Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

Gilbert & Sullivan in the World of Bridge

by Paul McShane


"Sing Hearts and Diamonds, Spades and Clubs!" - The Grand Duke

In the cut and thrust world of tournament Contract Bridge, many bidding situations call for considerable thought, analysis and sometimes guesswork before the best bid can be determined. In fact, the "best bid" is never guaranteed to be the most successful - it is just the one with the most probability of success. The uncertainty of these bidding situations help to make Bridge the great game that it is.

Many national bridge magazines exploit the difficulties of finding the best bid by reserving space in their publications for a regular "Bidding Forum", in which the reader is shown a set of bridge hands and the associated bidding to date, then asked to consider the best bids. Typically, in the following issue of the magazine, the previous issue's bidding problems are discussed by a panel of eminent bridge experts, and a consensus reached (not necessarily without heated argument!) regarding the best bid.

A good friend of mine, who was a regular panellist in "Australian Bridge" for many years, introduced a trademark of accompanying his comments on each bidding problem with an literary quotation appropriate to the occasion, and this gimmick became very popular. This led me to consider the possibility of using the G&S libretti as a source of quotations that could be applied to bridge bidding situations.

A search of the G&S operas resulted in a compilation of no less than 216 different Gilbertian quotes, each of which could be applied to one or more scenarios confronting the bridge bidder. They are listed below firstly by opera, and then again by bridge bidding classification (eleven major themes, each subdivided into two or more minor groupings).

Iolanthe proved to be the most bridge-friendly opera, generating no less than 32 different quotes. Then follow The Mikado (22), Patience (20), HMS Pinafore and Utopia Limited (18 each), The Sorcerer (17), The Gondoliers (14), The Pirates of Penzance (13), Thespis and Princess Ida (12 each), Ruddigore (11), Trial by Jury (10) and The Yeomen of the Guard (9). The Grand Duke, despite its theme about a pack of cards, yielded only 8 quotations.

It is not claimed that this listing is completely exhaustive, but it will serve to show the diversity of application of Gilbert's words. As an example of how unexpectedly appropriate the words from a G&S opera can be, just suppose your partner has made an "asking bid" primarily intending to find out if you have the ace of hearts - you don't have the ace, but have been dealt the king. queen and jack. What better to illustrate the situation than Sir Despard's line from Ruddigore:

"I have not a heart of that description, but I have a Picture Gallery..."

Updated 3 November 1998