Turnover Bridge

Based on information from Bruce Herhenson, passed on by Don Smolen.

Introduction

Despite the name, this game is more like a Whist variant than a Bridge variant - there is no bidding and the play ends as soon as one of the two players has more than half of the tricks. The turnover format, in which new cards are turned up when the cards covering them are played, has been used to create two-player versions of many different card games. Unusually, this game found success for a while as a high stakes gambling game, as recounted below.

Players, cards and deal

Either player may deal first. The turn to deal alternates. The dealer shuffles the cards and the dealer's opponent cuts.

This game is for two players using a standard international 52-card pack, the cards of each suit ranking from high to low: A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2. Spades are permanent trumps.

Each player is dealt 26 cards. The first twelve cards for each player are laid out face down on the table, the next twelve are dealt face up, on on top of each face down card. Each player can see the other player's 12 up cards. The remaining two cards are hidden "hole cards" that each player keeps private, and can be led or played to any trick, subject to the requirement to follow suit.

The play and result

The non-dealer leads to the first trick. Thereafter the winner of each trick leads to the next.

When leading to a trick, you may play any of your face up cards from the table or one of your hole cards. The other player responds by playing a card from his or her face up cards or hole cards. If possible the other player must 'follow suit' - that is, play a card of the same suit that was led. If unable to follow suit, the other player may respond with a trump (spade) or a card of any other suit.

  • If both cards in the trick are the same suit, the higher card wins.
  • If one card is a trump (spade) and the other is not, the spade wins, irrespective of rank.
  • If the cards are of different suits and neither is a spade, the first player's card (the led card) wins, even if the other card is higher.

After each trick, if either player has exposed a face down card by playing the face up card on top of it, the face down card is turned face up and becomes available to play.

The aim is to win the majority of the 26 tricks, that is at least 14 tricks. The player who does so wins a fixed stake.

There is no extra bonus for winning more than 14 tricks, so as soon as either player has 14 the play ends, the winner is paid, the cards are shuffled and the next hand is dealt.

If the players win 13 tricks each, the hand is a tie and there is no payment.

Tactics

Generally it is a good idea to play your initial face up cards as soon as possible, both to see your hidden cards and be able to use them, and to make winners out of middle cards before your opponent can turn over higher cards.

It is clearly worthwhile to remember what cards have been played and the player who can do this accurately has a significant advantage in the long run.

Background Story

Bruce Herhenson writes:

"In 1974, when I was a professional poker player, I was really good at a two handed bridge game called 'turnover bridge' that the top poker players liked to play (I had played 'regular' bridge for several years before going to Las Vegas, and won many tournaments).

Like poker, it has a lot of luck in the short run, so a bad player could often beat a good player over a short time, and surprisingly it 'caught on' in the Dunes Poker room from 1973 to 1977 or so. I was a really great player at it, but there was one fellow, Dave Levine, known as 'Little Red' who was better than me. I played it for very high stakes against Puggy Pearson, Fred 'Sarge' Ferris, and others. Eventually no one would play me, but around that time they banned non-poker playing from the poker rooms.

Arnold Rothstein was the legendary poker player/gambler of the early Twentieth Century who is best remembered for "fixing" the 1919 World Series. At the end of his life in 1928, he himself was cheated in a poker game of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he refused to pay, saying he had nothing to fear from those he owed the money to, because 'they can't collect from a dead man'. Unfortunately once they realized he would never pay, he was brutally murdered. One of the players at that game was 21 year old Joe Bernstein, a really colorful poker player/gambler who lived until 1975.

One day in 1974 Joe Bernstein came in the Dunes Poker Room when there were no games, and I was playing turnover bridge with another regular, and Joe asked me to play with him instead. I had no idea who this distinguished white haired man was, but since I considered myself an expert I doubted he could beat me, so I readily agreed to play. We played for $20 a hand (I was still of modest means) and I won a couple of hundred dollars, and Joe quit, saying I was 'too good'.

Later old pros came in and I learned who the man was, and I could not get over that here I was playing cards with a man who had played in that legendary last poker game with Arnold Rothstein 45 years before!"