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Post 20. S.A.C.C, Contract Bridge & Sir Hugh Clayton - Analysis of the very first recorded hand of Bridge played to a contract. Tuesday 1st January 2019

Hello, misinformation flows like a river, follow it to its source and there you may find ... ?

i. Bridge players are bolstered every seven or so minutes by the unfolding of a new hand - that for all of us is such an exciting moment - it’s something that propels us on.  One of the primary requirements in systems analysis is the ability to maintain focus during days, weeks, even months, of boredom and monotony as you track along that information flow, going up one tributary, returning, and seeking the next.  So, please follow me on a journey of systems analysis. It’s a long winding road of a read, charting the analytical process as I came across one thing after another.  I’m sorry if some of you just want to move on, please do so, no hard feelings.

 

PART 1. BACKGROUND.

It’s well known that Mr. Hugh Clayton and three friends developed a form of Bridge where a bonus was given for making a contracted bid.  They called it S.A.C.C. after the initials of their surnames.  Mr. Clayton, an Australian, wrote up the rules and gave an example of a hand played at a club in India. He posted this to the “The Times of India”, where his letter was printed in the 15th July 1914 edition.  He was later knighted for his work in the Indian Civil Service. This was announced in “The London Gazette, 22nd July 1938, page 4740 ”, effective from 21st June 1938.  In this post, I refer to “Mr. Clayton” for anything he wrote prior to his knighthood, I hope that’s the correct protocol, no offence meant if it’s wrong.

The main rules for scoring were :

“S.A.C.C.” endeavours to remedy these faults by decreeing firstly that no score shall be counted by reason of tricks in excess of the number finally declared by the declarer and secondly that it shall be possible to score a game not only by scoring 30 big* tricks since the last game was finished but also by scoring 500 by honours and points for slams and penalties since a similar stage was reached (* big should read "by", surely).  As no trick in excess of the number declared can be scored it is obviously proper to increase the reward for slams, as they must be called by the declarer or his partner.  Accordingly, the reward for a grand slam is fixed at 1000 points, that for a small slam at 500 points, and the further reward of 250 points is given for five odd tricks.

iii. Some background now : The official laws of Auction Bridge had been drawn up by the Portland Club and published in 1909.   In these laws, spades had the value 2 and no trumps had the value 12. New laws were published in May 1914 for what was referred to as Royal Auction Bridge, where spades were called “Royal Spades” with value 9 and no trumps at 10.  Between 1912 and 1914 there were several different versions of the suit values being used and this very chaotic period was best summed up by Mr. Edmund Robertson in his book “Royal Auction Bridge, 1914” - "It took them (our card legislators) two years to recognise Royal Spades, which had been played at many London clubs since June 1912".

iv. Close reading of the “Times of India” letter implies that, by that time, no trumps were being scored at 10 per odd trick in India.  This is the Portland Bridge Law 9 : SLAM is thus reckoned : If a player and his partner make, independently of any tricks taken for the revoke penalty

- I. All thirteen tricks, they score for Grand Slam forty points (1909 laws) one hundred points (1914 laws).

- II. Twelve tricks, they score for Little Slam twenty points (1909 laws) fifty points (1914 laws).

In both the “Auction Bridge, 1909” laws, and the “Royal Auction Bridge, May 1914” laws, you gained the points for a slam just because you happen to have made 12 tricks or 13 tricks - you didn’t need to bid it.  That’s what was meant by “slams, as they must be called” in the S.A.C.C. rules - you had to ”contract” to make a slam.   S.A.C.C. was the precursor for the modern day allocation of point values to slams of 1000 & 500. This aspect has never been fully appreciated, I think, making the search for slams hugely significant in the game.

v. Later, Sir Hugh Clayton wrote to the Editor of “The Field, 27th September 1940” :

  after various experiments the rules were published by me in “The Times Of India of 15th July 1914”, and subsequently in “Black & White” (I think the same year) and also in the “Observer & Sunday Special” on 22nd December 1916 or 1917, my cutting does not show which.

