Idiocies in the Modern Game or "Careless Talk Costs Lives"

Terence Reese England

TERENCE REESE was probably the all-time great name in British bridge, both as a player and a writer. Born in 1913 he won the Bermuda Bowl in 1955 and the World Par Contest in 1961. He also won four European Teams Championships. Tragedy struck in the Bermuda Bowl of 1965 in Buenos Aires when he and his partner Boris Schapiro were accused of cheating. The British inquiry found them not guilty but Reese's enthusiasm for playing bridge never really recovered. However, his writing thrived and he was the author of more than twenty books on the game, Reese on Play and The Expert Game being considered classics. He died in his home in Hove , Sussex in 1996 leaving a widow, Alwyn.

His manner was marked by a supercilious, sometimes humorous, sometimes malevolent, attitude. This expressed itself in the frequent (disapproving) comment, 'Lovely bidding! Lovely play!' His expressions had an acid quality as during a radio commentary when a player opened Two Spades on a hand far from qualifying for the bid, 'Picture a woman who calls a spade two spades.'


MUCH effort is spent on devising new conventions. The American Bridge World always has some cute little novelty on offer. Meanwhile, some of the silliest styles imaginable are universally accepted.

LET me start with one of the silliest practices of all:

1 Weak jump overcalls

Round about the 1950s, someone had the idea that it would be clever to overcall, say, One Club with Two Spades on such as KJxxxx and a side queen.

There may have been some sense in this before negative doubles were universally played. Since about 1970, when Sputnik doubles became standard procedure throughout the world, the advantage of such overcalls has been greatly reduced, because they no longer embarrass a responder to the opening bid who holds a moderate balanced hand of the 7-9 HCP variety.

Meanwhile, what are the disadvantages attached to such actions?

Consider these:

(1) You cannot make a strong or intermediate jump overcall on a hand with a good six-card suit and three or four quick tricks. You may have to double with unsuitable shape. Thus take-out doubles lose much of their normal sense and value.

(2) The weak jump overcall gives the opening (and usually stronger) side important information. This is a theme that will recur. Instead, perhaps, of bidding too high because the unbalanced distribution has not been revealed, they will take note of the hazards and may either penalise the overcall or stay at a safe level in a contract of their own.

2 Weak distributional overcalls

Of much the same kind are those two-suited distributional overcalls when it is obvious that your side is outgunned.

The bidding begins:





















West holds



 K  J 8 6 3


 Q 10 7 6 4 2

Now I don't say this is particularly dangerous, but you are telling your opponents that they will

will run into bad distribution. It is the same when you hold just one long suit. The bidding goes:










2 (?)







 West holds




 Q 10 8 5

 A Q J 9 6 2

9 5

Again, it is unlikely that Two Diamonds will be hit on the head, but the bid is worse than pointless. Your side will be outbid, so why tell them anything?

3 Those pointless doubles

Opponents are proceeding slamwards and one of them makes a cue-bid at the four level in a suit where you hold fair strength, such as KJxxx. It is absurd to double, though many of the best players do it (eg both Meckstroth and Rodwell in the Naturals v Scientists match). By doubling you extend the options of the next player from just one call to a selection of three pass, redouble or a free bid that will have additional meaning (eg not minimum at this point).

4 That 4-4 myth

Sometime around 1930, it was realised that on occasions a 4-4 major suit contract might be better than 3NT. But ... to make Four Spades you need to make two more tricks than the man in 3NT (to gain you need to make ten tricks while he can only make eight), and sometimes the trumps break 4-1, which may be fatal.

Bidding four-card majors is preposterously overdone. Partner opens One Diamond and you hold:


Q 10 8 6

 A 9 5

 Q 4

 K 7 4 3

Now I would respond 2NT (the best bid in the game at rubber bridge) and don't mind Two Clubs, or even One Heart; but One Spade is dreadful.

Keep quiet about such holdings and they will often lead the suit, which is nice when partner puts down Axx.



5 Conventions that have had their day

On their card for the Naturals v Scientists match, Wolff and Hamman had the Blue Club Two Diamond opening, 17-24 with 4-4-4-1 distribution. Laborious study of the Encyclopedia convinces me that this is about a 500 to 1 chance, and the type presents no problems anyway. Another popular convention is the Flannery Two Diamonds: 4-5 in the majors, 11-15. Again, very rare and completely unnecessary.

You don't agree? Well, next time you use one of these conventional styles, study the effect and see how much good it does you.

So my BOLS bridge tip is:

Careless talk costs lives.


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