracts and get into some bad ones. When one of the pair opens the bidding, his partner must simply take a shot at what the contract should be. Come to think of it, the way some of my partners bid, that might work out for the best.

4. WHENEVER ONE OF THE BETTER PAIR DEALS, HE MUST BID ONE CLUB, REGARDLESS OF HIS HAND.

Because the opening bid is the most important in bridge, having to open one club with zero points, 10 points or 25 points is remarkably disruptive. Assuming a sneaky pass by the player in the second seat, the responder is totally in the dark. Say he’s looking at 10 points. If his partner has 17, game is somewhere. If his partner has four points and they are vulnerable, even a contract of one heart may be down three.

5. PLAYING NO TRUMP, THE WEAKER PLAYERS CAN NAME ONE SUIT THEY DON’T WANT LED.

At three no trump, if you think you have nine quick tricks but are missing a stopper, this handicap makes the contract a cinch. In more complicated hands, avoiding a certain opening lead will still be a help, but it will also indicate to the opponents which suit to attack when they regain the lead. But being superior players, they would probably know this anyhow. A good tactic might be to forbid a lead in a suit in which you are fairly strong, in hopes of confusing the opponents for the rest of the hand.

6. EACH WEAKER PLAYER IS DEALT 14 CARDS, EACH BETTER ONE GETS 12. A LESSER PLAYER GIVES ONE CARD TO THE OPPONENT AT HIS RIGHT.

This is simple enough. Worthless doubletons can become singletons, singletons voids. Plus you know one of an opponent’s 13 cards.

7. BEFORE BIDDING, THE LESSER PLAYERS MAY EXCHANGE THREE CARDS WITH ONE ANOTHER.

Now you can eliminate a worthless tripleton, although there is no guarantee you won’t get it right back. Even if that happens, at least you know three of your partner’s cards.

8. EACH LESSER PLAYER MAY ASK ONE QUESTION—ANSWERABLE BY YES OR NO—OF HIS PARTNER DURING THE BIDDING OR PLAY.

This could be an overpowering advantage and, if the difference in skill between the two pairs is not great, could be limited to one question for the pair. After a partner’s Blackwood response of five diamonds—which indicates he holds one ace—the potential declarer could, if uncertain, ask if it is the ace of hearts. Or, missing a vital queen, he could simply ask his partner if he had it. A Machiavellian sort might ask his partner if he held a card that he himself held. After the inevitable “no,” each defender would now assume his partner held that card.

We became so fascinated with our project that when we gathered that evening for the game, we dispensed with the cut for partners and agreed to play for small stakes. (Judy can afford to play for any stake because she never pays off.) I played with Don, Walter with Judy. We tested each handicap four times, a whopping 32 hands that took us into the wee hours and had us reeling. During that time, as you well might imagine, a number of intriguing situations developed. Here are my favorite five:

The first disaster that struck Donald and me was when the opponents were able to exchange three cards. This was the original deal:

   

Judy

   
   

A K 8 7 6
5 4 3
A J
J 10 9

   

Don    

5 3 2
J 7 2
5 4
A K Q 6 5

 

Q 10 9
10 6
10 9 8 7 3 2
8

Me

   

J 4
A K Q 9 8
K Q 6
7 4 3

   
   

Walter

   

Without any exchanges Walter and Judy would almost surely reach four hearts. Walter would open the bidding with one heart, Judy would show her spades whether or not Don overcalled two clubs, Walter would rebid hearts and Judy would raise to game. A textbook sequence.

The defense would be more interesting. Don would begin by cashing his three top clubs, while I would discard the discouraging deuce of diamonds on the third round of the suit. Don would play a fourth club, which I would trump with the 10 of hearts. Walter would overtrump, but that would promote Don’s jack of hearts into the setting trick.

But look at what happened after the exchange. Judy unloaded her three little hearts on Walter, and he slipped his three tiny clubs to her. The deal now looked like this:

 

A K 8 7 6

A J
J 10 9 7 4 3

 

5 3 2
J 7 2
5 4
A K Q 6 5

 

Q 10 9
10 6
10 9 8 7 3 2
8

 

J 4
A K Q 8 7 5 4 3
K Q 6

 

From a hand on which there was no makable game to a hand that is cold for a grand slam in hearts! Of course, they only got to six hearts. The bidding was the epitome of science. Judy opened one club, and Walter responded six hearts. Everyone passed. The opening club lead was ruffed, trumps broke well, and Walter and Judy were all smiles.

On a later hand Judy and Walter were allowed to ask each other one question during the bidding or play.

Both sides vulnerable Dealer South

   

Me

   
   

Q 7 6 5
Q 8 7
K Q J 9
K 5

   

Judy      

J 8 3 2
A 9 4 2
7 4
Q 7 4

 

10 9
J 6 5
A 10 6 5
A 9 6 3

Walter

   

A K 4
K 10 3
8 3 2
J 10 8 2

   

Don

       
West North East South
      Pass
Pass 1 Pass 2NT
Pass 3NT The End  
       

I knew I didn’t really have a three no trump bid opposite a passed hand, but I always add a point or two for Don’s play. I forgot, of course, about the questions.

Judy opened with the deuce of hearts. Don played low from dummy and captured Walter’s jack. At trick two he led a diamond to the king which held; at trick three he led the queen of diamonds from dummy which also held, both opponents following quickly. Who had the ace? Would the suit break 3-3? Poor Donald could only ask himself these questions.

Finally he decided to lead a spade to his hand in order to be in position to lead a third diamond toward dummy. Judy had to find a discard. As discarding is not the best part of her game, she decided to risk her question right then and there. “Is it better for me to throw a spade from my three to the jack than a club from my three to the queen?” she asked. Intuitively she must have known to keep her hearts. Either that, or she couldn’t get it all into one question.

