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Original Issue

What to do with a fifth

A game called 'Chicago' has finally solved bridge's two most vexing problems—the fifth player and the interminable rubber

Next time you shop for bridge score pads, you may observe that some are printed with a big X at the top. This X marks the spot where the problem of what to do with the fifth player can be forever buried. Its purpose is to help keep score in "Chicago," or four-deal bridge.

The interminable rubber is one of the most vexing problems in the game. With five or six players cutting in and out, that long, long rubber always seems to come up when you are out. With only four in the game, it never fails to come along when you are playing that proverbial "last rubber." Result: You get home late for dinner or lose an extra hour of sleep, depending on when you play.

Chicago solves this with rounds of exactly four deals instead of rubbers. Each player gets one chance to deal. (Passed-out hands, however, are redealt by the same player.) When four deals are completed, you change partners. When you cut the worst player, you know you'll soon escape. The fifth player never sits out more than four deals. And the last rubber never lasts more than four deals.

In those four deals, however, a lot can happen, because bonuses are earned for each game instead of for a rubber and because vulnerability depends on which deal is being played, not on having already scored a game. Chicago is faster and about one-third bigger in points won and lost than the usual rubber game.

The mechanics is simple. On the first deal, neither side is vulnerable; on the second and third hands only the dealer's side is vulnerable; on the last hand both sides are vulnerable. Game is worth a 300-point bonus when not vulnerable, 500 points when vulnerable. Slam and penalty scores are the same as at rubber bridge. Except on the fourth deal, part scores are also the same; they win no bonus but carry over toward making the game on ensuing deals—unless wiped out by a subsequent game make.

The exception for the fourth deal is a 100-point bonus for a part score bid and made on that hand. Obviously, this affects basic strategy. It does not pay to bid a questionable game on the last hand because, assuming that you bid four spades on a hand where you could make three, you have lost 290 points for a chance to gain 400. You lose 90 for tricks and 100 for the bonus you could have made, plus 100 for being set. And if you happen to run into a bad break and are doubled, the loss may be far greater.

However, boldness is equally in order under some conditions. For example, here's a hand from a recent game at Pittsburgh's Concordia Club.

North and South were Arnold Levine and Harold Solof, who tied for first place in the Masters Pairs championship when the Summer Nationals were played in Pittsburgh in 1957.

This deal was the second of a Chicago set, and so Solof, in the South position, had X[1/2] on his score pad to indicate that his right-hand opponent had dealt the previous hand.

This meant that Solof and his partner were now vulnerable.

Solof's excuse for bidding three no trump with the South hand was partly based on the fact that his side was vulnerable but would be not vulnerable on the next deal. In other words, a game contract now would earn a bonus of 500 points, while a part score, if made, would carry over toward a game worth only 300. There are rather obvious fallacies in this sort of reasoning, but mathematically speaking it was a sporty effort on Solof's part, and the result was a happy one for him.

Dummy's spade king took West's jack to win the first trick. A low heart lead permitted a successful finesse of declarer's jack, and the appearance of East's 9 on this trick led Solof to a hopeful reconstruction of East's hand. His double not only marked him for the missing high cards, it also demanded a diamond lead. West's failure to comply must mean that he did not have one to lead. South played the ace of hearts, dropped East's king—and the picture was complete. East had started with six diamonds and five clubs, and was about to end with a headache.

However, any attempt by South to establish a diamond trick by force would doom him to defeat. East would win, return the ace and queen of clubs and, when he got back on lead with the high diamond, would have enough good clubs to beat the contract. Realizing this, South cashed two good spades and led to dummy's queen of hearts. East ran out of expendable discards. Reduced to the ace-queen of diamonds and his five clubs, he had to part with a club when dummy's heart 10 hit the table. Declarer delivered the knockout by leading dummy's jack of clubs. After making his club king, South plowed East back with a club, forcing him to surrender the game-going trick to dummy's king of diamonds.

The four-deal game takes its name from its birthplace. Bob Halpin and Walter Jacobs, two of the Midwest's contract stars, pinpoint its origin at Chicago's Standard Club, where bridge games frequently included from five to seven players. Discussing the problem one night, they decided to borrow the "progressive" type of scoring popular in the ladies' party-for-prizes afternoons. Word spread that this new game had something. Try it yourself and you'll soon discover that indeed it has.


Winning rubber-bridge tactics will need a few slight modifications to meet the new situations introduced by the four-deal game. For example, extra conservatism in bidding for game on the fourth deal has already been recommended.

The redeal of a passed-out hand by the same dealer creates a strategic situation that alters the requirements for both third- and fourth-position bids on the second and third deals. The vulnerable player should not open lightly in third position. The better strategy is to pass unless this player's holding is good enough to offer a chance for game opposite a passing partner. If the hand is redealt, his side retains the 500 to 300 advantage in the value of a game bid and made. Correspondingly, the player in fourth position will open lighter than usual in order to escape that disadvantage.

Sacrifice bidding is meticulously rewarded or punished. Paying more than 300 points to save a non-vulnerable game will show a loss because allowing the opponents to make game does not affect their vulnerability on the next deal, as it would in rubber bridge. Similarly, a 500-point sacrifice against a vulnerable game shows a clear profit, whereas in rubber bridge such a sacrifice by a nonvulnerable side still leaves the opponents 3-to-1 favorites to win the rubber.


North-South vulnerable South dealer


[King of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[Queen of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[King of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[Jack of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]


[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[9 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[8 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[— of Diamonds]
[5 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]


[Ace of Spades]
[Queen of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[Ace of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[10 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[King of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]


[— of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]


1 [Club]
1 N.T.
3 N.T.




1 [Diamond]
2 N.T.



Opening lead: spade jack