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A bridge expert who seldom praises the competition makes a notable exception


A favorite bull-session game at bridge tournaments consists of picking specialists who might be drafted (if such substitution were permitted) to rush in as team replacements at crucial moments. There is seldom unanimous agreement on whom to pick but in the early days the most frequent selections included Ted Lightner to double the opponents, Charlie Lochridge to play tough no-trump contracts, Howard Schenken to interpret unusual bids, and Mike Gottlieb to choose the best opening lead.

This last is perhaps the most critical specialty in bridge, yet somehow nobody has ever thought to do a long chapter on the opening lead, much less a whole book. Now that oversight has been rectified with a brilliant piece of work by NYU Psychology Professor Robert Ewen unpretentiously called Opening Leads (Prentice-Hall, $6.50 cloth; $2.95 paper). Relatively unknown except to his fellow experts of the younger school, quiet, gawky Ewen has won a couple of National Intercollegiate Championships and someday, if he decides to concentrate on tournament bridge, may show how much a knowledge of psychology can help. Meanwhile, he has produced a major work that anybody with more than a rudimentary knowledge of bridge will enjoy.

Just knowing that the opening lead wins or loses more points than any other bridge play is enough to make this book worthwhile to the serious player. Moreover, its author relies with telling effect on a simple, clear style that gets the reader's thinking into the right groove. By the time you reach the quiz at the end of each chapter, you discover how much you've learned even though you've only been enjoying Ewen's challenges to "listen and think."

Before Ewen has really got you started, he destroys two of the non-thinker's costly crutches with a single example:

[7 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]

[9 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]

[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]

[King of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]

The player to your left has opened with one diamond and jump-rebid that suit; then he bids game in spades which your right-hand opponent has bid twice. The accepted maxims might inspire the player lo open a trump. Result: declarer makes game with an overtrick. But a club lead—yes, away from a king—will set the contract. And with a few more words Ewen makes you see why it's your only hope.

I often write flattering introductions to other people's books, but rarely praise them elsewhere. Ewen's is an exception. I can but quote Oscar Wilde's remark to Whistler: "I wish I'd said that." Someday, to paraphrase Whistler's reply, maybe I will.