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Post 19. Charles Wilbraham and the 4 3 2 1 point count - Saturday 3rd Novmeber 2018

Hello everyone,

i. The first post I made to Bridgewinners, on 1st January 2017, was, sadly, tacked onto the end of a year old article about a rare book, and I fear it’s now lost in the mire. It concerned revelations made, I believe for the first time, about Edmund Joseph Robertson, who for many years was one of the doyens of Bridge. He published his 7 5 3 2 1 point point in Calcutta, in a book of the utmost rarity :

“Edmund Joseph Robertson & A. Hyde-Wollaston, The Robertson Rule And Other Bridge Axioms, From The Higher Grammar Of Bridge, 1902”.

ii. Both these gentlemen lived and worked in India and that’s why I assume the single copy in the Bodleian Library that cites both their names is the true first edition (but I might be wrong on that). I haven’t seen the book (or rather, the pamphlet) but I suspect it’s virtually identical to what appears to be a pirated copy (but it could be the real thing too) in the Library of Congress. You can view that copy at “https://archive.org/details/robertsonruleoth00robe". It doesn’t cite Mr. Hyde Wollaston, sadly, and the title uses the term “Bridge Whist”, rather than the more universal term “Bridge”.

iii. Everyone used the 7 5 3 2 1 point count for many years, until the 4 3 2 1 count came along. And I suppose, most Bridge players know that Mr. Work discovered it ! The better informed trace it back to a little known game called “Auction Pitch”, reputably invented by Mr. Bryant McCampbell in 1915. I’m not sure whether he invented the game, or the use of the point count in the game or maybe both. Others have also claimed this honour, including Mr. Wilbur Whitehead & Major C. L. Patton.

iv. In his “Royal Auction Bridge, 1914”, Mr. Robertson discusses the adoption of the 4 3 2 1 HCP count, although it’s used as a technique for the adversaries to understand declarer’s major suit bid, not as a rule for declarer himself - maybe not quite the same thing.

v. To “Bascule” we owe so much for recording the early history of Bridge that would otherwise be lost to us today. He edited a very popular column in the “Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News", usually about 1/2 page. From an early date he started setting Bridge puzzles and people from all over the world sent in their solutions. Almost all of them used pseudonyms. I suppose one reason was the association of Bridge with gambling - a limitation in people’s minds that persists to this day.

vi. As I was trawling through that newspaper, looking for something unrelated, I came across this in the “Saturday, 18th March 1905, page 7” issue :

  “Another correspondent, “Echo", gives a further variation of the Robertsonian rule, which, he says, is extensively used at the club at which he plays. The values under this rule are four for an ace, three for a king, two for a queen, and 1 for a knave, while thirteen is the total number of points upon which no-trumps should be declared. This, it will be seen, excludes a bare three aces from the category of no-trumps hands, which Echo appears to think an advantage. Now there can be no doubt that three aces unsupported by any picture cards do not make a very strong no-trumper, but yet there are abundant reasons for always making that declaration upon the hand. In the first place, there is the certain thirty above the line, the advantage of securing which ought by no means to be overlooked. Then there is the consideration that one's partner may be deterred, or, if he has already had the option of declaring, may have been deterred, from making no-trumps simply for lack of aces. And, thirdly, it must be remembered that one's three aces mean three certain tricks, are three certain stopping cards for the opponents' suits, and will give one the lead three times during the course of the hand, with its consequential advantages. For these reasons it is, in the opinion of the writer, little short of an insult to one’s partner to give him anything but no-trumps on a three- ace hand, which, (, if it is quite good enough for no-trumps by the dealer”.

vii. So who was “Echo” - Heaven only knows ! But another nice feature of Bascule’s column was the setting of puzzles. Readers sent in their solutions and he marked every single one - I wonder whether any of our Bridge magazine editors would be prepared to do that today ! Every so often, he totted up everyone’s points and awarded prizes to the top three. So there was just a chance that Echo was a pretty good player and contributed to those puzzles. I began searching through every single issue looking for the word “Echo” !

viii. Then I found this in the “Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Saturday 5th August 1905” issue :

“We are now in a position to announce the final result of our last competition … The provisional list of the more successful home competitors which was published in our issue of June 10th was as follows : Woolfin 15 Echo, Tush 14 Asthore 13 etc. To Woolfin, therefore, will be awarded the First Prize of Ten Guineas, while the Second and Third Prizes of Five and Two Guineas respectively will be equally divided between Echo, Napier, and Tush, that is to say, they will each receive £2 9s. Will these competitors kindly apply for their prizes, giving their full names and addresses for publication”.

ix. And when I found this in the “Saturday, 2nd September 1905, page 5” issue, I literally jumped for joy :

”Echo”, the winner of a third share of the Second and Third Prizes in our last competition but one, who failed to see the first announcement of his prize in our issue of August 5th, is Mr. Charles Wilbraham, of 25 King-street, Rock Ferry, Cheshire. A cheque for £2 9s. has accordingly been forwarded to this gentleman, whom Bascule has much pleasure in congratulating upon his success.

x. On the 1911 Census, a Mrs. Caroline Woodcock is head of that house at 25 King Street, Rock Ferry which is in Birkenhead. Her job is “letting apartments”. She has two tenants, but no Mr. Wilbraham. There are several possible candidates but who Mr. Charles Wilbraham was remains a mystery. Would anyone like to go up to Birkenhead and start searching through local registers looking for a Bridge club or Whist club, even a gentlemans’ club, operating at about that time ? Wherever it was, the site surely deserves a “blue plaque” for what must be one of the most significant developments in the whole of Bridge, and one that re-writes its history in just about every book and every website that discusses point counts. Who knows who read Bascule’s column and Mr. Wilbraham’s variation, and maybe thought what a good idea it was.

Best wishes,

Ken in Bournemouth..

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