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Secrets of Winning Bridge By Jeff Rubens
Secrets of Winning Bridge By Jeff Rubens

Jeff Rubens
Secrets of Winning Bridge

Imagine that you, an average Club player, have buttonholed the Club expert, asking for a few tips on how to improve your game.  What you need to do, my friend, he tells you, when playing in the evening duplicate pairs, is estimate what % age of the field will be in your 4S contract; what % age in the alternative 3NT; then factor in the smaller % age likely to be in a part score; followed by the tiny % age venturing a slam.  Then you will be well placed to determine the right line of play.  Is he pulling my leg, you will think to yourself, or perhaps he’s just lost his marbles? Either way you’d send him packing, with a flea in his ear, would you not?

Jeff Rubens says in his introduction to ‘Secrets of Winning Bridge’, that he is addressing the average player.  The trouble is that Rubens is a genius, and like most of his ilk tends to lose sight of the limited ability of his readers to comprehend and act on his advice.  Paradoxically, however, this is a “must have” book for all players of Club standard and above.  Top Club and County players will make their own way in their approach to it, getting out of it whatever strikes them.  The notes here are addressed to players, new to Club bridge up to average Club standard, in order for them to navigate the treacherous waters effectively.  Without some kind of warning, these players will be seriously disappointed, not to say disillusioned with the whole venture.  Which would be a pity, considering the importance of this work, and its seminal place in the literature.

The book divides naturally into five sections.  Chapters 1 – 5 Hand Valuation; 6 – 7 Money Bridge; 8 – 13 Match Pointed Pairs; 14 – 15 Teams/IMPS; 16 Partnerships and Conventions.

Taking these in order.  The chapters on hand valuation are worth their weight in gold.  Nothing will do more to enhance a player’s bidding judgement than the principles set out here.  I could say “learn these chapters by heart, or at least re-read them every month”.  The pay off will not come at once, but their value will kick in progressively throughout a player’s bridge career.  You see, what Rubens is saying is so fundamental; yet the subject has been cursorily treated by virtually all other authors.  There is just one ‘purple’ patch, where Rubens is explaining Culbertson’s ‘Rule’ and its extension.  Any player capable of applying this logic doesn’t need to be reading bridge books, in my opinion!

Next come the ‘money’ bridge chapters.  If you are a high stakes ‘Rubber’ or ‘Chicago’ enthusiast, you may find some of these tips interesting, especially if you are fond of arithmetic.  Might even save you a ‘bob’ or two.  But if you are a Club duplicate player, not your cup of tea, I suspect.

Then the bulk of the book; all the chapters on specialised Match Point strategy and tactics.  Perhaps I exaggerated a little in my early illustration of the kind of stuff to be found here, but not much, I assure you.  Sad to say, the ideas set out in this part of the book are just too difficult and abstract for the average Club player to have any chance of putting them into effect.  A whole new way of thinking compressed into a few pages.  The main point is that there are so many other departments of the game on which it will be far more rewarding for the ordinary player to concentrate.  So when you become one of a strong partnership, at top Club/County level, and are condemned to be stuck playing pairs events for most of your bridge life, then you will enjoy the challenge of these chapters, and obviously don’t need any advice on the matter.  Meanwhile, if the ordinary Club player is determined to learn more about Match Point Bridge, then Kelsey’s book of that title is far more accessible.  What’s more, it has the advantage that you won’t want to shoot yourself, after ploughing through the first few pages.

Next come Teams/IMPS.  Yes, fine for the average player.  Much more straightforward and certainly easier to follow.  A lot of the stuff seems to be aimed at bridge cruise hosts and budding TD’s, though.  Pick and mix.

Finally the last glorious chapter.  The apotheosis of common sense on the subject.  Long overdue, though given the book was written in the 60’s, apparently ignored since then by the bridge community at large.  A belated ‘three cheers’ for Rubens, then.  If Club players do nothing else but follow the advice given here, they will have done themselves the most almighty favour, in terms of their results over the years to come.  Sadly (as he points out to his readers) poor old Rubens is the only soldier on the parade ground ‘out of step’.  Most of his expert colleagues disagree with him, he says.  Yet anyone can see that this is simply a case of special pleading.  After all, it doesn’t mean the rest of the squad aren’t in fact the only ones out of step.  Remember Galileo?

(Editor’s note: Rubens is currently (2014) the editor of Bridge World, a widely read American magazine).