Bob Mackinnon

Bridge and the Empire of Illusion

In his bestseller, Empire of Illusion, curmudgeon Chris Hedges bemoans the dumbing down of America, putting the blame largely on television and its corporate sponsors. He considers credit cards to be membership cards to the Cult of the Self the aim of which is to derive mindless pleasure through emancipation from reason and societal restraints. Think of millions of wannabee Caligulas and Messalinas sitting down to nights of vacuous TV viewing. In such an atmosphere it is hard to imagine the game of bridge returning to a prominent place among the past-times of the masses. Bridge is a partnership game that features perseverance and concentrated effort, not quick self gratification. It puts constraints upon the individual and requires due regard be given to reality. The great majority who can’t make change at the grocery counter need never try it.

Illusion is eternal insofar as it feeds upon uncertainty, so it has a prominent role to play in the game of bridge. To be disillusioned is to learn the truth. One of the skills of a player is to create an illusion that may lead an opponent astray, but one must be careful that partner doesn’t get caught up in it as well. I have story to tell in this regard on a hand that arose in a recent Sectional. Like all good bridge stories mine has a beginning, a middle, and a happy ending for the teller – I’ll skip the history to keep it short.

An Illusionary Elimination Play


In the middle phase of a good matchpoints game, we come to a table where I fear we are outgunned in the brains department. The player on my left is a man of logic who has devised a complicated system with 100 rules and 200 exceptions. It is the exceptions that get you. His wife, despite all the restrictions, manages to get her own way most of the time. They have a kibitzer, a former partner, so I am determined to do well.

In third seat, none vulnerable, I have to choose an opening bid with this holding: AK 832 AJ98 AK104, 8 controls and 19 HCP. In first or second seat I would open a Big Club as the hand is too rich in controls for the slam-killing 2NT. In third seat I prefer when possible to open with a limited bid, so 2NT it is.

Bridge is a partnership game, meaning there is always a partner around to help out. Partner holds: 1043 J654 87542 8, and decides he would rather play in 3 , if it comes to that, than in the optimum contract of 2NT. As with most human activity, whether it be drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, or building cities on a fault line, the prevailing attitude is, ‘well, if the worst happens, we’ll deal with it when we come to it.’ He bids 3 . Even with a single solitary point in their hand, some players can’t be shut out. This is why I like limited bids: they give partners the freedom to act on distribution alone.

I respond 3 , which is passed all around. When the dummy comes down, the opponents are enthusiastic in their praise and I wonder why. Are we in trouble? Maybe 3 is the second best contract. Will I screw it up? Probably, so it is merely a matter of how to go about it. I notice there are 4 diamonds missing, the KQ104. These are more likely to be split 3-1 than 2-2, so playing ace and another potentially leaves 2 losing diamonds outstanding. But I am getting ahead of myself, as usual. Here is the full (rotated) deal.

Board 24

Dealer: North

Vul: None


10 4 3

J 6 5 4

8 7 5 4 2



Q J 6

K 10


Q J 9 6 3 2


9 8 7 5 2

A Q 9 7

10 3

7 5



8 3 2

A J 9 6

A K 10 4


The Q is led, and one can see that nothing could be simpler than making 9 tricks in diamonds: win the A play 2 rounds of trumps, claim, and go for coffee. However, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and, like Hamlet, I began to have my doubts. Imagine West’s being dealt QT3. He takes the second diamond, leads hearts, and ruffs the 4th heart with the promoted 10. Ouch! So I devise a devious plan. Luckily my opponents are experts, so can be fooled if one goes about it in the right way.

Winning the A, I cash the K and lead the T towards dummy. West fails to cover, so instead of ruffing I pitch a spade from dummy, a totally illogical play that gives the false impression I hold 3 spades. After East wins a cheap trick she exits safely with a spade, not a heart, won by the K – no point in false carding against a pair would keeps track of the HCPs. When attempting to deceive it is best to appear as normal as possible in the minor details. Now in quick succession the A, a club ruff, the A and a diamond exit puts West on lead. My plan is about to come to full fruition. The K is followed by the T, ducked in dummy and overtaken by the Q. If you have followed the plot to this point you will realize that cashing the A will set up the J in dummy. If declarer has started with only 2 hearts, he can ruff the A return and get to the dummy with a ruff to get a pitch on the J, but if he started with 3 hearts, the A should be cashed now.

Can we condemn East for playing a spade, giving a ruff-and-sluff with the hidden losing heart going away? Not really. She was yet another victim of razzle-dazzle. It is difficult to defend against an illogical play without signals from partner. The pointless pitch of a spade from dummy was a persistent early impression. So it is that I once again arrive at the best result possible via the worst possible route. The +110 score was worth 66%.

Giving the Wrong Impression

One of the worst (or best) ways to convey a false impression is the off-shape double. I feel strongly if one has a suit one should bid it, not double and hope to correct the first impression of a flat hand capable of supporting several strains. OK, sometimes one is dealt a hand so strong that one cannot avoid having partner pass a simple overcall, but these are rare, and one must be able after doubling to keep control of the subsequent auction. Here is an example from the Sectional of a ‘power’ double going horribly wrong.

