Not even a fast shuffle

July 23, 1961

Commuter trains may or may not be fast, but commuter bridge always is. The game has as many versions as there are railroads, and every one of them involves the goulash—a dealing method designed to speed up play, increase scores and make every hand a potential disaster.

The only time the cards are ever shuffled is before the first deal. After that, the unshuffled tricks from the hand just played are gathered together, cut and distributed—not dealt—in packets of five, five and three.

The weird distributions and the ghoulish results that are almost guaranteed by this method of dealing soon suggested the name ghoulie for the version of train bridge that I like best. It is the only train bridge game I have heard of that has its own set of written rules and bidding techniques, which are included in the book about the game (Ghoulie) written by Philip M. Wertheimer.

One of the principal rules is this: Play out all tricks to the bitter end to make certain that nothing interferes with the freakishness of the next deal. Another rule is that part-score contracts—unless they are doubled or are large enough to complete a full game because of a previous score—are never played at all. The high bidder is conceded a score below the line of one less than he bid. That is, two no trump scores 40; three spades gets 60, and so forth. But a one bid gets its full value. All the other scoring is the same as in regular rubber bridge and, with this method of dealing, slams are frequent. Unless you are wary, so are huge penalties. All this considerably alters basic bidding strategy, as will be seen by this deal from Wertheimer's book.

In ghoulie, it is almost impossible to predict how the bidding will go, but it is possible to show how it should go. Voids are so important that they should be shown whenever a good fit with partner's bid makes it safe to do so. North's hand wouldn't be strong enough for a cue bid in an ordinary game, but it is important for North to tell his partner about his spade void as quickly as possible in the train game. It is even more important for South to bid his void in diamonds as a prepared defensive measure should the opponents decide to sacrifice.

With a diamond opening and a club return putting North in to give South another diamond ruff, West would go down three tricks at seven spades. But with a heart opening West could make all 13 tricks.

Nevertheless, seven spades is a good sacrifice, down 500 points to save a grand slam worth about 1,500 to the opponents. In train bridge, even more than in regular rubber bridge, insurance principles are applicable. It is good policy to take a small set rather than risk having a substantial score made against you.

EXTRA TRICK
Opportunities for tricky strategy abound in train bridge. For example, if East were void in clubs he would not waste an opportunity to show it and pass the double of five diamonds. Instead, he would cue-bid six clubs to insure getting the right lead if South became declarer. Indeed, even though he held a singleton club, a six-club cue bid might have been made in hopes of inducing the opponents to stop at six because they feared a club ruff. One warning: Train bridge can be the ruination of your regular game.

ILLUSTRATION

Neither side vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

[Queen of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[8 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]
[8 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

WEST

[Ace of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[10 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[7 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]

SOUTH

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

EAST

[King of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[5 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[2 of Clubs]
[King of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

SOUTH

1 [Spade]
5 [Diamond]
6 [Heart]
PASS
PASS
PASS

WEST

1 [Spade]
DBL.
PASS
PASS
7 [Spade]
PASS

NORTH

2 [Spade]
PASS
PASS
7 [Heart]
DOUBLE

EAST

4 [Spade]
PASS
6 [Spade]
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: 4 of diamonds

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)