Mark Blumenthal

A Peek is as Good as a Finesse

Most bridge players know they have to conceal their hands so an opponent will not be able to see what cards they have, but many are often lax. Reuben Alexander  was the first local good player  in Philadelphia who  didn’t go to the University of Pennsylvania  to ask me to play with him. After that ,  I  often played with him in Philadelphia.
Reuben was very aware   of which players  had the proclivity of peeking at  the opponents’ cards. He  would tell me, “breast your cards” when we were about to play  a person. He felt very strongly about some  local players such as  as  Alex Danilenko, who was known to often look look  at the opponents’ cards.  Reuben and Alex knew each other well. Once when we were playing against Alex, and Alex was the declarer,  Reuben  had his cards so well  concealed under his capacious chest that he   could barely see them  himself.  As Reuben was thinking about what to lead, Alex asked him. ” are you going to lead from the king fourth of spades?”,  and he  continued calling all of Reuben’s hand.
We sometimes would play a local pair, Jack and Matilda,  who did very well in local games.  When we were about to play against them Reuben would tell me to stare at one while he watched the other.


Chris HasneyJune 10th, 2009 at 6:33 am

Billy Miller, former pro and author of “Dear Billy” told me (and put in his book) that if you keep your hand perpendicular to the table, straight up and down (no angles) you could put your hand in the center of the table and no one could see your cards. Try it next time you are at a table with friends

Bobby WolffJune 10th, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Hi Chris,

Your comment (with Billy’s advice) has finally answered an age old question of mine.

I’ve finally found a practical reason for the teaching of geometry in our primary schools. In case one becomes a bridge player!


Judy Kay-WolffJune 10th, 2009 at 5:44 pm


I can attest to every finger-pointing incident that you allluded to in the misnomer of our great City of Brotherly Love. The title was diluted by many bridge incidents that took place not too far from the statue of Billy Penn. In fact you tactfully (tastefully) omitted other culprits in the areas of sitting on their high haunches, copping boards, gazing at opponents results, overhearing remarks at the next table, etc. However, I suppose the zest for winning will never cease — regardless of the depths to which one may sink. (In fact, I remember you and I were leading a National Mixed pair in New York (but a combination of my naive experience and hopelessness landed us in the unlucky 13 spot and “Lucky Jack and Mathilda” swept the unsuspecting field).

One comment I must make — some of these sleeze-bags are as pure as Mother Theresa when playing with honorable, reputable no-nonsense partners! Bridge players are a strange breed indeed!

Ed ShapiroJune 11th, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Hi, MarK!

Two comments:

I recall Jack and Matilda, I think, because they played weak NT and lebensohl many years before the 2N bid after competition over partner’s 1N opening was published and given that name. In fact, I remember mentioning this to Harlow Lewis, who was conducting a bidding forum in The Bridge Journal that included a problem resolved easily by lebensohl. He said he hadn’t heard of it before.

And I would wonder about Judy’s comment on how purely “some of these sleeze-bags” played when partnered by “honorable, reputable, no-nonsense partners.” If these partners were truly honorable and no-nonsense, why did they agree to play with cheats?

In the 60’s and 70’s I heard tale after tale of pairs who had more going for them than was proper and was amazed by the quality of teams they played on. I know, innocent until proven guilty, etc., but one can quietly refuse to play with or on teams with players who one suspects aren’t consistently honorable.

Just my two cents.

Mark BlumenthalJune 11th, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Ed -I know some of the people to whom she is referring, but I do not think it it is prudent for me to answer in this forum. BTW, I even knew Ken Lebensold after whom the convention was named.

Judy Kay-WolffJune 12th, 2009 at 1:08 am

Hi Eddie:

Long time no see. I remember you well. There were many rubberneckers on the East Coast who — not through their own doing – had been blessed by the lord with exceptionally high observation posts and by choice or otherwise always had a bird’s eye view of their opponents’ hands.

I am not referring to those tall creatures — but rather those of average size who always seemed to be in an advantageous position to have a healthy view with one leg under the other creating an elevated position. This was years ago — and I remember mentioning to Norman that one of Edgar’s good foreign friends partnered this person frequently as well as other U. S. experts. Norman was in shock – but that shouldn’t have surprised me. He was always the last to know. By the way, I am a hard judge of ethics as you know if you have read my blogs — and cheaters and neckstretchers have much in common!

In response to your question, Eddie, I think the “consistently honorable partners” (just as Norman) were totally in the dark and unless something obvious happened during the play that brought the incident into focus, they were none the wiser. Such is life!

Mark BlumenthalJune 12th, 2009 at 5:13 am

Of course, height as well as good vision help .In response to Chris’ idea, someone who is very tall had reason to sit away from the table so he could move himself or his chair. Even if declarer had his cards exactly pependicular to the table, it wouldn’t help if his opponent was seated at an angle.

Robb GordonJune 16th, 2009 at 7:01 pm

When I was a bridge newbie in the ’70s, and a smartass teenager to boot, I came up against an expert who was renowned for his “peripheral vision”. He was declaring and I had QX in trump. I concealed the Queen and “inadvertently” flashed my hand. Sure enough he finessed into me, and was startled when I won the queen. As we were putting the cards back I mumbled something about “eight ever nine never”.

I now know that what I did was as unethical as his peeking (in other words DO NOT DO THIS!) but I have to admit it was one of my more enjoyable moments in my early bridge career.

Mark BlumenthalJune 16th, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Robb – Se my Bridge Tip #1 which is about the identical situation.

Walt WalvickNovember 16th, 2009 at 7:50 pm

An expert can “peek” in different ways. Many years ago, Matt Granovetter reached 7 Diamonds against me in the Cavendish pair game. Holding Qxx of Diamonds, I gave my cards a slight shuffle before leading. As fortune would have it, Matt had a two-way guess and, twenty IMPs or so later, I learned my lesson.

Proceed at your own risk, but there are many variations of the “peeking” theme when playing against non-experts, particularly in the placement of cards as they leave a defender’s hand. In my misguided youth I paid attention to stuff like that — now I avoid the temptation.

Karen AllisonDecember 2nd, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Perhaps the cleverest expert ‘peek’ I’ve seen came when (playing rubber bridge) two experts bid to a slam knowing they were missing the trump queen. The dummy expert put down the trump suit last, on his left, knowing that the player with the queen would be the more interested in that suit. Indeed, the defender (very weak player) actually picked up the suit and placed it where it belonged. The declarer expert did not missguess; however, the defender had five of them so down he went even after his first-round finesse.

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