The First Bridge Game Ever Published – Probably
What was the first full bridge game ever to appear in print? Probably this one in “Bridge Abridged, or Practical Bridge” by W. Dalton which was published in 1901 (ref 1).
It is written from declarer’s perspective so initially we only see the hands of declarer “A” and dummy ”B” :
Then, after describing the play card by card in an attractive pictorial style…
…there follows the analysis (politely termed “REMARKS”) and finally the full hands of the defenders “X” and “Y” are given:
First impressions: clearly bridge hand notation has improved a bit in the last 118 years! The naming of the pairs as “A and B” versus “X and Y” was carried over from books on Whist, the grandfather game that predated Contract Bridge by half a millennium. Although it does make it clear who is partnering whom – as realistically no one would expect A to be partnering Z, except for those with perverted minds (such as those who actually like playing Precision), the disadvantage is that it misses the sequence of play – is A before Y? Is Z after B? Are there any other players involved named C to X? Compare with the genius adoption of the cardinal points North‑South versus East-West that we have now where, for example, it is clear that there are exactly four players and East plays after North. Even if sometimes leads to irrelevant arguments about the alignment of the seats with the true North of the bridge room.
Second, the full description of the cards that seems a bit unnecessary now, such as “Queen” instead of “Q”, and the confusing abbreviations when space runs out on the page like “Knv” for “Knave” which was the term then for Jack, now J. And do we really need all those dots and commas to link a suit to its oh-so-carefully separated cards? I don’t think so.
Back then bridge was a new game. Many features were new to Whist players and must have made it an interesting alternative. These were having a dummy (hence the reminder in the book that B’s hand is Exposed) , playing with “no trumps”, doubles, redoubles, a score that depended on the trump suit or no trumps, plus extra points for slams and chicanes.
The chicane score was for making 7 or more tricks despite having the a void in trumps in a hand, a challenge that bridge players face even today through catastrophic bidding misunderstandings although they no longer get a bonus for it.
Bridge was first seen merely as a variant of Whist and around that time there were books published that actually called it Bridge Whist (refs 3, 4). Despite the attractions of bridge, Whist did not die immediately and books continued to be published even 5 years later when bridge was dominating the scene (ref 5).
However bridge then was quite a different game to what is played today. There was no bidding, instead the dealer was always declarer and would either choose trumps or pass the decision to his partner. Doubling and redoubling could go on and on (initially indefinitely until a rule was introduced to limit it to 100 points per trick over 6 (six tricks were known as the Book) thus preventing players being bankrupted.
Scoring was different too with spades being the lowest scoring suit at 2 points per trick over book, clubs with 4 points, diamonds with 6 points and hearts with 8 points. No Trumps was still the highest scoring and by a large margin of 12 points per trick. To make a game 30 points were required. However it didn’t matter if declarer or defenders made the tricks, the scoring was the same on either side. So as is the case today making 4 hearts or 3 No Trumps was enough for game, also two games made a rubber which scored extra points.
For the fascinating story how bridge evolved, read the excellent book The Golden Age of Contract Bridge by David Daniels (ref 2). It is out of print now but easily available second‑hand from Internet sites such as AbeBooks.com.
Anyway, in current notation the hand is as follows, with South as declarer in No Trumps at any level and any vulnerability as both concepts hadn’t been invented yet. The lead was the ♥4.
♠ J 9 8 3
♣ A 10 8 4
♦ K 8 5 2
♠ Q 5 4
♥ Q J 9 7 6 4
♣ 5 3
♦ 7 6
♠ 10 7 6 2
♥ A 8 5
♣ K 7 2
♦ Q 10 3
♠ A K
♥ K 3 2
♣ Q J 9 6
♦ A J 9 4
Nowadays, with 25 combined high card points and no 8 card major, the likely contract would be 3NT by South. Although North might have been worried about his singleton heart and South must have been alarmed too when he saw dummy.
The lead of the ♥4 from QJ9764 seems a curious choice, being neither fourth highest (which was known at the time) nor the Q from QJ9. The latter would have been my choice hoping that the 9 becomes good for example if partner leads a heart back through declarer’s 10 if he has it. However an earlier chapter of the book about “The First Lead” states that with a suit headed by QJ you should lead a small card, so this rule was being followed one assumes. It is unfortunate that it gave declarer a sure trick in hearts with the King since dummy’s singleton 10 then forced out the Ace from East.
Declarer held up the ♥K until the third round and then tried to finesse the K♣ which failed. East returned a spade which declarer won. Declarer then gave East a diamond in order to win the rest of the suit and make 9 tricks.
The point of the hand is that if declarer had won the second trick with the ♥K then when East won with the ♣K later he would still have a heart to lead back to West and they would take four tricks in hearts. An interesting point discussed in the Remarks section relates to the diamond suit, how West should not discard one at trick 8 so as to prevent a marked finesse of the Q in the East hand, and another point highlights how declarer ensures he wins the game by giving East a trick in that suit.
All in all a good hand to read about. There are 11 such hands described in the book entitled:
- GAME I Holding up the command of your opponent’s suit
- GAME II Illustrating the evil of the penultimate lead
- GAME III Inference drawn from first lead
- GAME IV Calling for a suit
- GAME V A pretty coup which came off
- GAME VI Doubling up to the maximum
- GAME VII A rather light “no trump”
- GAME VIII The only possibility of saving the game
- GAME IX Taking the only chance of winning the game
- GAME X Utilising a card of entry
- GAME XI Illustrating the advantage of not opening a guarded suit up to a heart declaration
The book was rendered obsolete when Auction Bridge took over shortly before the first World War introducing the concept of bidding. However, at least for me it is a charming read all the more so for being new, after all “The First Cut is the Deepest” as Rod Stewart once sang (ref 6).
- DALTON, W. Bridge Abridged, 1901
- DANIELS, David. The Golden Age of Contract Bridge, 1980
- MELROSE, C. J. Bridge Whist Its Whys and Wherefores, 1901
- LEIGH, Lennard. Bridge Whist, 1902
- SHELBY, Annie Blanche. Standard Whist, 1906
- STEVENS Cat, “The First Cut is the Deepest”, 1967