These dates are extremely confusing, and have remained so down the years.  There was no Sunday on 22nd December 1916 or 1917 !  There are several other inconsistencies in Mr. Clayton’s letters too that have really muddied the waters ever since.

vi. I came to all this, if I can remember, through someone called Mr. George Hervey.  Although he had believed that the French had invented Contract Bridge, he came across Sir Hugh Clayton’s 1940 letter and changed his mind.  In “The Field, 15th March 1941” he wrote :

  The dates given in Sir Hugh Clayton’s letter are significant.  The rules of SACC were published in the “Times of India” of July 15th, 1914, and no more publicity is given to the game until mention of it is made by “Yarborough” in the (Observer and) Sunday Special of December 22nd, 1918 (the note appended by the editor of “The Field” to Sir Hugh’s letter appears to fix the year). ….. In the interests of truth and accuracy however, bridge players will welcome Sir Hugh Clayton’s letter, which makes it clear that the contract feature was invented in India nearly thirty years ago.

Mr. Hervey followed this up with a further letter to “The Times, 15th November 1975” - his swan song to avow that he’d earlier spread the word that the French had invented Contract Bridge.  It’s an interesting letter, read it if you can.  I’ve given a lot of details about Mr. Hervey, including his real name, in my volume II. A fascinating man, he was a world expert on Aquaria.  Sir Hugh Clayton died in Bournemouth in 1947.

 

PART 2.  THE RIVER IN FULL FLOOD.

vii. Mr. Alan Truscott gave a lacklustre acknowledgement of Sir Hugh Clayton and S.A.C.C. in his column of “The New York Times, Sunday, 18th June 1978, page 38”, under the heading “Historical Accuracy”.  You can find that article if you go to the “New York Times Digital Archive”.  Nine years later the subject got the “bells and whistles” treatment in his column in the “New York Times, Sunday, 15th March 1987”.   That article is retrievable by going to Google and searching for  "BRIDGE CLAIMING CREDIT FOR A VITAL IMPROVEMENT".   You will need to have subscribed to get the full details including the diagrammed hand below. This is what appeared (I only show part with paraphrasing ) :

Claiming Credit for A Vital Improvement.

But the concept was developed even earlier by four Englishmen in Poona, India, in 1912.  Their names were Steven, Alison, Church, and Clayton, and they called their game S.A.C.C. after the last initials of their names.  The rules were published in 1914 and could have given the French the idea for plafond.  In 1918 Col. G.G.J. Walshe, writing as ''Yarborough'' in the London Sunday Times described S.A.C.C. but had reservations.  The diagramed deal, played at the Orient Club in Bombay in 1913, is the first recorded example of contract bidding. … South guessed the position of the club queen, for reasons that are not clear, and made the grand slam.

The “diagrammed hand” that was shown in his article was as follows

:

West
K1073
752
864
542
North
42
AKQJ10
AJ5
K109
East
QJ85
986
1032
Q86
South
A96
43
KQ97
AJ73
W
N
E
S
 
1N
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
6N
P
7N
P
P
P
D
7NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
.

Mr. Truscott reported that the bidding began with South, the lead was the 7, the contract of 7NT was not doubled and that a single finesse against the Q was needed to bring the contract home.

viii. That article was picked up and replicated everywhere.  Indeed, English Bridge Magazine ran the story in April 1991, giving the exact same hand that Mr. Truscott had depicted.  The E.B.U. article also quoted from the original “The Times of India” article, so it's strange that the author didn’t pick up on the actual hand as depicted in “The Times of India” article.  Instead it just repeated Mr. Truscott’s analysis.  I think that’s where the world stands today.  If I’m wrong, and somebody has been to the source and discovered that rainbow, then I apologise to you all for wasting your time.  And, to my knowledge nobody has yet been able to identify the three other people who devised S.A.C.C.  You can find out who I think they were in my Volume II - it’s an absolutely fascinating voyage of discovery there too.  One of those persons died from pneumonia on the Contcrosso on his way home from India.

