I recently found a copy of Charles Goren's Contract Bridge for Beginners (apparently still in print) at a library clearance sale.  After all these years, I can finally understand the language in the newspaper bridge columns, which I sometimes read just to see what sort of mysticism is being practiced.

But then I found that the American Contract Bridge League have a solitaire bridge application, in which a human plays against three algorithms.  I haven't figured out what the algorithms do, sometimes the North algorithm, my virtual partner, proposes some strange bids and I get treated rather roughly.

But then, there was this position.

I was a little slow on the uptake: in human play, a bid of four no-trump is a call to show aces.  Thus I should have responded "fivc hearts," showing three aces, and the algorithm might have gone to six or seven no-trump, and then what would I do?  There are probably terms in bridge that are synonymous with sheepshead's "mauering."

I passed. (OK, slag on me if you play for real!)  The algorithm opened with the 4♣, as Mr Goren teaches, and an experienced player would expect.  I won that with the Ace, and decided to run my Spades and Diamonds.  If you've never played bridge, note that in a no-trump contract, two long suits are of great value.  If you have a long non-trump suit, you are at risk that an opponent will show out with a trump card.  (On the other hand, we'll see that the defenders' length in Hearts did them no good, as I limited their ability to use it.)

Thus, I had one trick in hand, a second trick with the K♣, four good tricks with Spades, another four with the Diamonds, and two more Aces.  But the way the cards fell, I was able to take all the tricks.  First the four Spades; West and East show out.  That's the luck of the draw.  Four Spades is a game value contract, but if the opponent's six spades divide 5-1 or 6-0 there are two ruffing opportunities for the defense.  Fortunately, we're in Four No Trump, not 4♠, and the defense's spades divided 3-3.

Then put the lead in dummy with a low Diamond.  When the Jack (any card, it transpired) forces the ten-spot  out, I see a way to take three of the four Diamond tricks I sought a different way, run the A♡ and A♣, put the lead back in dummy with the 6♣, and smoke out all the remaining high cards with the remaining Diamonds.

Five Diamonds is also a game-value contract, and I might have been able to run all the cards with those last diamonds locked and loaded in the dummy, visible to all like the shot-gun in a pickup truck rack.

Here's something else the newspaper columns and Mr Goren's book don't necessarily tell you.  A player leads from low to high either to place the lead or to run a finesse (something I didn't have to do with so many good cards to play) but in order for that to work the declarer has to hope that the card to be finessed is to the left.

That's not to say I claim any expertise in this game, not yet.  On occasion, the algorithms tell me my performance is in the top twenty for that hand.  More commonly, though, it tells me there are some twelve thousand players who have done better than I.  Generally, I'm in the position of a defender sitting with some high Hearts and the declarer is running a long suit, trump or not.

I'm also unlikely to add a Saturday bridge column to Cold Spring Shops.  There is still a railroad to be built.

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