In first seat I opened a wimpy weak 2 on 863 764 AQ98763 –. My LHO doubled. Partner passed. How would you advance on: KJ976 Q KJT4 763? My RHO teaches bridge, but I cannot confirm that her choice of 4 , fast arrival, is of the textbook variety. Perhaps her hand is not strong enough for 3 , (never preempt over a preempt), and too strong for a simple 2 . The full auction went as follows:


2 (Dbl) Pass (4 )
Pass (5 ) Pass (6 )
Dbl All Pass


My double was a Lightner Double, often the subject of a classroom demonstration, but seldom seen in practice. It calls for an unusual lead. Partner began to think, but I was not unduly worried because the longer he thinks the more likely it is that he will do something ‘creative’, and not do what others might be led to do in haste, namely, lead dummy’s first bid suit. It was with some degree of admiration that I saw his opening lead was the 5. We took the A and 5 tricks on crossruffs, to score 1400. Hopefully that will teach them not to double on a strong 2-suiter, at least until next time. I have reached the stage where I feel sadness when old acquaintances demonstrate they have not learned from experience. I had the same sad feeling recently when in a team game our opponents, a long-term partnership, failed to reach a cold 7because one of them was void in clubs and couldn’t use RKCB. Apparently they are resistant to change and not interested in hearing about Exclusion Blackwood. Oh well, it was a tie board.

Back to the Local Club


After a day of rest from bridge, many Victoria seniors were eager to be back at the local club for New Moon Week which encloses my birthday. The spirited action fitted the occasion. An interesting bidding problem arose late in the session. My creative partner opened 1 in first seat, overcalled with 1 by my RHO, our best card player. I prefer my doubles and 1NT bids to be descriptive shape-wise, so I was rather restricted in my choices holding: 93 K8763 AK94 A9. Nothing seemed right. With +1400 fresh in my memory, I didn’t want to double and encourage a spade bid from partner. True to my general approach when in doubt, I supported partner with a bid of 2 , admittedly nonforcing, but, realistically, is everyone going to pass that? Here is the full auction:


1 (1 ) 2 (Pass)
3 (Pass) 3 NT (Pass)
5 (Pass) 6 * All Pass

*bid with the comment, ‘well, it is matchpoints, after all.’

Uncharacteristically partner had not self-preempted with KQJT   Qxxxxx Jxx. Normally this partner goes against my admonishment never to preempt with more stuff outside the suit than in it, so it’s nice to know where he draws the line. Are his wide-ranging preempts a part of a well-reasoned strategy, or merely an indication of the onset of the male menopause? I’m not sure. Recently he had jumped to 5 with a void in hearts, so I went with that. Right! When the overcaller failed to find the killing club lead, my losing club went away on a spade, so 6 was made, not doubled, but still a top.

Attitude Doubles


We are all familiar with defensive carding by which one conveys an attitude. To what the attitude applies depends on the situation in which the signal occurs. The same applies to an ‘attitude’ double, which may be for takeout, or for penalty, or both, depending on the context in which it occurs. So an attitude double, even though it may be an agreement, cannot be defined before the hand is played, as it may change as the hand is being played.

With everyone bidding like crazy, the double has become an essential tool in the fight against illusionary bids. At present players have not adapted their methods fully to the increase in uncertainty brought on by unsound practices, but it is obvious that the proper use of doubles is going to be part of the strategy of the future, if for no other reason than the double saves the bidding space the opposition is keen to destroy. The same property is characteristic of transfer responses whose popularity is on the rise. The penalty pass must remain a viable option, otherwise one is liable to get pushed around without recourse, the normal state of affairs as they currently exist. Here is an example from the Sectional.

Board 18

Dealer: East

Vul: N/S


9 7 4

A 8 6

10 3

A Q 10 8 5


J 10 2

K J 7 6 5

K 9 7 6 3


A K 8 3

K Q 3

A 8 4 2

4 2


Q 6 5

J 10 9 7 5 4 2

Q 9



West North East South
1 NT 3
Pass 4 Pass Pass
4 NT Pass Pass 5
All Pass


As one can see 4 * is down 3, for a top for EW. 3NT makes, so EW must protect that score. Normally bidding on to the 5-level in a minor is not the best way to protect a score at 3NT, especially if there is the option of doubling for penalty. My suggestion is that West should balance with an attitude double, even with a void, leaving it up to East to decide. Clearly, with 4 spades and doubling values West would have doubled 3 earlier for takeout, therefore East has a good idea that West’s values lie primarily in the minor suits. Bidding to 5 remains an option, so, really, the attitude double is a free shot at a top score. The balancing double is defined in the context of what went before, what may follow, and what exists at present, which would be defending against 4 without a double. Against accurate bidding East may do best to take out the double, but if errant opponents have given you the opportunity for a top score, why not take advantage of the opportunity? Here East should take a plus and be pleasantly surprised to score 800.


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Não partilho o entusiasmo com a acção da Comissão.Basta verificar que mais de 80% das suas resoluções, condenações, relatórios, etc, têm como alvo Israel, ignorando olimpicamente o que se passa, em termos de Direitos Humanos, no resto do mundo, em países como Irão, Síria, Cuba, China, Arábia Saudita, Sudão, etc.Israel é, de resto, o único "item" permanente da agenda das reunioes. 29th, 2016 at 1:18 am

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I could watch Schindler’s List and still be happy after reading this.

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