Masters of Six-Handed Bridge

Sometime in the late ’60’s, I was walking through a card shop when I spotted an intriguing box. The gold foil cover on two decks of bridge cards was labelled “Sextet Bridge” above six suit emblems – Clubs, Diamonds, Wheels, Rackets, Hearts and, Spades. Being an avid bridge player, I had to know what this was all about. My wife and I read through the instructions how to play six-handed bridge, and then recruited two other couples to give it a try. We enjoyed it a great deal and played several times with other couples after that. However, the game never really caught on as something that could replace regular contract bridge.

Following are highlights of the differences: There are six suits of thirteen cards in each suit. Three players play as partners against the other three and are dealt 13 cards each. Wheels is a minor suit that ranks just above the other two minors. Racquets is the lowest rank of the three major suits. (Some decks may have variations for the two extra suits such as Crosses and Balls). Bidding order is normal.

The contract is played by the player who opened the suit and the other two partners lay down their cards as “dummies” at their turn. Bidding and rules of play are the same as standard contract bridge except that Aces and Kings are worth four and three points while Queens and Jacks are zero unless you have the accompanying Ace and King. Voids are worth two points, but singletons are zero. Since a suit of 13 cards could be collected in just two rounds of play, three-card suits are biddable but four is better and six is great. No-trump can be a good bid, but it is very challenging to keep track of 78 cards in the six suits. Transportation is a real key to making any bid — having a dummy with four good tricks is frustrating when you have no transportation over there. Because of the complexity of six suits, the only bidding “convention” we have come up with is opening with “One No-Trump.” This shows opening points but no four-card suit, looking for a response with a longer suit.

A match consists of five rubbers, and there is a set player rotation after each rubber that enables each player to play with and against every other player two times each. At the end of the fifth rubber, each player’s score is tallied up and the highest individual wins. We normally use the Chicago system of scoring. Bonus points for over and under-tricks and slams are the same as normal bridge. A match usually takes around three hours.

In 2007, my wife and I moved to Soleil, an active 55+ community north of Canton GA, stocked with many bridge players. Whenever we mentioned Six-Handed bridge, there was a lot of interest and amazement. When my wife passed away in 2009, I quit playing bridge because I always felt like the odd man out. I really missed it, however, and was reluctant to give it up. In December of that year, I recruited the five best men players in Soleil, and challenged them to give Six-Handed a try. Joe Dupcak, Richard Massie, Ted Rusch, Mike Travis and Clem Wellman joined me in an introductory session and all got hooked the first time out. We decided then and there that we would go out to lunch once a month and follow it up with an afternoon of bridge. To avoid looking too nerdy, our first outing was to Hooters and when the lovely young lady asked what our occasion was, no one wanted to admit we were playing bridge. In a deep voice, one of the guys said, “Oh, we’re playing poker.” At first, we tried playing in a corner of the rotating restaurant we ate at (if the owner agreed), but that became too distracting and we wound up playing in our homes. Clem has since moved out of Soleil, but every month still comes back to play, or we go down to his house when it’s his turn.

One of the toughest hurdles is finding a day when all six of us are available each month, what with trips, cruises, family commitments, doctor’s appointments, organization events and grandchildren’s sports. We have been able to recruit some able substitutes when we need them. With just a little bit of training, they have filled in admirably. Several ladies have given it a try, but again, it just didn’t stick. One factor may be that the ladies can converse while they are playing bridge or Mahjong. For us, there’s too much concentration required and little chance for small talk. That’s what lunch is for – comparing vacations or ailments, neighborhood gossip, and sports. Political talk is a definite no-no.

After playing for a couple of months, we began to worry about wearing out my original decks of cards. We tried making up our own using regular decks and green magic markers, but that wasn’t very satisfactory. We found several sets on eBay at affordable prices, but that source has dried up now. We lost one set when one of the players drove off with the decks on top of his car. (We didn’t have much luck recovering the 156 cards blowing around the neighborhood.) Clem finally found a website that prints its own cards that can meet our specifications. He also has developed a computer spreadsheet for keeping score, something essential within a group of guys whose ages now range from 73 to 77 years old.

So, how is it that we have been able to play together every month for almost nine years now? There must be an Alpha Male element to the six of us continuing to respond to the challenge. Or it could be winning the one-dollar bills we each put up. The real key is we are all good friends who play good bridge and who get along well, except for the occasional hissy fit over a renege, “table talk,” questionable bids, or scoring rules. In searching the internet for six-handed cards, other players, or tournaments, we’ve found that we may be the only people still playing the game. Speaking of dinosaurs, we are most likely the last active group of six-handed bridge players on the planet.

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