Why the game of bridge is so compelling
Last week was interesting, in that I probably received more comments on a column than any other, due to it containing the piece on the passing of John Hoskins – many of those came from Mid Ocean Club members who knew John from his golf.
The really interesting bit was that many, if not most, of the people commenting did not even play bridge, but said that they browse the column each week out of interest to see what is in the preamble to the hand.
Based on this I decided to aim at that group this week, and try and explain why the game is so compelling by explaining just how the game is scored. The ‘duplication’ of boards pretty much removes most of the “luck” factor and provides an even playing field where the better players can excel and the Intermediates can move up the ladder by increasing their knowledge of the game.
When one thinks of “mind games”, the ones that most commonly come to mind are bridge, chess and backgammon – all very different in the skill/luck mix.
I played a lot of chess before succumbing to bridge, and in terms of skill, chess is the “purest” of the three – there is no luck involved at all and a good player will beat a weaker player nearly every single time – any losses will usually come from an aberration or momentary loss of concentration, and that is rare at the top level.
At the other end is backgammon, where the dice one rolls play such a big part in the results. My estimate on the skill/luck factor in a single game of backgammon would be 70/30 or 75/25, which means that in a short session of games a weaker player has a chance of finishing ahead with some lucky dice, but over a very long session or over a few days of play the stronger player will finish ahead nearly every time.
Bridge is somewhere in the middle, and in order to explain that I need to elaborate a bit on the scoring. The reason bridge has become so popular is the introduction of “duplicate” bridge, which is the game we play at the Club and online.
In “duplicate”, all the pairs play exactly the same hands during the session, so the luck factor in being dealt “good” or “bad” cards has been removed. The scoring is then pretty simple – on each hand (one typically plays 24-27 hands per session over a three-hour period) a pair gets one point for every other pair it outscores and half a point for every other pair it equals. So in an 12-table game (where you are competing against 11 other pairs sitting with the same cards) if you score +450 and three other pairs do the same and the other eight pairs score +420 you would get 9½ points, or 79 per cent on that board. At the end of the evening the scores for all the hands played are added up to determine the winners.
Whilst the luck factor has been removed from the cards one is dealt, there is still, however, an element of luck that remains. This can come mainly from:
• Playing against a pair who are good enough to bid and play a hand exceptionally well, which gives you a bad score relative to the rest of the field sitting with your cards
• Having an opponent find an unusual lead or defence against you, which once again puts you behind the other pairs playing the same hand
• Reaching a good contract but coming up against an unusual distribution of the defensive cards which leads to defeat.
So, again, there remains a luck factor that will allow a pair to finish better or worse than their skill level deserves over a single session, but in the long run, and over many hands and sessions, the cream will eventually rise to the top, and the Winner Boards at the Club attest to that with the same names cropping up more often than not.
In summary, bridge is largely a game of skill with enough luck thrown in to give a greater number of pairs a chance to win or do well if the luck runs their way.
Not a lot of room left for the hand this week but here is one which is aimed squarely at the players who are still in the learning phase of the game at the beginner or intermediate level (see Figure 1).
The bidding was not at all good, thanks mainly to North (see Figure 2):
North’s 2NT bid made no sense with a 14-point hand, but, once he bid it, South felt obligated to bid 3NT with her good 9 points. West led the 7 of spades and East played the King.
Declarer was pretty pleased with this development and won the trick and started setting up the clubs by playing the 9 – this was won by East’s King and East continued a spade – declarer ducked this but West overtook the 10 with the Jack and cleared the spades – now when declarer played the second club, West could win and cash two more spades for one down.
The full hand (see Figure 3):
The contract is a pretty terrible one with two balanced hand with a total of 23HCP, as one needs 25/26 before there is a good chance of a making game. Declarer, though could actually have made the hand with a little planning, and that would start by letting East hold the first trick with the King of spades, a standard holdup play.
Declarer wins the continuation and now there is no way for the defence to prevail as East has no spades left when in with the King of Clubs, and the contract makes. Even if East had a third spade it would mean that spades were 4-3 and all the defence could get was two spades and two clubs.
It becomes interesting if East switches to a low heart at trick two – now when West plays the heart Jack this must also be ducked, and once again the defence is stymied – try it.
Bridge Club results
Friday, December 17
1. Molly Taussig – Jane Smith
2. Dorry Lusher – Joe Wakefield
3. Aida Bostelmann – Heather Woolf
Monday, December 20
1. Tony Saunders – Joe Wakefield
2. Charles Hall – John Rayner
3. Gertie Barker – Jane Smith
Monday, December 27
1. Linda Pollett – Bill Pollett
2. Richard Hall – Tim Mardon
3/4Lisa Rhind – Jack Rhind
3/4Jane Gregory – Wenda Krupp
Tuesday, December 28
1. Malcolm Moseley – Mark Stevens
2. Angela McKittrick – Janice Bucci
3. Tracey Pitt – Desiree Woods
Wednesday, December 29
Tied for 1st place:
Jane Gregory – Wenda Krupp
Joyce Pearson – Betsy Baillie
Marge Way – Charles Hall
Thursday, December 30
1. Marge Way – Charles Hall
2. Lorna Anderson – John Luebkemann
3. Linda and Bill Pollett
Monday, January 3
1. Linda and Bill Pollett
2. Charles Hall – John Rayner
3. Heather Woolf – Aida Bostelmann
Tuesday, January 4
1. Marion Silver – Duncan Silver
2. Heidi Dyson – Amanda Ingham
3. Louise Payne – Katyna Rabain
Wednesday, January 5
1. Greta Marshall – Heather Woolf
2. Magda Farag – Lynanne Bolton
3. Lorna Anderson – Joyce Pearson
Thursday, January 6
1. Sharon Shanahan – Claude Guay
2. Linda Pollett – Elizabeth McKee
3. Charles Hall – Bill Pollett
Non-Bridge Club Online Results for Bridge Club Members
December 22 – Diana Diel and Pat Siddle – 1st out of 284 pairs
December 30 – Elizabeth McKee and Stephanie Kyme – 10th out of 100 Pairs
January 2 – Jean Johnson and David Ezekiel – 2nd out of 346 Pairs
January 6 – Elizabeth McKee and Stephanie Kyme – 5th out of 402 Pairs