A Brief Bridge Sermon
Here in Victoria, BC, every week men and women of many faiths and many races gather together in a church hall to play bridge in the spirit of fair and friendly competition under a policy of intolerance to rude and demeaning behaviour.
Faith, Hope, and Probability
Dear friends, as we gather here to embark upon a game of bridge, we should strive to keep foremost in our thoughts these three fundamentals:
Faith, that our bidding system can get us to the right contracts;
Hope, that our partner is going to have one of his better days;
Probability, that the cards will sit where we want them to sit.
And the greatest of these is Probability for it provides us with our best advantage during the play and our best excuse when we are called to account during the hereafters. Probability knows not Seasons. A player who hath Arithmetic but hath not Probability steers by the moon without benefit of the stars.
As for Charity – we look neither to give nor to receive undeservedly, although the law dictates we humbly and gratefully accept all gifts unwittingly given. Blessed is he who is niggardly by nature, for a man may hold great cards, but he who giveth away tricks will not profit thereby. He is like unto a caravan bereft of camels, cast into the wilderness without teammates, without partners, without masterpoints.
The Lesson – Evolution
My friends, evolution advances in mysterious ways not always to the end one would wish. Recall the 19th century missionaries who sailed to Hawaii and inadvertently promoted the expansion of the American textile industry by persuading the natives to wear clothes although the weather did not require them and the natives hadn’t the wherewithal to pay for them. The unforeseen consequences of their invasion are apparent to this day: the colourful Aloha shirt celebrating an overabundance of nature and the graceful Hula dance where the hands tell a story and the hips deliver the message.
In the beginning of bridge each partner naively bid what he or she had going up the ladder until they reached the right contract at the right level. There they rested. This was not always easily accomplished, but at least declarer could blame only himself if he couldn’t manage taking the required number of tricks he himself had committed to. Naturally bidding was on the cautious side. Overtricks were taken as a sign of good declarer play or of poor bidding. Let’s look at a hand and how it has been bid through the ages. First, in the early days just after WWII, when Tim, after surviving time sweating in the jungles with nothing to show for it but a Filipina bride and her baby, returns to the bridge table with his old chum, Sid, who is introducing him to duplicate.
Their bidding was entirely natural. A club was led to the ♣A and a spade returned to North’s ♠K. Exactly 11 tricks were taken. No problem.
Tim: Pinpoint bidding, pal. We beat everyone of those suckers who stopped in 4NT.
Sid: well… actually, Tim, anyone who makes 11 tricks in 3NT, 4NT, or 5NT, scores the same. So under the new scoring it’s a tie for top.
Tim: You’re kidding! You’re telling me there is no advantage anymore for reaching the right contract? Man, that really cheapens the game.
Sid: I know, I know, but you got to appeal to the masses. Maybe in a few years when everybody gets to be a Life Master they’ll toughen up the scoring rules.
Tim stayed in the army and got to participate in the Korean War, spending 2 years as a PoW. Try as they might the Commies couldn’t brainwash Tim into believing that everyone should work hard for the common good. One of his Red Cross care packages was lined with a stained New York Times containing a bridge column devoted to the Blackwood Convention. Anxious to demonstrate his newfound toy, as soon as he returned home, Tim invited Sid, who now owned his own appliance repair shop, to another game of duplicate, during which a very similar hand arose. Upon discovering Sid had an ace and two kings, Tim bid slam – because he found he couldn’t stop in 5NT.
A club was led to the ace and a low spade returned. Tim won the ♠A, ran the hearts pitching 4 spades and a diamond, returned to hand with the ♦A and eventually took the winning diamond finesse for 12 tricks and a top.
Tim: Phew! If they’d led a heart I might have taken the wrong finesse. This Blackwood is a good idea, getting us to 6NT ahead of all the comrades in 6♦.
Sid: Errr.. well no one will be in 6♦. Blackwood is supposed to keep you out of bad slams, not get you into them. How many points did you have? I had 14.
Tim: Points? What’s points?
The years sped by and before they realized what was happening, Tim and Sid were greybeard Life Masters playing a 2/1 system that was designed to keep the bidding safely below 4NT. That required making bids that were forcing but not leading in any particular direction. The minor suits had become largely vestigial.
Tim: Tied for top, old chum – many will be in 4♥. Nice pass.
Sid: You know what they say, better to pass than to bid the same suit three times in a row.
The first lesson of evolution is this: as time goes by, entropy increases. This means that fewer bids must cover more ground, thus losing definition. The trend follows the second law of thermodynamics, which also predicts a further increase in the number of chaotic preempts and meaningless overcalls. So, although we must accept the laws of nature as scientific facts, that doesn’t mean we approve of them.
Thus endeth the lesson.