Sally Sparrow

Spring 2009 Titles from Master Point Press

Well spring is just around the corner (despite that pesky groundhog seeing his shadow!) and to kick off the changing season, Master Point Press has three new titles to add to its catalogue.  Let me tell you a little bit about them.

1. Somehow we Landed in 6NT by David Bird

What better way to beat those winter blues than to pick up a good book.  And this is the perfect choice: part fact, part fiction, well written and funny, all with the added excitement of a slam contract.  Read on:

Can you make twelve tricks?

The stories and anecdotes in this collection have one thing in common: in every case the contract is 6NT!

The first half of the book features the world’s finest players at work, tackling all manner of 6NT contracts — some commendable, some truly awful.  You will have a chance to plan your play in these contracts yourself, before learning what fate befell the orignial declarer.

The second half of the book contains humorous short stories, featuring many of David Bird’s well-loved characters: the bridge-crazy monks of the St. Titus Monastery, the nuns of St. Hilda’s Convent, and the Rabbi and his entourage.  There is further action from Cholmeley School, from the missionaries whose main task in life is to convert the Bozwambi tribe to the Acol bidding system, and even some tales involving Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham and the much-maligned Sir Guy of Gisburne.  Although some of these stories have been published in bridge magazines around the world, none of them have previously appeared in book form.

David Bird (Southampton, UK) is one of the world’s best-known bridge authors, with more than eighty books to his credit.  Recent titles for Master Point Press include Bridge Endplays for Everyone and 25 Ways to be a Better Defender (with Barbara Seagram).

2. Bridge Behind Bars by Julian Pottage and Nick Smith

Yes the title says it all, this is a bridge novel set against the backdrop of a prison!  This makes for a unique novel filled with colorful characters and very interesting bridge hands.  Here’s a small excerpt:

“There was a loud metallic thud as the outside door closed behind Timothy Newman.  So this is my new home then, he thought.  Prison.  Clink.  The slammer.  Prison is no place for an ordinary, law-abiding, middle-class guy like me, he reflected.  Not even Great Yarborough Prison.”

But it turns out that prison life in Great Yarborough has a silver lining for Tim — bridge.  An expert player, he finds that his ability earns him unlooked-for respect amongst his fellow-prisoners, many of whom pass their ‘time’ at the card table.  This is a bridge novel filled with unusual characters and great deals — and a bridge game that gives new meaning to the term ‘cut-throat’!

Julian Pottage (Wales) is well-known as one of the world’s best creators of problem hands.  His previous Master Point Press books include the award-winning Play or Defend? This is a first book for Nick Smith (UK).

3. A Bridge to Inspired Declarer Play by Julian Laderman

Many of you will remember A Bridge to Simple Squeezes which was named 2006 ABTA Book of the Year.  Julian Laderman returns with a book on declarer play filled with insights to inspire novice and intermediate players toward expert play.  The book contains two appendices on probability, as well as quizzes to help its reader practice identifying the key features discussed.  Here is the official word:

Every bridge player learns basic cardplay techniques: finesses, eliminations, endplays, loser-on-loser, and so forth.  The trick is to know which technique to use on each particular deal.  What features of a bridge hand lead an expert to select the correct line of play from all those available?  The carefully chosen examples in this book will help advancing players recognize those features and take action accordingly.

Dr. Julian Laderman is a New York math professor who writes a bridge column in The Bronx Journal.  His first book, A Bridge to Simple Squeezes, was named 2006 Book of the Year by the American Bridge Teachers’ Association.

So curl up with your favorite warm beverage (or if you are lucky enough to live in a warmer climate, head on down to the beach with a chair/blanket) and one of these great new additions to our collection.

The “Really Big Hand”

A few nights ago I had a great time on BBO with my mother and two of her students.  Mum and I have often played in a private room against robots so I’m familiar with the set-up but I have to admit I was pretty nervous playing against real people for the first time.  I was introduced right away to Brian and Mary-Lou and they seemed very welcoming and I instantly felt better when Brian admitted he was a bit rusty and my mother told them both I was a beginner.  I have had more experience at this point playing hands than bidding, since I’ve been working my way through Bridge Master and reading a lot on play of the hand (not always stuff that I understand but I think some of it sinks in occasionally).  When it came to bidding, since the lessons have not taken me as far as NT bidding, I was allowed to ask questions (it was, after all, a teaching room).   However, I found that with Barbara Seagram’s Pocket Guide in hand, I was able to quickly look up my hand type and make decisions based on the book’s suggestions.  Was this the best thing to do?  Most of the questions I asked were about my partner’s bid.  I felt confident bidding my own hand, not necessarily understanding the reasons behind it.  Perhaps occasionally this led me astray, judge for yourselves.  For example, I was delighted to pick up this 22-count sitting West:

