Cam French

Strip Squeeze, Trick and Slow Arrival


Is there a more renowned card game in history than bridge? Bridge is a descendant of whist. It is essentially an intellectual game of dialogue, logic, intuition, and chicanery. It grew from a game of the elite, to become main stream in twentieth century America and Western Europe.  In the first half of the century it was popularized by Americans Ely Culbertson and later Charles Goren. Both were experts, authors and promoters of the game. Today bridge draws its participants from all walks of life. It transcends professions, generations, borders, and language. 

The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (which is the source of much of this article) notes that the Duke of Cumberland, son of George III (1738-1820), King of England, was “an inveterate gambler for high stakes” who was allegedly swindled out of £20,000 on a rigged deal. James Bond substituted the same hand in Moonraker to chastise the cheating villain. (No Virginia, in the book our hero played bridge, not poker.) In the American south a similar deal became infamous as the Mississippi Heart Hand, and was used by card sharks to bilk riverboat gamblers.

Some famous personalities to play this game include British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Indian pacifist Mahatma Gandhi, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping, who took up the game when he had time on his hands under house arrest during the Cultural Revolution. The comedian George Burns, movie star Omar Sharif, playwright George Kaufman, Les Brown (of band of renown fame), and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stephens all played at a high level. More recently Martina Navratilova, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet are known to enjoy a hand or two. 

Who would believe that bridge played a tactical role in American naval history? The following is based upon an account written by Alan Truscott in The New York Times. It happened 1917 in the Turkish harbor of Constantinople, now Istanbul. An American gunboat, the Scorpion was boarded by the Turks who were German allies. The German navy, present in force, wanted the Scorpion for use as a decoy, but the crew much preferred to be interned under Turkish control. The Captain of the ship Lt. Cdr. Herbert Babbitt challenged the Interior Minister Talat Pasha to a rubber of bridge, with the ship as the stake. If he lost, the Scorpion would go to the Germans. If he won, the vessel would be interned where she was. On the critical last hand Babbitt landed a difficult contract (four no trump) to win the stake and Talat was true to his word. The Scorpion and her crew remained in Turkish waters until the war was over. For the rest of his naval career he was known as Four Notrump Babbitt.

In 1898 the USS Merrimac a 3362-ton collier (coal carrying vessel) was scuttled in Santiago harbor by the US navy in an attempt to impede the Spanish fleet. Bridge lexicon appropriated the term. Thus was born the Merrimac Coup, a deliberate sacrifice of a strategic card with the intent of thwarting the enemy.

Bridge cannibalizes its vocabulary from the global society. Some of it bears the names of notable players but most come from history, culture or witticisms. Finesse in bridge is not grace, poise or elegance but a simple card play maneuver novices master quickly. While a squeeze in every day parlance may be a girlfriend or sweetheart; here it refers to the pain a player has when compelled to throw a card he wishes to retain. A few squeeze variations include compound, clash, transfer, backwash, invisible, and a personal favorite, the strip squeeze.

The terms hooker, trick, advance, pickup boy, scoring, and slow arrival may titillate in a non-bridge setting; but within the colloquialisms of bridge they are innocuous terms. A pajama game may sound like your daughter’s sleep over; but is considered a duplicate game with few average results rather lots of tops and bottoms. Some might see endplay as an antonym to foreplay. However according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition 2000 it is: “a play in bridge that forces an opponent to lead and results in the opponents’ losing one or more tricks that they would have won had they not been leading”.

Sometimes cards develop their own identities. We have the Beer Card. If under certain circumstances you win the last trick with the seven of diamonds your partner owes you a beer. Greg Morse, with Sheri Winestock and Jeff Goldsmith, traced its origin to a Danish game called Boma-Loma where the seven of diamonds was a vital card. Danish players brought it to Europe. American Junior players picked it up at a Junior Bridge Camp in Poland and imported it home to become part of the game’s vernacular. The Curse of Scotland is the nine of diamonds. This has a dubious origin, one of several being that the nine of diamonds was the chief card used in the game Pope John. It was designated the Pope, the antichrist of Scottish Reformers. What is a MacGuffin?  It derives its origin from Alfred Hitchcock’s designation for such an item, perhaps a piece of microfilm or a list of names that is a key to the plot of a movie. Purloined for bridge lexis by Don Kersey in an article in The Bridge World April 2000 (see their online glossary of bridge terms at; he called it “a card dangerous to possess but too valuable to discard”.

