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Post 16. Progressive Whist & Progressive Bridge Tuesday 5th June 2018

Hello everyone,

As we concern ourselves with the popularity of Bridge, I thought it might be interesting to discuss a variation that used to be extremely engaging for everybody, not just competive players. We surely need to reach out to the many people who would play, but don’t like to see their name at the bottom of the club list week after week.

I have, over the last few years, tried to compile a list of every single variation that has evolved since Bridge began.  Its a very long list but one stands out. It surprised me to discover that the very first mention of Progressive Whist (that I have have found) in the whole of the British Library newspaper archive was in the “Bournemouth Guardian, Saturday, 13th April 1889, page 3”. Here’s what it said :

                                             NOVEL ENTERTAINMENTS IN AMERICA.

Besides the progressive whist, pedro and euchre parties, western society has adopted a novel form of entertainment and christened it "spider web" party. The card of invitation bears a tiny painted web in one corner with the inevitable struggling fly. On the arrival of the guest he is given a cord, which is attached to a small nail in the dressing room. He is then expected to find the other end, which is concealed under some article of furniture in the parlours, and to which is fastened a favour. The untangling of the string is said to be no trifling a matter, an hour often being consumed in the task.

That “Spiders-web” game seems to have been quite a hoot. But the article shows that the “Progressive” idea likely came from America.

The little rule books produced by Goodalls, which were often included in their sets of playing cards, are avidly collected today. Their relative scarcity is debated, but in my opinion one of the scarcest of all is a little book on “Progressive Whist” - there's just a single copy in Copac, in the Bodleian Library.  Surprisingly, the book also refers to “Drive Whist” as being the same as Progressive Whist”. I guess that's where we got the term “Whist Drive” from. Here’s the full collation (I got the date from the Bodleian entry) :

     [1898], Progressive Whist A Recreation For An Evening Party, Chas Goodall & Son, Ltd., London, 1st edition, 6.6x9.4 cm, 8 pages.

Another book of the same ilk, and one of the first to concern itself with Bridge rather than Whist, was printed in 1904. Again it is utmost scarce, with just a single copy in the Bodleian. Here’s its collation :

     1904, Bridge And Progressive Bridge, The International Card Co., London, 1st edition, 32 pages including a depiction of the “Gem" Duplicate Whist Board.

That Gem board was, I believe, the very first such used in Britain because I’ve never seen a set reputed to have been manufactured by Mudies for Mr. Foster (although I still hope somewhere, one of his sets might turn up). There’s no recognition anywhere on the internet of the Gem Duplicate Board.

At the same time, Professor Hoffmann, always a man to spot an opportunity, brought out his little book and copies are scarce but not rare. Heres the collation :

       [1904], Professor Hoffmann, Progressive Whist, Bridge, Hearts, And Euchre, Chas. Goodall & Son Ltd., 1st edition thus, 25+(3) pages.

The section on Bridge begins on page 13 and occupies 5 pages. The rules for Bridge are assumed :

      The appointment of a M.C., or director of play, as recommended for Progressive Whist, will be found equally desirable in the case of Progressive Bridge. As one of his most important duties is that of acting as referee in cases of dispute, he should have a good knowledge of the game. It is preferable, if it can be so arranged, that the M.C. should take no part in the actual play.

The rules for Progressive Bridge were succinctly described in the “Lancashire Evening Post, Friday, 8th March 1907, page 2” :

      At the end of the two deals, and on a given signal, the honours and trick scores are added together and marked on the card supplied to each player. The winners at each table are those who aggregate the highest total score. The winners then leave the table at which they have been playing, the lady going to the table immediately above, and the gentleman to the table immediately below. The lady takes as her partner for the next two hands the gentleman she finds at that table, who was one of the losing players on the previous round, whilst the winning gentleman claims as his partner the lady who lost at the table to which he goes. At the end of the game, ... , and the prize distributed to the lady and gentleman who can claim the highest total scores.

Several of the clubs down here have a teams game once a month where a draw is made to match up pairs. My feeling is that they are not that well attended, I hope I’m wrong. Then at the Xmas party, a movement is often used that’s more like Progressive Bridge, where everyone gets a chance to play with everyone else. I have to say I cannot remember now if it ever worked for me !

Somehow, I think, we need to navigate a new path in the concept of “duplicate” if the game is to survive. I wonder what you all think.

BW, Ken in Bournemouth.


Ps.  The three books cited here are copies in my own collection and it's surely good news to think that the Bodleian copies (maybe there are others somewhere) are not the only ones to have survived.

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