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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bridge, Auction

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BRIDGE, AUCTION (see 4.531). — As the game of Bridge had succeeded Whist among card-players, so in turn after 1908-10 did the first form of simple or “straight” Bridge give way to Auction Bridge — but the second step was the more complete, for while Whist is still played, “straight” Bridge practically died at Auction's birth. Even before 1908 it had long been recognized that the great weakness of “simple” Bridge was the restriction of the trump-making power to the dealer and his partner, and their inability to evade that privilege at will — a ruling which enforced the playing of too many poor hands and the forfeiture of too many good ones. Hence arose the plan of putting up every hand to auction, forcing the dealer to open the bidding, allowing every player a chance to buy the declaration (naming at each bid the suit which he desired to play), and selling it to the highest bidder (or to his partner in the event of that partner having been the first to name the final suit, in which case the second partner was considered merely the “raiser,” not the bidder). Bidding continued until three successive players had passed in lieu of bidding, doubling or re-doubling; any player might abandon his original suit and switch to a new suit, to his partner's suit, or even to his adversary's. The bidding having closed, the partner of the buyer became dummy, and the buyer's left-hand adversary became the leader. At first the original suit-values and ranks were retained as at “straight” Bridge, but many vital changes were made. The rubber-bonus was raised to 250. The adversaries of the buyer (hereafter called the Declarant) were debarred from scoring points toward game (“below the line”), taking their profits invariably in the honours-column at 50 a trick regardless of suit. The book for the declarant remained at six; over that he had to take as many tricks as he had bid; if he took more, he could score them all; if he took fewer, he could score nothing except for possible honours — his adversaries scoring 50 for each trick stolen from the contract. The book for the adversaries varied with the size of the bid, being always the number of tricks that the declarant dared lose; it was determined by deducting the bid from seven — in a 2-bid the adverse book was 5, in a 3-bid 4, and so on. In a doubled hand, the adversaries scored 100 for each trick over their book, in a re-doubled hand 200. But if a declarant who had been doubled succeeded in keeping his contract, his trick-points were doubled, he received a 50-point bonus in the honours-column, and an additional 50 points for every trick over contract; if he had re-doubled, each of these 50's was raised to 100, and his trick points went to four times their normal value. Doubling was restricted to one double for each side.

All these points remained in the game as played in 1921, but meanwhile the next move after 1910 was to change the suit-values — competition in the market-place having proved their too great discrepancy, and having shown also that a good spade hand was invariably wasted. The dealer being still forced to bid, his solace for a poor hand was provided by spades at 2 a trick and a stop-loss of 100 honour-points, while good spades were to be bid as “lilies” or “royals” and at 9 a trick. The suits thus ranked: clubs 6, diamonds 7, hearts 8, royals 9, and no-trumps 10 with the merely nominal spade at 2. All went well until certain American players seized the chance to use the low spades as codes, telling their partners the exact make-up of their hands without assuming proper responsibility or risk. It was thus that the first “false” bids appeared. A system of high-spade bids came into Vogue in American play ranging from 2 to 7 inclusive, and forming a code (“6 spades,” for instance, meant “Partner, take your choice between hearts and no-trumps; I can play either.” The point value being but 12, the partner was enabled to make a comparatively low safe bid). Though this became known temporarily as the “American” game about 1912-3, the sobriquet was really unfair to the majority of American players. These false bids received no support in England and they were equally anathema to the majority of American players, though accepted by all the contemporary American writers on the game except one. Miss Florence Irwin immediately waged a vigorous war upon them, and the result was that the system was killed. To accomplish this end, however, the game had to be re-made. Spades at 2 vanished, and spades at 9 took the place of royals, the latter term disappearing. The dealer's refuge in the case of a poor hand thus having been removed, the forced opening bid was also abolished. Three successive passes still closed the bidding, except in the case of three opening passes, when the fourth player was still given his chance to bid. An entire hand might be thrown. It was thus that the game continued to be played in 1921.

