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My Favorite Bridge Books

1. Bridge in the Fourth Dimension, by Victor Mollo (1974, Pinnacle Books/Faber and Faber)
I bought this as a $1.50 paperback when I was a teenager, and it remains the most entertaining bridge book I've ever read. The Rueful Rabbit, Walter the Walrus, Papa, and the Hog head up a colorful cast of characters in a series of spectacular hands, expertly told. Of special interest to modern readers are some wonderful hands featuring the Secretary Bird, who invokes the laws of bridge without mercy -- but always bringing about his own undoing.

2. Adventures in Card Play, by Géza Ottlik and Hugh Kelsey (1979, Gollancz)
Have you ever heard of an entry-shifting squeeze, elopement, a backwash squeeze, a gambit, a non-material throw-in, a knockout squeeze? Even if you only understand a fraction of this amazing book, it's worth reading for the sheer beauty of the positions, and, as the authors point out, they will never "come up" for you in real life if you are unaware of their existence. Actually, one of these "entry-shifting squeezes" did come up at a recent regional tournament I attended (click here for an account) and indeed the declarer was oblivious to the great opportunity they had just missed! "Adventures in Card Play" more than any other bridge book will open your eyes to the true and limitless beauty the game possesses.

3. Bridge with the Blue Team, by Pietro Forquet (2nd ed. 1987, Gollancz)
Benito Garozzo of Italy is my favorite bridge player of all time, and this book recounts from an insider's perspective many of his most spectacular bridge hands, played in partnership with Belladonna, Forquet, and others. Re-reading the account of "Garozzo on Defense" on pp. 310-311, surely one of the most brilliant defenses ever, I am still in total awe of his four brilliant plays in one hand! (I will write to the publisher and see if they will let me post this excerpt here on the Internet). The common wisdom is that the Italians won all their championships mostly through their superior bidding, but after reading this book you may well join me in feeling that their card-play was also several notches ahead of the rest of the world -- indeed, quite probably they were the best card-players of all time.

4. Partnership Defense, by Kit Woolsey (1980, Devyn)
There are two approaches to defense: you can go at it as individuals, with each defender using logic, the bidding, and declarer's line of play to place the cards -- or you can adopt a style of defense based on careful defensive signalling. My advice is unless you are an expert, your results will be far superior if you go for the latter approach; on balance you will gain on far more hands than you will lose. The title "Partnership Defense" says it all: if you can change your mind-set and realize the importance of the cards you play for your partner, and interpret correctly the cards your partner is playing for you, you will have reached a whole new level of sophistication in your game. I learned more about defense from this book than any other; Kit Woolsey's writing is exceptionally clear and easy to read.

5. The Secrets of Winning Bridge, by Jeff Rubens (1980, Dover -- originally published 1969)
This is the Bible (or should be) on hand evaluation. Jeff Rubens lays out in simple principles how the location of your honor cards makes a huge difference as to the actual worth of your hand. I read this book fairly recently and found most of the material in it I had learned the hard way, from trial-and-error observation and from listening very carefully to fragmentary conversations of local experts after bridge hands. If you want to save yourself a lot of time and improve your "learning curve," read this book!

6. Play a Swiss Teams of Four with Mike Lawrence (1982, Devyn)
Most bridge writers deal only with the techniques of the game, but at the table attitude and temperament are really more important than knowledge in the abstract. You only have a relatively small amount of time to react to the ongoing events at the bridge table, so how do your organize your thoughts? What questions should you be asking? What I love about Mike Lawrence's books is he shelves the analytic, impersonal third-person for a lively, honest narrative of the real-life thought processes of a top-level player, warts and all. "Play a Swiss Teams of Four" takes you through a two-session team game event as if you were in his brain; he gives you his running thoughts as the hand progresses -- it's nice to know even experts get confused by the bizarre bids and plays made by real people at the table. Mike Lawrence illustrates by example the proper attitude and psychology of the winning expert; join him for a fun, educational, and entertaining ride.

7. Simple Squeezes, by Hugh Kelsey (1985, Houghton Mifflin)
Kelsey's brief book presents the nuts and bolts of the most common of all squeezes, the "simple squeeze," in a very clear fashion. Even if (like me) you haven't progressed to a clear understanding of double and other more complicated squeezes, you owe it to yourself to at least try to master the simple squeeze. As Kelsey notes, "all squeezes are made possible by the fact that declarer and dummy between them hold twice as many cards as either one of the defenders." I used to think simple squeezes came up about once every month or two, after reading this book I thought they came up maybe once every third session, and now I am beginning to think they come up (or their possible existence should be considered) on average at least once per session. The point being, squeezes are not as exotic or rare a play as you may believe them to be...

8. I Shot My Bridge Partner, by Matt Granovetter
Matt Granovetter has written three bridge murder mysteries that double as tutorials about the three main forms of bridge: matchpoint pairs, rubber bridge, and team competition. "I Shot My Bridge Partner" is the second of the set, about rubber bridge, and in my opinion it's the highest quality of the three both in terms of story-line interest and educational content. The Granovetters in their magazine "Bridge Today" frequently comment on their rubber bridge background, claiming that bridge players who start out playing money bridge have a better foundation for later becoming successful tournament players. In any event, the Granovetters' especial love of the human side of rubber bridge is communicated quite well in this most enjoyable book. (Sorry I don't have the publication information; the book was loaned to me by a friend.)

9. Card Reading, by Eric Jannersten (1972, Hart)
This book is subtitled, "the art of guessing right at the bridge table." Indeed, it is a very artistic book on the topic on how as declarer you can figure out which defender has each of the outstanding key honor cards. There really is no such thing as a simple guess in bridge; there are always clues to suggest a certain line of play will succeed either above or below 50% of the time -- and if your card-reading skills are sufficiently developed, you will frequently be surprised to learn what you thought was a 50-50 guess is in reality a certainty one way or another. Jannersten's book is the most advanced exploration I have found of this subject insofar as he shows how once you know, for example, that a finesse is doomed, you can still succeed by squeeze and end-play technique. The bridge hands have many beautiful points, and his writing style is attractive and graceful. Highly recommended.
You may have noticed a strong prejudice in my nine favorite bridge books towards books that stress card-play. I have to admit that to me the greatest beauties of the game reside in the play of the hand, and so the bridge books I like to read the most have to do with great declarer or defensive plays. To my taste, books on bidding tend to be overly dry and not particularly well-written -- the best-written book I know of on a bidding system is Eric Jannersten's "Precision Bridge," with its superbly chosen example hands. But if you have a favorite book on bidding that you think I might like, certainly let me know!

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