 

PART 3.  THE LONG LONG WINDING ROAD BACK TO THE SOURCE.

ix. When I read all this, that little bell in my head started ringing.  I knew that Colonel G.G.J. Walshe was almost certainly not “Yarborough of the Sunday Times” at that time. And in any case, why had Mr. Truscott not mentioned the “Black & White” article.  So I subscribed to the “Sunday Times Digital Archive”, and downloaded the  Yarborough article for myself. I was rather taken aback.  The hand was essentially as Mr. Truscott had shown, but the small spot cards are not given, bidding began with East and not South and the lead is not mentioned.  Mr. Truscott, for some reason, had rotated the hand, so his North was this South - no problem there.  I assumed he had got the extra information from somewhere else, maybe from “Black & White”.

x. The Yarborough article began :

  Royal Auction Bridge.  A suggested improvement or variant of the game of Auction as now played is sent me by “Black Deuce”, and there seems to me to be a good deal of merit in the idea. …. As an illustration of “Sace”, my correspondent sends a hand which was actually played, about five years ago, at the Orient Club, Bombay”.

This is the Yarborough hand and the associated bidding.  This time the hand is not rotated, but I have put the suits in the modern preference order and inserted the modern geographical notations :

West
QJxx
xxx
xxx
Qxx
North
Axx
xx
KQxx
AJxx
East
Kxxx
xxx
xxx
xxx
South
xx
AKQJ10
AJx
K109
W
N
E
S
 
P
1N
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
6N
P
7N
P
P
P
D
7NT North
NS: 0 EW: 0
The contract was won by finessing against the Q.

xi. Doing some research, I became confused because “Black and White : A Weekly Illustrated Record and Review” was a British illustrated weekly that was incorporated with “The Sphere” in 1912.  So I thought - well, maybe Mr. Clayton meant one of those glossy magazines like “The Sphere”.  Courtesy of The National Lottery, “The Illustrated London News” digitised all their 1914-1918 war issues, along with their five sister magazines, including “The Sphere”. You can access them for free online but for all that, the search facility is pretty basic and I couldn’t find anything.    Once you have the date, you can read the magazine, of course.  There followed six successive trips to the British Library.  It wasn’t so onerous, because Judy came with me and during that summer there was a special offer £15 return on South West Trains.  We know of the best “fish & chip” restaurant in the world in Leigh Street - go there if you can if you ever go to the British Library.

 xii. I began searching and could not find any Bridge article by Mr. Clayton as himself or as his pseudonym “Black Deuce” in the 1914, 1915, 1916 or 1917 issues.  But I struck lucky with 1918.  I found what I believe is that “Black & White“ article in the “Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, Issue 2,318, Vol 88, 16th Feb 1918, page 742”.  It’s in a regular weekly column by Bascule on Auction Bridge.  He’s another “star” and I knew he was a close friend of Mr. William Dalton.  Here’s the start, likely shown for the first time in 100 years or so :

Auction Bridge. By “Bascule”.

THE following letter on a proposed variation of Auction Bridge is of sufficient interest to make it imperative that I should pass it on to my readers, though I do not myself approve of the proposal :-- Dear Sir. I see that in your remarks in this week's issue of the Sporting and Dramatic News you suggest that the game of Auction Bridge is in a transition stage, and invite suggestions from correspondents as to methods of improving it. In this connection the following facts may possibly be of interest.  Some four or five years ago I was one of a set of regular Bridge players in India. We decided, after many discussions, that the main fault of Auction Bridge, as played under the present rules, is that an unnecessary amount of the game depends purely on luck, and it is quite possible for a good player to sit through a whole evening's play without having any hand in which he is able to make a call, or, at any rate, to play a hand himself. It appeared that the reason of this was that a player with an overwhelming hand is in a position to make a call with which his adversaries are not in a position to compete, and having done so plays the hand, possibly badly, but still in such a way as to secure the game without the issue ever being in the least in doubt.  To obviate this defect, it was proposed that the rules of Auction Bridge should be so altered that the Declarer should not be entitled to score any amount in excess of the actual call made by him or by his partner.  Thus any side wishing to make the game in one hand has to call three no-trumps, four spades, four hearts, five diamonds, or five clubs.

