Spotlight on Card Play
Darvas and Lucas
Our editor has requested his reviewers that they make clear the relevance of a particular text to the standard of its potential readers. This makes obvious good sense. No point in introducing Ottlik’s ‘Adventures in Card Play’ to learners. Nor, I hope, would you want to advise Garozzo always to lead 4th highest of his longest and strongest. Implicit also in this request is that the reviewer emphasises the instructional value of a given book, rather than its entertainment value. And perish the absurd, near universal platitude of the publishers blurb – ‘Cannot fail to improve your bridge, whether average or expert class’. Really; something for everyone then?
So, where does ‘Spotlight on Card Play’ stand in the pecking order? For beginners/ learners: totally unsuitable. For improvers, social, occasional or small village Club players, relatively so. For players new to Club bridge up to ‘below average’ standard: not really for this group, unless they are exceptionally curious, and want to see ‘how the other half lives’. The book may just whet their appetite. For average to good players in large, well established Clubs, yes, meat and drink to them, provided they are prepared for a lot of hard work, because they will struggle with most of the hands. For the top Club/ Tournament player, advice unnecessary, but they will assuredly want to read this book, treating it perhaps as a quiz and simply trying to solve the single dummy problems without help of the subsequent text. For experts, a useful exercise in dissecting the analysis, maybe, since the authors, by virtue of the structure, cannot escape from revealing their thought processes. Hatchet job merchants however will have their work cut out.
So what is the structure? The format and organisation of the material is beautifully conceived. Single dummy problems simply stated, followed by question and answer, to guide the reader more or less gently to their solution. What better way to learn? Or to be forced to think logically? The introduction by Norman Hart is very helpful, incidentally; explaining how this was the first book of its kind to adopt this style.
Weaknesses? Very few, and none serious. The hands leap around in level of difficulty. The highly complex expert analysis, never liable to be found at the table, is mixed in with some hands that the good Club player might manage, though again, perhaps not ‘live’. The bidding is old fashioned, obviously. However you can always work out what the bids mean, so no harm done, even when the bidding is needed to help determine the play. The authors give the % for a given line without explanation. They are far from the only culprits who do this in bridge texts, and it is mildly annoying.
One hand stands out above the rest for originality, subtlety and charm. The last one, a fitting conclusion to the two authors work. The hand is well known in the bridge world. It is entitled ‘Phantasm’. A great illusion; a mega deception: one possible descriptive title: a ‘Pseudo Elimination’.
If you get anywhere near solving this without help from the leading questions, you are a bridge player. The authors on this occasion did not point out that the defence has a resource/antidote to declarer’s manoeuvre. What is it? The answer to this question may be thought of as the final unspoken challenge to the reader in this outstanding book.