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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."
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Historians are well aware of the trap of judging people and events of the past by the standards and concerns of today.

While the same may be true of posters on Bridge Winners, many posts and comments suggest that not all appreciate just how different bridge was decades ago.  I recall reading about a hand from the 1950s where a leading US player opened 1 with a 5=3=2=3 21 count and, over a red-suit response, jumped to 2.  Somehow the partnership avoided getting too high in clubs, but there was no suggestion in the report in The Bridge World that this was exceptional.

Thinking to find the hand to use as an illustration, I delved into my Bridge World collection.  Flicking through issues from 1951 I came across an article by Terence Reese reporting on the 1951 European Championships (October, pp. 8-12).  His first deal was this one from the match between Great Britain and Denmark.  Try it as a play problem.

North
AK73
AJ1052
AJ103
South
Q85
KQ873
Q1094
5
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
3
4
P
5
P
5
P
7
P
P
P

West led the K.

After praising his teammates Louis Tarlo and Nico Gardener for bidding a grand slam despite the opponents' bidding, Reese wrote:

“If the trumps are 2-1, South can ruff four diamonds in dummy, but when West showed out this plan had to be abandoned, for if all dummy’s high trumps are used for ruffing South cannot draw East’s 9-6-4. Three diamonds can be ruffed but one extra trick is needed. To the third trick South led the diamond Queen. West covered and dummy ruffed. South returned to hand with a club ruff and led the diamond ten on which West dropped the seven. Now declarer had to decide whether or not to run the ten.”

North
AK73
AJ
J10
South
Q85
Q87
109
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
3
4
P
5
P
5
P
7
P
P
P

West
J1064
AK8763
K86
North
AK73
AJ1052
AJ103
East
92
964
J52
Q9742
South
Q85
KQ873
Q1094
5
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
2
3
4
P
5
P
5
P
7
P
P
P
D
7 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
K
2
2
4
1
1
0
5
4
K
3
3
2
0
Q
A
10
5
1
3
0
A
2
5
6
1
4
0
3
4
7
8
3
5
0
10
6

Reese continued:

"Gardener could see that the slam was a laydown if the spades were breaking or, by way of a squeeze, if West held the long spades. He was also alive, of course, to the possibility that East's spade bid was a bluff.  On the other hand it was reasonable to place West with six diamonds headed by the ace-king-jack, in view of his three diamond bid, and Gardener finally decided to rely on this chance and lost to the jack."

"This was hard luck, but a close examination of all the circumstances shows the play to be imperfect.  It is right if West has six diamonds and not more than two spades.  He cannot have a singleton spade, for that gives him 6-6-1-0 distribution, and in that event he would have mentioned his clubs. Can West have a doubleton spade, six diamonds, and five clubs to the king?  Possibly, so far as his bidding is concerned, but then East's bid of one spade over the informatory double becomes improbable.  Rather than bid on four spades to the jack East would bid one heart on three to the nine.  In short, West is marked with at least three spades, so the diamond finesse should not be taken." (Emphasis mine.)

Appreciate just how different things were in 1951. Psyching was considered normal, and in short rather than long suits after a takeout double by the opponents.  West’s failure to support partner was not even noteworthy.  So normal were these actions that Reese felt justified in criticising declarer for not playing East to have psyched and West to have hidden four-card support for his partner.

While psyching does not appear as often in match reports by 1965, is it a surprise that players whose international and domestic experience was of frequent psychological ploys should continue to try them?

This is not to suggest that players from that era did not cheat. The rules of both games and real life have been flouted for millennia; it would be naïve to think bridge somehow immune from such behaviour.

But some of the bids and plays made in the past just show that they did things differently there.

Postscript

As if to emphasise that point, later in the report Reese discussed the problems for declarer and the defence on a deal where he declared 3NT. To modern eyes the auction looks outrageous.

North
AK53
J109
A92
AJ6
South
8762
Q7
K65
K854
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

What Reese wrote was: “In our system North’s hand is too strong for a non-vulnerable one notrump, and Schapiro selected one heart as his opening. This was fairly fortunate as it saved us from the possible pitfall of four spades.”

L.P. Hartley was right.

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