The hand was exactly the same as that shown in the Yarborough article.  As in the Yarborough article, the small pip cards are not shown, the lead is not given and the contract is not doubled. The bidding is identical, beginning with West.

xiii. So I thought, Mr. Truscott must have got his details from the original “The Times of India, 15th July 1914” article. I had to get it.  That proved pretty tough from this sleepy seaside resort of Bournemouth.  The local university didn’t subscribe, not does anyone in Dorset it seems.  Eventually, by fair means, I obtained a copy of the article.  When I got it, I was absolutely “flabbergasted”.  This is  what it said :

  "I will illustrate this by a hand that recently occurred in actual play. A and B vs. C and D. A as dealer passed, C declared one no trump, B passed, D had in his hand an ace, knave and a small diamond and ace, king, queen, knave to six hearts. It was of great importance that he should let his partner know that he had the two aces. He therefore called two diamonds, running the risk of his partner not taking him out.  C raised the call to three diamonds, A and B still being silent. D then called “four hearts” to indicate his strength in that suit.   C went for “no trump” and D raised it to “six”.  C having both the black aces called a grand slam was doubled and by good play and two finisses managed to win all the tricks, scoring 140 for tricks and 1,000 premium for the grand slam, plus 40 (for four aces), plus 50 for performing his contract".  

The 7NT hand required two finesses (I reproduce the printed article exact, with its mistypes), not one, and that’s why the hand, this time, was doubled.  The bidding is identical to that in the Bascule & Yarborough hands, starting with West (A).  The heart suit was “ace, king, queen, knave to six hearts”, not AKQJT as given before.  Searching the article, the small pip cards are not given, and neither is the lead.  Corroborating that scoring, the 140 equals seven odd tricks at 10 per trick doubled.  Also, an extra 50 points is allocated for performing the contract - this is Rule 58, applicable to both Auction Bridge & Royal Auction Bridge - when a doubled contract is made, a bonus of 50 is given.

xiv. “The Times of India” hand, although nearly the same, is fundamentally different to all three of the hands cited, Bascule, Yarborough & Mr. Truscott, not to mention the E.B.U.  Apart from the double (it's not stated who doubled, so I assume it was East for diagramming purposes), the bidding is identical to that in the Bascule & Yarborough hands.  Are they two separate hands with remarkable similarities, albeit played at two different times ? Or did Mr. Clayton “improve” the hand for the Bascule & Yarborough articles ?  You can make up your own minds.  This is that 1914 Bridge hand, and to my knowledge, it has never been correctly depicted for over one hundred years :

West
North
A
A
East
South
AKQJxx
AJx
W
N
E
S
 
P
1N
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
6N
P
7N
X
P
P
P
D
7NTX North
NS: 0 EW: 0

Please note, the rest of the cards are unknown.

xv. And when was the hand played ? In the “The Times of India” letter, Mr. Clayton doesn’t say that this hand is the one played at the Orient Club, Bombay in 1913.  These are the various dates :

15th July 1914 Clayton - I will illustrate this by a game that recently occurred in actual play. … Such hands are, of course, exceptional.

16th Feb. 1918 Bascule - The following sample hand, which was actually played at the Orient Club, Bombay, in 1913 or 1914, may be taken as an example.

22nd Dec. 1918 Yarborough - My correspondent sends a hand which was actually played, about five years ago, at the Orient Club, Bombay.

15th March 1987 Truscott - The diagrammed hand, played at the Orient Club Bombay in 1913, is the first recorded example of contract bidding.

 

PART 4. THE TRIBUTARY THAT LED TO CONTRACT BRIDGE

xvi. That little bell in my head still hadn’t stopped ringing though.  Why had Mr. Hugh Clayton fired off two letters in 1918. The answer came, I think, because as I was searching Bascule’s articles, I came across another.  I’m not sure if this has ever been published since. Whatever, it’s absolutely central to how Contract Bridge developed. It’s from Mr William Dalton to his friend Bascule via his magazine column in “The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 10th November 1917” :

October 28th, 1917.