Certain variants were experimented with during 1913-21, but without disestablishing the recognized game of Auction. “Nullos” were an early variant, their object being to destroy the undue advantage of high cards. The nullo-player had to lose tricks on a poor hand — a much harder thing than to win them on a good one. The idea had long been discussed but had been deemed impossible, as no player could contract to lose all the tricks while carrying an exposed dummy of whose make-up he knew nothing when bidding. Miss Irwin evolved the plan of allowing 6 safe tricks to the bidder of 1 nullo, 5 safe tricks to the bidder of 2 nullos, and so on. She became an ardent champion of this difficult and scientific variant, collecting a large following. Mr. Robertson of England also wrote an extremely deep and clever book on nullos, adding much to the sum of knowledge concerning them. But it was a losing fight; the nullo game was far too difficult for most people. Another variant appeared in America under the name of “Pirate Auction,” but it never received any official recognition, and died almost before it lived. More support was given in some London and Paris clubs to “Contract Auction” of which the essential point is that no more tricks can be scored toward game than the declarer has contracted to make, a special system of scoring, different from that of ordinary Auction, being adopted; but in 1921 it had still failed to penetrate beyond a limited circle.

In American play, the method of false-bidding was meanwhile revived under the form of a false double. On this system to double any low bid is not meant as a genuine double, but operates as a code. The person who doubles a one-trick bid in any particular suit practically says, “Partner, I have a no-trumper except that I do not stop that suit. Do you?”, while the person who doubles one no-trump says, “Partner, I, too, have a no-trumper. Bid 2 in your best suit, for I have general assistance.” But here again it would be quite unfair to call this the “American” game, although it is very commonly practised by American players, for many of the best American authorities have been opposed to it. English players had, up to 1921, declined to adopt any such code.

The American laws have always followed the English laws in substance, with one important exception: in England, the total of a bid must exceed the total of the previous bid, or must equal it and contain more tricks: in America, it is merely necessary to equal it with new tricks, or to out-bid it in number of tricks regardless of total value. Thus in 1921, in England, it was still necessary to bid 5 clubs (= 30) to out-bid 3 no-trumps (= 30) and 6 diamonds (= 42) to out-bid 4 spades (= 36); whereas in America, 4 clubs and 5 diamonds would suffice. The American laws have also reduced the revoke-penalty to 50 and abolished “chicane,” as having no place in a bidding game; and they make a touched card in dummy a played card. The latest English laws, up to 1921, were drafted in 1914; the latest American in 1920.

Hints to Players. — A minimum first-round opening bid is: S trumps with ace or king at the top, worth 7 points (counting every honour two and every plain card one), and an outside ace or guarded king. A first-round bid that is not an opener may (in the case of great trump-length) dispense with the outside trick. Later-round bids may dispense both with that and with top-trumps; their great requisite is length. No-trumps are bid on three stopped suits (an ace and two guarded honours, two aces and one guarded honour, or even four or more guarded honours without an ace). After an adverse suit-bid, the no-trump bidder must be able to stop that suit.

To raise his partner's bid once a player should hold one “trick” and one “raiser”; to raise it twice, one “trick” and two “raisers” — and so on. A “trick” is any one of three things, and a “raiser” is any one of five — those same three and two additional. “Tricks” are: guarded trump-honours, or side-aces, or side-kings, guarded. And “raisers” are: guarded trump-honours, or side-aces, or guarded side-kings, or singletons, or blank suits. A plain singleton is one raiser, a singleton ace or a blank suit two raisers each. The “trick” and the first “raiser” should lie in different suits.

The bidder makes his bid, and then counts his losers (reckoning all “guards” as losers and the things which they guard as takers). His partner announces as many necessary raisers as his hand warrants. The bidder then deducts his partner's takers from his own losers, and knows how high a bid the combined strength warrants. Count losers to bid and takers to raise or double.

No one should double the only bid he can defeat. No one should double any very low bid, nor one that affords an easy means of escape to his quarry. A doubler should hold the sure book in his hand (trusting his partner for the odd) and should be practically sure that his double affords his enemy no probable means of escape.

The declarant's scheme of play in any declared trump is to exhaust the adverse trumps and then to make his side-tricks; he foregoes this trump-exhaustion only in the case of a cross-ruff between his two hands, or a quick ruff in dummy. The adversaries' scheme in declared trumps is to make quick aces and kings.

The declarant's scheme in no-trumps is to hold up the control of the adverse suit or suits, and to establish his own as soon as possible, remembering that “length is strength in no-trump.” The adversaries' scheme is to withhold as long as possible the controlling card or cards of the declarant's suits, seeking meanwhile to establish their own best suit.

Quick tricks are the motto in declared trumps, slow tricks and continual “hanging-back” in no-trumps. (F. I.)