Feature: bridge term of the week

@ April 27, 2008

So far, we've covered a few of my favorite slang terms used in the game of bridge.  Time to get into some meat and potatoes.

There are two phases to every bridge hand.  The first one is the bid.  The goal during bidding is to tell your partner has much about your hand as possible, so that the partnership is able to get into the correct contract.  Many tools have been developed over the year by bridge nerds to relay this information through the proper structure of the game (as opposed to coffeehousin').  The first of these bidding conventions you should learn is called Blackwood.

Blackwood is super-simple.  Think you have enough points to play for a slam? Time for Blackwood!

Oh, wait, we don't know what points are yet? Or slams? Right.  There is so much slang in bridge that some of it can't be defined without defining other slang.  Okay, real quick:

Points: a means of evaluating hand strength. You assign yourself points based on the value of face cards.  1 point for every jack, 2 for queens, 3 for kings, 4 for aces.

Slam: If you bid and win 6 tricks over book, you win a small slam.  7 tricks over book is a grand slam.  You get bonus points for hitting a slam, plus you are the bridge pimp daddy supreme.

What? You don't know what book is? Jesus Christ.

Book: The first 6 tricks that are won by the bidding partnership is called the "book".  You only get points for those tricks you win over book, i.e. after you win the first 6.  Okay? Can we get back to business please?

So, you may have enough POINTS to bid for a SLAM, but you want to make sure.  Wouldn't it be great to know how many aces and kings your partner had? Well, you could ask him straight up, but the opponents might protest.  Bitches.  Easley Blackwood, Sr. had enough of these bitches, so he came up with a way to ask that was totally legal-like.  

Instead of saying, "Partner, how many aces do you have?" Blackwood decided he would bid 4 NT (no-trump).  Why 4NT?  

* 4NT is one more trick than is necessary to win a game, so there is never any reason to bid it unless you are trying for a slam.

* At the 4 level, you have a chance to bail out of your slam try if you don't like your partners answer, and just bid at the 5-level instead of 6 or 7.

So now your partner has asked you for aces.  You can't just say it out loud, right? Instead, say it with bidding.  Replying 5C means "I have zero or 4 aces, so look in your hand, and if you see an ace, I'm telling you I have zero.  And honestly, if you don't have an ace, what business do you have trying a slam bid, anyway?"  Replying 5D means 1 ace, 5H means 2 aces, and 5S means 3 aces.

Now you know how many aces the two partners have.  And maybe you say, "shit, we only have 2 aces, better not go any further," and you bid the proper suit at the 5 level.  (Note that you can get boned here: if your partner replies 5D, and you wanted to play in clubs, you are now obligated to go to the 6 level.  Be very careful playing for a slam in a minor suit.) Or maybe you say, "hell yes, we have all the aces, motherfuckers! You can call me Denny's, cause I'm serving up a slam!"

But should you go for a small slam, or a grand slam? Sure would be nice to know how many kings your partner had to back up all your aces, right? Easy! Bid 5NT.  Response works the same way: 6C means 0 or 4 kings, 6D means 1 king, 6H means 2 kings, and 6S means 3 kings.  Finally: bid at the 6 or 7 level in your slam suit, and remember to shove it in your opponents stupid faces.


@ March 16, 2008

(Okay, so the bridge term of the week doesn't actually come out every single week.  I've got a job, k?)

Rueful Rabbit (noun): a bridge player whose worry-filled and mistake-plagued play is nonetheless successful through incredible good luck at the table

Origin: The Rueful Rabbit is a character in series of bridge books by Victor Mollo called "Bridge in the Menagerie".  Mollo is considered the most entertaining and influential writer on the subject of contract bridge - now there's something to put on your tombstone.  The books describe bridge games played at "The Griffin Club" among a group of characters who are all named after the animal that best characterizes their personalities and styles at the bridge table.

The Rueful Rabbit was a timid player who didn't understand the game, but succeeded entirely through blind luck.  Even when he dropped cards on the table because his hands were shaking so badly, the cards would end up being the correct one to play.  Some other characters in this game were:

Secretary Bird - the player who enforces every rule to the letter, always to his own detriment
Hideous Hog - the best player, he also likes to humiliate lesser players
Papa the Greek - a good but vain player, who considers himself better than the Hog despite always losing to him
Sassy Suzi - a decent player whose trash talking far outstrips her ability

Wait, that last one is a character in my upcoming book on bridge. 

@ February 29, 2008

There was a game some friends of mine in college invented called Sandmasters.  It involved cards and dice somehow.  If I'm being a little vague on the details, its because the game was retarded.  I gather that it was a good game to play while intoxicated, because it's not like the game made any sense when sober. The rules were incredibly convoluted, and it also happened to be exactly zero fun to play.  Of course, that wasn't the point.  The point was that, if you invented a game, you could invent the terminology, and some crazy terminology and lingo evolved around Sandmasters.  If only they knew that the perfect game for them already existed: contract bridge. 

So I give to you the Bridge Term of the Week: actual terms used to describe various situations in bridge.

Coffeehousing (slang) - making gratuitous statements, often (and highly improperly) with the intention of misleading or confusing the opponents.

Origin: In Europe, it was common to play bridge in coffeehouses and cafes.  Since these games were very informal, with few guidelines on in-game ethics, chatter was very common during bidding.  This table-talk was often used as a ruse to confuse opponents or illicitly communicate with teammates. 

coffeehousing.jpgCoffeehousing also refers to non-verbal communication used to confuse an opponent, such as stalling before playing a card to imply a choice was more difficult than it actually was (i.e. you may have an ace or king to play that you chose not to).  Bitch, quit coffeehousin.'