Rules are made to be bent

May 24, 1959

Every Time the postman gratefully unloads a substantial portion of his burden on my doorstep, it's a reasonable bet that the most anguished letter will read something like this: "My partner passed my opening two-bid. Isn't that against the rules?"

Yes, it is against the rules. But it is not against the laws—a difference which isn't always clear in the mind of the average player. The official laws declare how the game must be played. It isn't permissible to violate these laws knowingly, and if you do so, even unknowingly, you must pay a penalty. Rules, on the other hand, are simply guides to "correct" bidding and play. Some, like the rule about responding to a two-bid, should be obeyed without exception, though there is no penalty save the loss of partner's esteem if you fail to do so. Others should often be ignored. Many a bridge player remains in the mediocre class through blind faith in such old wives' tales as: "second-hand low," "never finesse against partner" and "always cover an honor."

At best, these rules are helpful only to the beginner. They cannot take the place of imagination in deciding what to do in a particular case. Here is a simple illustration of what I mean:

Both sides vulnerable North dealer

NORTH

[King of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[King of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[Jack of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[8 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]

WEST

[Queen of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[9 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[7 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

[7 of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[10 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]

EAST

[Ace of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[10 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[4 of Diamonds]

North-South's part score of 30 naturally influenced this bidding:

NORTH

1 [Club]
2 N.T.
PASS

EAST

1 [Spade]
PASS
PASS

SOUTH

2 [Diamond]
4 [Diamond]

WEST

2 [Spade]
PASS

West led his deuce of spades, dummy played low and East won with the 9. East could have been a hero by shifting to a low club, thus setting the stage for West to get a club ruff. (West would soon get in with his ace of trumps, lead his remaining club to East's ace and ruff the club return.) But, not being clairvoyant, East made the entirely reasonable return of his singleton trump.

West won and led another spade, but declarer was now in full control of the situation. He ruffed, drew West's trumps and still had a trump of his own after knocking out the club ace. He lost only to the two aces and the spade, and made the game and rubber.

Commiserating with his partner, East admitted he had thought about sacrificing at four spades, and West agreed this would have been a good idea. But they were wrong. No sacrifice was needed. The four-diamond contract should have been defeated without any need for heroic measures by East.

The basic flaw in the defense was West's opening lead, stemming from blindly following a "rule" of play. Usually, it is correct to lead the lowest card from such a holding in partner's bid suit, spades. But, in view of the bidding, West might have visualized the need to break the "rule" and lead the spade queen. North had bid no trump after hearing the opposing spade bids. It was virtually certain that he, not South, had a high spade. If this was the king, it might be vital for West to force it or to hold the lead for a spade continuation.

Forcing declarer to use up a trump or two was particularly attractive because of West's own length in the trump suit.

Observe that this proper lead, the spade queen, would have scuttled declarer's chances automatically—assuming a reasonably careful defense thereafter. Shortening declarer's trumps every time the defenders got in would have been fatal to the contract.

EXTRA TRICK
Never let a "rule" take the place of considering the individual situation that confronts you. The most important rule to learn is this: No "rule" is as valuable as knowing the proper time to break it.

PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)