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Post 6 : “Never deny a four card major”

Monday, 28th August 2017, sometime on a very hot August Bank Holiday.

Hello everyone.

Never heard of Badsworth eh !.  Hmm.  Some would say this man sits at the very top of the Bridge high table.  If Bridge survives, his name will, surely, be revered in the history books.  His life resembles a knot, and I haven't got the space to discuss every strand.  I’ll pull just a single thread from that knot and try to unravel it, really for the first time in over 100 years or so.

Mr. Foster misses the boat on four-card majors.  In his “Foster’s Complete Hoyle, 1897, pages 86-87”, all he says is : The dealer’s partner should be aware that there cannot be any reasonable hope of four tricks in red in the leader’s hand, or a red trump would have been announced ; and unless he has at least five probable tricks in his own hand he should not make it red.  I think this implies, does it not, that a 4 card red suit should only be declared with four honours.  Later on, he claimed that he had invented four card majors (I give the fascinating tale of the “rule of eleven”, and why someone else has claim to that, in my book)

The first ever reference to declaring a four card major without four honours in the whole game of Bridge, I believe, is in “Pons Asinorum, 1899, page 10” by Mr. Hulme-Beaman, who states that : The worst ever said to the author by a consummate player, who taught him most of what he knows, was simply, ‘You must be tired of life’, when he chose s on a pass, with four of them, including two honours, and one other trick in his hand, as he thought.  That was likely the famous ”M. Mavrogordato”.  “Pons Asinorum” is of extreme rarity, and is my choice for the best book ever published on the game of Bridge.  I expect Mr. S. J. Simon had a copy.

I know you all would have heard of the famous Mr. J. B. Elwell, or should it be infamous ?  In the British edition of his “Bridge, Its Principles And Rules Of Play, 1902, page 14” he gives the conditions for declaring s :

            RULES FOR THE HEART MAKE - The dealer should declare hearts holding :

    6s, including 1 honour and some protection in other suits.

    5s, including 2 honours and some protection in other suits.

    5s, including 1 honour with a good five-card plain suit, or with strong protection in other suits.

    4s, including 3 honours and some protection in other suits.

    4s, including 4 honours, with or without protection in other suits.

Colonel Beasley was another who claimed he had invented four card majors in his scarce little book “London Bridge And How It Is Played, 1905”.  He repeated this claim in his final article in Bridge Magazine in 1946, published just before he died.  It’s not unreasonable to believe that, when he wrote his book in 1905, he’d not gained sight of Badsworth’s tome, as it had only been published in America (by the way, for collectors - the green copies are later editions, firsts have red covered boards).  But it’s hard to believe that by 1946 he’d not become aware of it.  I discuss the brilliant Colonel in Volume II, but it’s useful to show here exactly what he said in his 1905 book :

On page 57 he gives the following rule - failing any other probable trick, go s on :

Seven s

Six s with one honour

Five s to AK or KQJ

Four honours.

On page 58 he says - with three tricks in other suits, I should go on :

Four to the AK

Four to the AQJ

Five s with one honour.

So, to the unknown “famous” Badsworth. There’s a mystery as to why Badsworth had to publish his landmark 1903 book in America.  It was obviously something to do with dropping out Boaz from the share of royalties.  So far as I’ve been able to tell, Badsworth was the first person to recommend a heart declaration with four hearts only and less than three honours.  He distinguished the declaration with the terms “attacking ” or “defensive ”.  Here he does so with QJ98 AT3 ♠KQ96 ♣QJ8.  It’s very strange he should sequence the suits like he does, and stranger still that he has 14 cards to declare (he really does) !

Cut-Cavendish, who was a major newspaper columnist, did pick up Badsworth’s typo, as Mr. Fleet picked up mine.  He totally disagreed with bidding any four card major.  He was an eminent authority and had a huge influence in his regular newspaper column, and in his books.  He said in the “Dundee Evening Telegraph, Wednesday, 26th October 1904” :


On what sort of a hand, therefore, is the dealer to declare Hearts ?  As a general rule let him never declare hearts unless he possesses at least 5 of the suit to one or two honours.  With trump strength on his side his chances of establishing one or other of his plain suits are favourable.  A heart call, be it remembered, is the signal for an attack by the declaring party, and five trumps to a couple of honours do not in themselves constitute sufficiently powerful weapons for such an attack to be successfully pressed home.  There should also be the prospect of the plain suits assisting the declarer to a trick or two (page 2).

Yet “Badsworth", who I suppose, is one of the leading authorities on the game, advises a heart declaration on either of the appended hands, provided the score be love all :

-KQT7 A86 ♣A5 ♠T942QJ98 AT3 ♣QJ8 ♠KQ9.

Here I cannot agree with "Badsworth" in the least, regarding as I do both hands as infinitely stronger No Trumpers, seeing that the play of a No Trump hand always favours the attacking side, who should experience little difficulty in establishing their most desirable suit.  Howbeit, these very differences of opinion lend additional charm to the game.

I also give the story of who was the first person to refer to “The Majors”, but that’s enough for the moment.

Dear Bridge Winners readers, I’m not sure whether my posts are of interest to you - maybe a Bridge magazine would be more appropriate (and are there any offers ?). Or perhaps I’ll get on with my volume II, which again, in many ways, fills a huge black hole in the history of British Bridge.

Best wishes,

Ken in Bournemouth..

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