Dear “Bascule” You have discussed in the columns of THE ILLUSTRATED AND DRAMATIC NEWS many suggested alterations or improvements of the present Auction Bridge. I have had this idea in my head for some time which may or may not be new to you - anyhow, I have never seen it mentioned. It is that the declarer should only be allowed to score, below the line, the amount of his declaration - anything that he may make over and above his contract to be scored above the line. I think that it would lead to some very interesting bidding and also it would yield many more opportunities of doubling, which many players consider the most fascinating feature of the game.What do you think ? I can picture calling “two hearts”, his partner going “three”, and then the declarer calling “four”, without a bid from the opponents, which would be much more interesting than a call of “one heart”, which wins four or five hearts. I can see great possibilities and many variations of the present stereotyped form of bidding.

Yours sincerely, Wm. Dalton.

xvii. So by 28th October 1917, William Dalton had never heard of the contract principle mentioned anywhere else.  And who would have, there was a world war on and that S.A.C.C. article in an Indian newspaper was a long way away.  What happened next is conjecture.  But almost certainly, Hugh Clayton saw the letter published by Bascule, and realised that his S.A.C.C. was being overlooked.  So he wrote to Bascule under the pseudonym of “Black Deuce”. Bascule must have realised something very significant was afoot.  He decided to bring out his own version of Contract Bridge, not actually acknowledging either the William Dalton letter, or more significantly, that from Mr. Clayton.  Long term immortality was at stake and he wanted to have some !

xviii. Trolling through the newspaper archives, I discovered that someone had responded to the Yarborough letter, on 19th January 1919.   I doubt very much whether Mr. Clayton was ever aware of it :

  On December 22 I gave a description of a proposed new variant of the game, communicated and recommended by “Black Deuce”. I have received from J. E. F. (a lieutenant in the Royal Air Force) a letter in which he writes as follow : “I was greatly interested in your correspondent’s variation of Auction but would suggest that it would tend to restrict bidding”.J. E. F. then explains why, and Yarborough responds :There are counter arguments that occur to me in reply to the above considerations - and which doubtless will occur to some of my readers also - but I should prefer to wait and hear what “Black Deuce” himself has to say, as he and his friends have had the advantage of practical experience. An interesting hand forwarded by “Black Deuce” appears to have been mislaid or lost, and I should be glad if, when replying to the arguments, he would repeat the particulars and comments which he previously sent”.

There’s a conundrum here. I wonder if Yarborough is referring to yet another hand received from Mr. Clayton, now lost. I doubt we will ever know ! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it turned up somewhere.

xix. At last that bell had gone almost quiet - but not quite - still a little tinkle.  I began my usual “last train” permutation of name terms for searching purposes, and to my utter surprise, up popped this in Bascule’s column, again in the “Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Saturday, 1st July 1916”, predating everything other than the original “The Times of India” article.  I searched on the term “two of spades” rather than “black deuce”, amongst others :

Two of Spades is thanked for his letter.  We had a very full discussion of this subject (allowing the declarer's opponents to score below the line) some while ago, and it does not seem opportune to reopen it just now, as everyone seems so contented with the existing state of affairs.  We are pleased to note you are competing again, and hope the black deuce will be attended with its proverbial good fortune.

It's impossible to be sure this is our Mr. Clayton, but given the idea and given the use of the term “black deuce”, it seems very likely.  It’s nice to know that, after all these years, Mr. Hugh Clayton returned to Bridge in 1916 !  And maybe this is what had inspired Mr. Dalton to fire off his letter to Bascule too.

xx. I've thought long and hard about this post which I compiled back in 2017 - that’s why it’s taken so long. I regret that Mr. Truscott is not here to give his side of the story, I really do.  I do know that he lodged his notes with the ACBL, and maybe amongst them will be the answer as to whether he had some further information regarding the precise details of the hand.  But it’s hard to get around the fact that, in “The Times of India” letter, the hand was doubled and required two finesses.  Maybe I’m the one who is wrong, so be it.  I’ve written a two volume book that purports to give the history of British Bridge, and that “The Times of India” hand seems to me to be absolutely fundamental to that history.

xxi.  I would like to record my thanks to Tom Clayton, Sir Hugh Clayton's son, for responding to numerous requests for information.  This has allowed the other three persons in the S.A.C.C. game to be identified - indeed in Hugh Clayton's diary for 1912 it notes "played Bridge with Allison".  

Ken in Bournemouth,

© 2017 Ken Deighton

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