♠A K 8 A 7 A 9 2 ♣ A Q 6 3 2

Immediate excitement (I had four aces!) made me grab the book and open to the “really big hands” page.  In retrospect, perhaps this wasn’t a “really big hand” rather just a big hand, but I was too excited to open something I had never used before, Strong 2♣. Besides, my hand was balanced and met the requirements, “balanced hands too strong to open 2NT start with 2, then rebid notrump.”  That’s just what I did:

West North East South
2 pass 2 pass
2NT pass 3NT all pass

I was very excited at the prospect of playing out my hand.  North led the 3 and down went the dummy:

♠10 6 4 2 Q 10 5 4 2 Q 8 6 4

Now I had a problem: I could only count five sure winners and with one club in dummy, I had little or no access to my longest suit.  Now my beginner-ness will start to show through (I’m sure a more experienced player would have no problems with this hand?).  I won the heart lead with my ace and was able to get back to dummy (somehow?) by playing a heart to the queen.  My plan was to finesse the K, so I (probably foolishly) played the 4 to my Q.  No such luck, South showed the 10 and North won with the king.  Now I had lost control and had no entry to clubs from dummy.  After winning two rounds of hearts, North returned a spade and I was back in the game.  But I had already lost three tricks and had three aces but not much else.  I tried the diamond finesse, again, no such luck and now South was in control.  By this point I didn’t know what had been played of the remaining suits and after winning my three aces, I led a diamond.  Bad move.  In the end I was down three tricks.  So much for my “really big hand.”  This was the full layout:

Dealer: W

Vul: Both

Q 3
K 8 6 3
J 7 5 4
K J 7
West East
A K 8 10 6 4 2
A 7 Q 10 5 4 2
A 9 2 Q 8 6
A Q 6 3 2 4
J 9 7 5
J 9
K 10 3
10 9 8 5

Perhaps if I had know more about bidding I could have come to some other contract?  Looking at the results from other tables, it seems that everyone in 3NT was down three, sometimes four, tricks.  That makes me feel a lot better.  Even suit contracts went down, come to think of it.  No one made their contract.  Maybe it wasn’t a “really big hand.”  Maybe it was a “really bad hand!”

Beginner on BBO

Yikes, just the title of this one could start a debate given some of the discussions here lately, but rest assured I am only here to blog about my first experiences this weekend playing on Bridge Base Online. As a Mac user, I was initially disappointed that I couldn’t run the ACBL learn to play bridge software which my mother had recommended, but will continue to explore software options for my Mac that will enable me to do run PC programs (any suggestions welcome!). I did play on BBO once a few weeks ago with Ray, Linda and Becky in our last bridge lesson before Becky left, which was fun. This time I met my mum online and we played in a room together with robots. This was quite fun because the pressure was off, and I could take my time and ask her questions as we went.

We played a couple of games last night (while my soup was cooking) and five or six tonight and I have to say that I am now officially addicted. I even took my Beginning Bridge (Barbara Seagram) book to work with me today to read on my break, in hopes that I could refresh some of my declarer play. Alas, I was declarer only once, and was playing in notrump (which we haven’t learned yet). It was fun though and I felt a little like one of the characters in David Bird’s books, the newest of which I am currently editing at work – Somehow We Landed in 6NT. Well maybe not quite that glamorous, but somehow I was playing in 1NT and didn’t know what I was doing. In the end it was pretty straightforward and I made the 7 tricks I needed and that was that. More! More!

I learnt that trying to squeeze someone when you don’t know what a squeeze is doesn’t usually work (and, well, you don’t know if it does). And I learnt that an endplay is not termed as such simply because it happens at the end. At times I had to ask for clarification on what the bidding meant (those robots got pretty carried away!), but the clarification didn’t usually clarify anything other than that I have a lot more reading and practising ahead of me! It’s a good place to be though, knowing that there will be many, many more exciting times to come. And I’m really looking forward to it!

