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Poker Tactics Useful at Bridge

  by Richard Pavlicek

The Spring North American Bridge Championships concluded last weekend in St. Louis with the finals of the Vanderbilt, a six-day knockout team event named for the late Harold Vanderbilt, the inventor of contract bridge. The play began with 60 of the finest teams in North America, and in successive days the field was cut to 32, 16… until just two teams remained.

One of the final two teams was captained by Jack Schwencke of North Palm Beach; the other, by Peter Pender of San Francisco, whose squad included six world champions. Despite a gallant effort, the Schwencke team lost by a small margin — still, a commendable achievement.

On today’s deal from the final match Jack Schwencke, South, demonstrated that bridge and poker have a little in common. It is not always sufficient to bid what you can make; you also must consider what your opponents might make. South did just that and proceeded to bluff his opponents out of the bidding.

4 H South
N-S Vul
S A 9
H J 9 6 4
D J 10 9 5
C K 10 2


3 H
4 H

1 H
4 C
S J 8 6 2
H 10 8 3
D Q 8 4
C A Q 5
TableS K Q 10 3
D A 7 6 2
C J 9 8 6 4

Lead: S 2
S 7 5 4
H A K Q 7 5 2
D K 3
C 7 3

The raise to three hearts was a limit bid, a modern treatment to show 10-12 points, and East made a takeout double to indicate support for the unbid suits. Schwencke reasoned that he probably could make four hearts; but his lack of defensive strength made it likely the opponents would succeed in whatever they bid. Therefore, he tried to muddy the water with a phony bid of four clubs. This achieved its desired effect in quieting West, whose ace-queen of clubs now seemed to be more useful on defense behind South’s mythical suit. North naturally returned to four hearts, and South was left undisturbed.

The opening spade lead was ducked to the queen, and East put declarer to the test with a low diamond return. This might have succeeded against some, but Schwencke was nobody’s fool — king. The rest was easy with the club ace onside. Making four hearts was a big pickup since his teammates, unhindered by any bluffing tactics, made a spade contract as East-West at the other table.

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© 1987 Richard Pavlicek