Avoidance in bridge is akin to real life. It is a tactical play designed to prohibit a certain player from obtaining the lead. One of the more colorful psychological ploys was documented by Frederick B. Turner. In The Grosvenor Gambit ( The Bridge World June 1973) Phillip Grosvenor accidentally pulled a wrong card, which might have allowed the opponent an opportunity to make a contract in which he was destined to fail. The opponent trusting him not to be so foolish, failed to take advantage. It is a purely psychological ruse which if pulled off infuriates its victims. As Turner tells it “Three days after this tournament Grosvenor’s body was found on the beach at Key Largo. The dealing fingers of his right hand had been broken, and there were cruel bruises about his head and shoulders.” Readers were outraged until reassured that the piece was pure fiction.

From medicine we have post-mortem and apply it as the discussion and analysis of hands after the conclusion of play. As in baseball, bridge vernacular shares suicide squeeze, going deep, sacrifice, and stealing. The French gave us coup. In our language we recognize coup (per The American Heritage® Dictionary) as “blow or stroke”. From that came coup d’état; “the sudden overthrow of a government by a usually small group of persons in or previously in positions of authority”. We have the Devil’s Coup, also known as the disappearing trump trick; the Dentist’s Coup (it extracts key opposition cards),  and the Deschapelles Coup (named after Alexandre Louis Honoré Lebreton Deschapelles) in which one leads an unsupported honor to establish an entry to partner’s hand.

The vocabulary of the auction in bridge is very limited. We have the numbers one through seven, the four suits (clubs, diamonds hearts, and spades), pass, notrump, double, and redouble. The laws do not allow the use of adjectives (as in three invitational spades or penalty double), to bridge to gap between a bid and its intention.

Therefore conventions were developed to harvest the limited bidding vocabulary artificially to address a specific situation. Typically named as are insects or comets after their discoverer, conventions are tools where information is legally solicited and exchanged. In the right situation, a bid of two clubs Stayman says nothing about clubs; rather it asks about hearts and spades. The bid of four notrump is often deployed as Blackwood, asking one’s partner how many aces they possess. The language of bridge spawns offspring too, as later refinements to Blackwood include Super, Key Card, Roman, and most recently, Exclusion.

Bridge has conventions to cope with conventions, sort of a derivative of the original product. For example imagine your partner were to ask how many aces you had. Before you can answer the opponent on your right intervenes with a bid designed to thwart your bidding dialogue. With your partner you might have legal agreements to cope with their temerity. Conventions like DOPI (double with zero aces, pass with one) and DEPO (double with even, pass with odd) allow you to send the desired message.

Bridge is not without humor. The Sominex® Coup (named after the sleep medication) is when a player takes so long, you doze off awaiting his decision. In a chapter from Phillip and Robert King’s The King’s Tales they create the Devil’s Dictionary, a parody of Ambrose Bierce’s work of the same name published in 1911. A couple of entries include “partner; a person who collaborates with the opponents to ensure you lose heavily”; and “master bid”, a bid so ingenious it enables its author to win the post mortem while losing the rubber”.

The Goldwater Rule was a satirical proposition by Tournament Director Harry Goldwater. It suggested that a player should accept a lead out of turn; the premise being, a player who does not know whose turn it is to lead probably does not know the right lead either. The convention Gerber is labeled sardonically as baby food. The suggestive going to bed with is neither an act of procreation nor a recreational indulgence. It means a failure to take a trick with a certain card.

I asked a few bridge experts for their favorite colloquialisms. Grant Baze offered up “Jackson, Tennessee, niner from Carolina, eighter from Decatur, vamp of Savannah”.  I inquired what that was and he answered “Jack, ten, nine, eight, and seven – from my rubber bridge days, but part of my vernacular now.” Larry Cohen mentioned Snapdragon (an obscure convention), the quack (either a queen or a jack) and the Crocodile Coup (where a defender in second seat plays an unnecessarily high card for a strategic reason) as his favorites. Sheri Winestock noted Striped Tail Ape Double, (so designated because one runs like a Stripe Tail Ape if the opponents have the impertinence to redouble) and Last Train, a reference to the Monkey’s song, The Last Train to Clarksville. Barry Rigal added smother, a rare end position where a sure winner is smothered out of existence. New York Times bridge columnist Phillip Alder contributed winkle; a play so rare it appears almost exclusively in bridge fiction; and stepping stone, where one uses the opponents to gain access to winners one can not reach on one’s own.

Remember Four No Trump Babbitt, the USS Merrimac and the role they played in history. The next time you run across words like squeeze, endplay, finesse, or coup, maybe you will consider taking up this game. Bridge is a connection that unites citizens of the world through its unique culture, idioms, ever evolving language, and intellectual exploration.

Cam French is a bridge writer, teacher and player. He resides in Scarborough, Ontario. You may contact him through this blog or at


Leave a comment

Your comment