WMSG Contest Final Results

The results are in!

Congratulations to Paul Gipson who wins the contest with 37 points overall, making huge strides by gaining 10 points in the final round, picking two of three finalists correctly – Italy in first and Norway in third. Just goes to show that final Jeopardy can change everything.

In second place with 35 points is Michael Yuen, who correctly placed Italy in first place. Many of you did the same, but were less successful in previous rounds.

In a close third place with 34 points is Malcolm Ewashkiw, who was not as successful in the final round but did place Norway in third.

Not one of the entries guessed England would make it through to the final three. So congratulations to England, I suppose!

Thanks for playing everyone, and Paul I will email you to arrange delivery of your prize.

For the official final results, please click here.

The points:

1pt/correct team for the qualifying round

2pts/correct team for the quarter finals

3pts/correct team for the semi finals

4pts for choosing the 3rd place correctly

5pts for choosing 2nd place

and 6pts for chosing 1st place

The Prize:

Copy of The Lone Wolff.

Four new titles now available from Master Point Press

We were all very excited this week by the addition of four new titles to our collection. I was the most excited of all since I was able to work on all four books during my introduction to the wonderful world of publishing. To see them arrive, open the packages and hold a real book in my hands for the first time was very satisfying. They smell good too.

Here is the official word on each of these fabulous new titles:

1)Gary Brown’s Learn to Play Bridge by Gary Brown

Winner of the American Bridge Teachers’ Association 2007 Book of the Year award in its original self-published edition, this book has been given a new look and feel while retaining its refreshing approach to teaching bridge. It is designed as a short first course for newcomers to the game. No prior experience is required with any card game, and the ideas are developed in short, easy steps. Includes summaries and practice exercises in each chapter.

2)The Setting Trick by Ian McCance

This book of problems in defensive cardplay selects all its deals from real events, providing the reader the unique experience of being up against a declarer who will not always play perfectly. As the title implies, the emphasis throughout the book is on defeating the contract. We are playing teams, not matchpoints, and the number of undertricks or overtricks is irrelevent. The reader is encouraged to seek out the critical fourth trick against a major-suit game, the fifth against 3NT, and so on.

3)North of the Master Solvers’ Club – The Bridge Writings of Frank Vine

Frank Vine (1927-1987) had an acid wit along with a talent for putting pen to paper. A resident of Hamilton, Ontario and a lawyer by profession, he was also an expert bridge player who won the North American Men’s Pairs in 1969 (arguably in those days the strongest pairs event of the year). His trenchant commentaries on the game, often thinly disguised as fiction, appeared regularly in The Bridge World and other magazines in the 1970s and 1980s. A small collection of his work was previously published, but has long been out of print. Readers who are familiar with Vine’s writings will be delighted to see them once more available, this time in a much more comprehensive collection. Those who haven’t discovered Frank Vine’s work before are in for a rare treat.

(blogger’s note: some of the stories in this collection are hilarious and so clever in their references that even I, a non-bridge player [at the time I worked on this I had not had a single lesson], found it very satisfying)

And last (literally, the LAST, we think…) but certainly not least:

4)Roman Keycard Blackwood: The Final Word by Eddie Kantar

This is the fifth (and according the the author, the very last) edition of what is acknowledged to be the definitive book on a convention that every serious play uses. Revised and updated, this new version contains all the leading-edge ideas, and is full of examples, quizzes and practice hands. A must for the tournament player.

**All books will be shipping this week and will be available from Vince Oddy’s or (in Canada) and Baron Barclay or (in the US) within the next few weeks. I believe they are all available now for preorder.



Introducing: Sally Sparrow

Greetings to all!  This is officially my first post on, and my first ever blog!  Becky just told me the hardest part is over – the first sentence.  Now I’m up to four!

I started here at Master Point Press in late July as Editorial and Marketing assistant.  I was overjoyed to join the company and to start my first real job in publishing, having taken several Ryerson Publishing courses with hopes of breaking into the industry.  But little did I know that this was also the beginning of something that I think will be as equally challenging and exciting in my life – bridge!  (Mum, doesn’t that sentence make you proud?)  Linda and Ray graciously agreed to give Becky and I bridge lessons every Friday afternoon and we will be working our way through Barbara Seagram’s Beginning Bridge with our excellent teacher, Linda Lee.  Having a bridge teacher as a mother I was aware of the basic idea of  playing bridge and bridge clubs and all that.  But I had no idea there were so many complexities and conventions to each new idea!  Now I can understand why there are so many books about bridge out there (you should see Ray and Linda’s basement library!), and why each one is so important.  Needless to say, I am thoroughly enjoying the learning experience.