Because the rules stipulated that Walter must answer either “yes” or “no,” he gave this one a little thought before he finally said “no.” Judy discarded a club.

Not being deaf, Don now had a good reading on the club and spade positions, but Walter also had a good reading on the declarer’s hand.

Walter knew that Donald could not win more than eight tricks if it could be arranged that Judy would duck his heart return after he won the diamond trick. He dared not cash another diamond for fear Judy, with no more questions to ask, might discard a heart, putting the hand up for grabs.

Walter returned the six of hearts, at which point he said, “You wouldn’t be stupid enough to play the ace of hearts, would you?”

“Of course not,” Judy replied, playing the four.

Don won the trick with the 10 of hearts, and then attempted a finesse by leading the jack of clubs. Judy, with no more questions to ask, covered. Walter grabbed the king with his ace, played his high diamond and led a heart to Judy’s ace. Judy cashed the nine of hearts, and we were down one.

I was not to know what real misery was until a few deals later when, with both sides vulnerable, Don dealt and was forced to open one club, regardless of what he held.

Both sides vulnerable Dealer North

   

Don

   
   

8 6 5 3 2
7 4 3
6 4
7 4

   

Walter     

A 10 9
K J 5
8 2
Q J 10 9 8

 

Q 4
10 9 8 2
A K J 7
A 3 2

Judy

   

K J 7
A Q 6
Q 10 9 5 3
6 5

   

Me

       
West North East South
  1 Pass 3NT
Doube Pass Pass Pass
       

Judy shrewdly passed quickly and there I was. Did he have a real bid or not? Well, I thought, if I bid this confidently maybe I won’t get doubled. “Three no tru….” “Double,” said Walter with authority.

Walter led the queen of clubs, and Don and I exchanged glances when he put down his lovely hand. “You know we are playing for money,” Don reminded me. Thanks, partner, just what I wanted to hear.

I ducked the first club and covered the second. I simply couldn’t bear to have Walter underlead his ace of clubs twice and then plunk it down to catch Don’s lone high card.

However, as it turned out, Walter wasn’t tricking me. Judy won the ace of clubs and returned the suit. Walter quickly cashed out his club winners, forcing me to discard two diamonds and a spade. Judy discarded the four of spades and a very profound seven of diamonds.

Walter immediately returned a diamond to Judy’s king. Judy now shifted to the 10 of hearts. Would this ever end? Soon enough, Kantar, soon enough. I tried the queen, which lost to the king, and Walter cleverly exited with the jack of hearts. At last, I’m allowed to win one with my ace. They don’t even play this well in the world championships, and we’re giving this pair a spot!

I tried exiting with a third heart. No good. Judy won and played a fourth heart in this position:

   

Don

   
   

8 6 5

6

   

Walter     

A 10 9

2

 


9
A J

Judy

   

K J

Q 10

   

Me

In case you don’t know it, dear reader, I am now squeezed. If I discard a diamond, both of Judy’s diamonds are good and Walter makes his ace of spades for all of the remaining tricks.

If I discard a spade, all of Walter’s spades are good. Again no tricks for me. In the end I discarded a spade—not that it mattered. “Nice going, Ed,” said Don, “glad to see you didn’t lose your ace of hearts.”

It took us a while to add this one up. I had just gone for a telephone number—down eight doubled and vulnerable, 2,300 points to be exact. The second biggest set of my life. Wonderful.

And so it went. As Don and I fell further and further behind we both knew we needed some big results. Finally a real monster came my way: A K Q J 9 8  A K 3  A K

At first glance this looks like an almost certain slam, but on closer inspection you will notice I held only 12 cards. We were now using the handicap in which Judy and Walter were each dealt 14 cards, while Don and I got 12.

“Here’s a little something for you,” said my former girl friend as she passed me the deuce of diamonds. Swell. Now I had another loser to worry about. God only knows what Walter was passing Don. In any case, I was the dealer and this was the entire hand:

   

Don

   
   

10 6
8 4
K Q 10 8 3
10 7 6 4

   

 

Judy     

7 5 4
J 10 5 2
5
Q 9 5 3 2

 

3 2
Q 9 7 6
A J 9 7 4
J 8

Walter

   

A K Q J 9 8
A K 3
6
A K 

   

Me

I opened with a two-bid, Don eventually showed me his diamond strength and we wound up in six spades.

“My lead,” asked Judy sweetly.

“Yes,” Walter told her.

Out flew the five of diamonds, faster than the speed of sound. Barely waiting for me to play the queen from dummy, Walter produced the ace and another diamond for the inevitable ruff. Down one. Would this evening ever end?

Revenge came on the very last hand of the evening. Of course we were stuck several thousand points and we were not going to win, but by this time hatred and the urge to kill had overcome us both. This was our brightest moment.

   

Judy

   
   

7 6 5
Q 6 5
6 4
Q J 10 9 8

   

 

Me     

K 4 3 2
10 8 7 2
J 10 9
A 7

 

A J 10 9
J 9 4 3
8
8 6 5 4 3

Don

   

Q 8
A K
A K Q 7 5 3 2
K 2

   

Walter

This was the one where the declarer could forbid the lead of a suit. Walter opened three no trump, passed around. “No spade lead,” he said to me with a devilish grin.

So I laid down the ace of clubs and shifted to a small spade. Don won the ace and returned the suit, and we gobbled up four spades and a club to defeat the hand by one trick.

Actually it wasn’t that great a victory, and Walter is still kicking himself for not forbidding a diamond lead. You see, he thinks I might have led the ace of clubs and shifted to a diamond! You don’t think I’d do that, do you? And if I had, you don’t think you’d ever be reading about it, do you?

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