Class Notes for Victor Mollo’s You Need Never Lose at Bridge

Victor Mollo primarily played rubber bridge for money rather than the tournament bridge that we taught in the class though he was also a fine tournament player. In rubber bridge, the rubber ends after one side wins two games. The bonus for doing so, 500 if the other side has also won a game and 750 otherwise, usually means the side winning two games wins the rubber. However the penalties for going down, especially when doubled, and bonuses for making a slam, bidding to the six level and taking at least twelve tricks, or a grand slam, bidding to the seven level and taking all the tricks can cause a different result. The losing side pays the winning side an amount proportional to the difference in total score on each side, e.g. “$10 / hundred” or $10 per hundred points (an expensive game). Unlike tournament bridge where everyone sitting in your seat will have the same bad cards, an unlucky run of bad cards alone in rubber bridge can be quite expensive.

In rubber bridge the basic scoring is 30 points / trick for major, 20 points / trick for a minor, and 40 points for the first trick in no trump just as in tournament bridge. However, a side that bids say 2♠ and makes 3, earns 60 points (2 x 30) below the line and 30 points above the line. The 60 points below the line count towards making the next game, at which point making just 1 NT or 2♣/ would be enough finish the game. When a game is scored by either side the part scores are reset to zero, i.e. the opponent’s leg is cut off, though the points are still totaled in the final scoring. A side that has won a game is said to be vulnerable and suffers the same increased penalties for going down as in tournament bridge.

Tournament pairs scoring is based on rubber bridge scoring. Since a part score carryover between hands would cause nearly insurmountable problems in duplicate, the 50 point part score bonus, and the 300 and 500 game bonuses are in effect assumptions on how much of the rubber bonus one has laid claim to. Likewise the vulnerability on each is simply assigned rather than determined by the play of previous hands.

The term pairs play means the tournament play that we taught in the class. There is another form of tournament play called teams where your team’s N-S pair engages the opposing team’s E-W pair at one table and vice versa at another table. Due to the scoring (IMPs) used for team play, the most important thing is to make your contract or conversely set their contract if defending. Unlike pairs play, overtricks are not very important. Rubber bridge strategy is closer to teams than pairs. Accordingly, safety plays, strategies that increase one’s chance of making a contract at the cost of overtrick(s), are important and come up frequently in the book.

The book makes several references to a hundred (hundred-fifty) honors. This refers to a bonus of 100 (150) points for holding four of the five (or all five) top trump in one hand or all four aces in a notrump contract. This vestige of rummy is not part of tournament scoring.

The term closed hand refers to declarer’s hand, which unlike dummy is not visible to everyone during the play. The term ‘no bid’ means the same as ‘pass’. To revoke is to fail to follow suit when one can do so. A shape such as 4-1-3-5 means a hand with exactly 4 spades, 1 heart, 3 diamonds, and 5 clubs (highest to lowest ranking suits). Memorizing the common shapes, e.g. 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, 4-4-4-1, 4-5-3-1, 6-3-2-2, 6-4-2-1, etc can greatly speed up counting out hands.

In standard carding, the lead of a king promises either the ace or the queen of the same suit (these days many players lead the ace when they hold AK… but this is not universally agreed to be a superior treatment). The lead of a king promises the queen and the lead of a queen promises the jack. The standard lead from a single honor holding such as KT53 or KT532 is the fourth highest card. When third hand has equal honors, e.g. QJ, it is standard to play the lowest one. For example, if the opening lead is the ♠3 and dummy plays the ♠7, a ♠Q from opener’s partner denies holding the ♠J because with both ♠Q and ♠J he would have played the ♠J.

An echo or peter, means to play a high card followed by a low card in the same suit on defense, e.g. the ♠6 and then the ♠3, not necessarily in consecutive tricks. This shows partner (and alas declarer), that you started with an even number of cards in the suit. Furthermore, many pairs agree that an echo in the trump suit indicates a desire to trump something with say a third card in the trump suit. A false card is a card played with the intention of deceiving declarer even at the risk of deceiving partner, for example starting an echo with an odd number of cards to make it appear as though you hold an even number.

In the class we taught five card majors where an opening bid of 1 or 1♠ promises at least five cards in the suit. This is the modern bidding style, is easier to learn, and appears to be slightly superior to the older four card major bidding. But the bidding in Mollo’s book uses the British ACOL bidding system which is based on four card majors where an opening bid of 1 or 1♠ promises only promises at least four. Some deductions in the book are based on this assumption. Also the 1N opening range in the book is a weak 12-14 hcp rather than the 15-17 hcp taught in the class. Finally, all ACOL two level opening bids show very strong hands in contrast to Standard American where an opening 2♣ bid is artificial and show a very strong hand (partner can not pass) and 2, 2, and 2♠ are preemptive, showing weak hands (~5-11 hcp) with six card suits.

Blackwood is a conventional bid of 4 NT that asks partner how many aces he has. The normal responses are 5♣ = 0, 5 = 1, 5 = 2, and 5♠ = 3. An optional follow-up bid of 5 NT asks for the number of kings with a similar response structure. Weaker players tend to overuse Blackwood as opposed to other methods in investigating the chances of a slam or grand slam.

Some of the bidding in the book is fanciful, though it certainly could happen. The card play is excellent, and the resulting positions have interesting technical names such as automatic squeeze, double squeeze, trump coup, coup en passant, and devil’s coup. It is worth your time to play some hands out fully to better understand the end positions.