My job here is a bit of everything.  At the moment we have just completed the work on four new titles, due out in October (see my next blog) and I’ve been busy at work starting to prepare for the next round of titles (see a future, future blog).  This season’s titles are very exciting.. oh, wait, that’s my next blog (see my next blog).  We also have a new 2008/2009 catalog due in any day.

Well I am officially addicted to blogging.  I’m sure none of us are any match for Linda but I will try to visit often and share my thoughts.  I limit myself to four !’s per blog, but this was my first one so I was a bit over excited.

The Backwash Squeeze

Having read Ray’s point of view on the new book The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats by Edward McPherson (HarperCollins), I was curious to check it out for myself, particularly to see if I felt differently about it from my perspective as a virtual non-bridge-player. Ray, as you can see in his blog review here, wasn’t fond of the book. I find myself ambivalent: I think that perhaps being the more “intended audience”, I did glean some better understanding of the world of bridge, but I also found that the book had its share of problems.

One such problem was the pace, which was often slow—an unfortunate flaw for a book whose partial aim is fighting the misconception that bridge is boring. Sometimes the author’s attempt to paint a thorough picture–giving us descriptions of fellow bridge players, the snacks at the bridge club, the conversations going on around him–can seem plodding trivialities rather than colourful observances.   

Yet in contrast, at times interesting subjects aren’t covered with enough detail. One such example is the “Battle of the Century”—the 1931 bridge showdown between Ely Culbertson and a rival bridge group. It caused quite the brouhaha, with crowds gathered, trick-by-trick press coverage, and international interest, and is a wonderful illustration not only of the power of bridge, but of the different zeitgeist of that time. However, this tale seems buried in a general “bridge history” chapter when I think it could have been given more space to spread its wings.

As well, though it was fun to journey with the author as he caught the bridge bug, he did seem to get so drawn into the bridge world that he lost his objectivity. This is particularly evident in the interviews, when you get the impression that he is so jazzed to be talking to these bridge greats (because of his love for the game) that he fails to press them or challenge their statements. For instance, when the author interviews Sharon Osberg, she comments, “I found being a woman in bridge way more difficult than being a woman in business”. This is a thought-provoking statement, but I was left to my own devices to guess what the causes and implications of the gender differences are, and to wonder what the counterpoints to Sharon’s claim might be, because the topic went no further.   

My carping aside, I must say that as the book rolled along, aspects of the bridge world did take shape. The author’s account of the Cavendish Invitational Pairs tournament in Las Vegas stands out in my mind, for instance, as providing a great window into the bridge scene. The author writes of attending bridge parties and mingling with some of the big names (including Zia Mahmood, Bob Hamman and Justin Lall), kibitzing with the bridge fans, and the rising suspense as the competition draws to its climax. Somehow, this chapter hit the perfect mix and gave me, I think, a better idea of the world of bridge: the unique personalities involved (fans and players), the communities and relationships built over time, the exhaustion and exultation of these events and of the game. On this level, I think the book was often successful.

Similarly, though I agree with Ray that the international bridge scene was not given its due, I did find the author’s visits to bridge clubs in the US and UK gave an interesting cross-section of the spectrum of players, different levels and styles of bridge, types of gatherings and so on, which reflected the multifaceted nature of the game.   

And I must admit that, despite the somewhat mild tone of the interview questions, I did find myself enjoying getting to know a few of the featured bridge champions a bit better–Andrew Robson and Zia Mahmood in particular, but also Bob Hamman, Jeff Meckstroth, Justin Lall and others–so that they were no longer just names but people. Though he doesn’t exactly crack through their exteriors, the author does have some interesting chats with a lot of the greats (and up-and-comers), and it was a pleasure feeling as if I was sitting there chatting along with him, getting a few insights into what makes these great players who they are.

Finally, I found myself warming to the author’s own story of his pursuit of bridge, his partnership with fellow beginner (and octogenarian) Tina, and his participation in bridge games through his travels, culminating in his and Tina’s playing at the 2006 NABC in Chicago. Though he never really puts his finger on the allure of bridge, it is fun accompanying him as it wins him over.   

So really, it is portraits of specific people and events that stand out for me and which, accumulated, helped me gain a better insight into bridge, while the overarching questions remain unanswered. In short, it’s diverting, but there is still more to be said.

Bobby Wolff tells all!

I don’t know if you folks have heard the buzz about Bobby Wolff’s new book, The Lone Wolff, yet, but I have had the opportunity to take a look pre-publication (one of the perks of working in the publishing industry). In fact, I’ve been laying it out in good ol’ QuarkXPress. Little did I know, while I toiled away, focusing only (I thought) on the nitty-gritty of page layout, that the content would slowly seep into my brain and win me over.

Now, I should perhaps take a moment to explain that I am not a "bridge person" per se, having not played a hand in many years, and I certainly don’t know a lot about the world of bridge (though I am coming to learn, bit by bit). One might think, then, that I wouldn’t be the audience for this book – which is why it surprised even me that I found myself enthralled by it (a testament, I think, to its quality).

One of the things that immediately caught me about The Lone Wolff is Bobby Wolff’s style – he writes in a forthright way, doesn’t mince words, and keeps the tone conversational. Because of his firm opinions (and unapologetic manner – at one point he quotes someone as basically saying that Wolff has no political skills whatsoever) he’s bound to irk some people, but that’s what makes the book so engaging: It’s refreshing to read someone unafraid to speak his mind.

Yet, he is also candid about his flaws (his willingness to cite – and agree to – the quote above is an example), which I think will help even those who don’t share his views to see Wolff’s discussions as an invitation to dialogue, a challenge to think seriously about the important issues in bridge and speak out about them. Throughout, his tremendous passion for the bridge world comes through, bringing an energy and vitality to the book.

And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his wealth of experience. He has so many stories to tell, ranging from the past — such as his experiences with renowned celebrity bridge players Omar Sharif and George Burns, his ups and downs with the Aces, his firsthand account of the Facchini/Zucchelli foot-tapping debacle — to the present — such as his take on the USA 1 Women’s Venice Cup team’s anti-Bush statement at the Shanghai 2007 World Championships and the state of the ACBL.

Enriching his tale are stories about his personal life, including his early bridge days with his brother Walter as partner, the trials and tribulations of his partnership with Bob Hamman, his cherished time with his second wife Debby and her lost fight with cancer, and his newfound happiness with Judy Kay-Wolff.   

As you can see, there is a lot to be gained from a read of The Lone Wolff – even for a bridge outsider. Bobby Wolff is a strong character, much renowned in the bridge world, and this book is the culmination of his experiences. Sure, it will rattle some cages, but that’s what makes it entertaining, involving, exciting, and a darn good read.

The Lone Wolff is due out in February, 2008 from Master Point Press.

Newest Master Point Press Bridge Books!

Greetings! This is my first blog to the website, and I must say it’s exciting. We’ve only just started, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes us. We’re in the midst of brainstorming about how we can improve and add to what’s here now, so we’ve got improvements in mind, such as providing you with blog topic categories at a glance — so you can easily choose what most interests you — posting weekly bridge articles, providing a list of our favourite bridge links, and much more.

But if you have any suggestions or ideas for us, certainly let me know – we’d love to make the site the best it can be!

Now, on to the subject of my post (drum roll please): New titles available from Master Point Press!

Misplay These Hands With Me by Mark Horton: As the title implies, this book is a tongue-in-cheek homage to Reese’s classic — only this time declarer always finds in the post-mortem that there was a better line of play. Entertaining and instructional.

Double Elimination: A Bridge Mystery by Jim Priebe: Back by popular demand, we find Art Fraser, the bridge-playing detective featured in Mr. Priebe’s “Takeout Double”, returning to solve a new murder. Once again, the suspects and the motives all involve our favourite game…

How Good Is Your Bridge? by Danny Roth: An intermediate-level book in a unique quiz format, How Good Is Your Bridge helps you rate your skills as declarer and defender. An absorbing and challenging learning experience!

And last but not least, Countdown to Winning Bridge (CDROM Edition) by Tim Bourke and Marc Smith: Our interactive CDROM edition of the popular book on counting, for both declarers and defenders.

For more information on how to order, and to get a look at our selection of other titles, check out our website at

Thanks for reading — and please do keep checking back with us as we continue to add to the site!