ACBL Bridge Beat #83: Goldwater’s Rule

Many bridge players have heard Goldwater’s Rule – the suggestion by National TD Harry Goldwater that an opening lead out of turn should generally be accepted because any player who doesn’t know whose lead it is probably doesn’t know what to lead, but the story behind the rule isn’t as well-known.

Here it is in Goldwater’s own words:

“I have been a National Tournament Director for many, many years. I have seen a lot of famous players come and go. I have been involved in some of the most incredible incidents at the bridge table. Yet I will probably be remembered, not for my many years of service to the ACBL or my talents as a director, but for a theory I tested at a tournament in Philadelphia years ago which has been embraced and popularized by thousands across the country whom I have never met. It is called Goldwater’s Rule.

“Al Sobel was running a regional where it all began. During one of the afternoon sessions, he called me to a table where he was making a ruling and asked me to play a hand. I was a little surprised by his request, since it is quite rare that a director finds himself declaring while he is working.

“As it happened, one of the players had inadvertently picked up the wrong hand before the bidding began and consequently was a little more familiar with LHO’s cards than he should have been. Al was promptly summoned, made sure everyone had the correct hand, and ruled that the auction should proceed normally. Satisfied that it had, Sobel still faced a problem. The man who had seen his opponent’s cards was declarer. To achieve par, Al needed a third party to play the hand which I consented to do.

“The bidding had gone 1♠ – 3♠ – 4♠, and I received the ♣10 lead out of turn. Staring at K-x-x of clubs, my options were to accept the lead out of turn, force Lefty to lead a club, or make the ♣10 a penalty card and forbid a club lead. Although you might think me foolish, I decided to accept the lead, leaving my king of clubs vulnerable to attack. Sure enough, dummy hit with A J x x, RHO had led from Q 10 9, and I had found the only way to play the club suit for no losers.

“My pet theory was proven in actual play: a lead made out of turn should always be accepted because anyone stupid enough to not know whose lead it is isn’t smart enough to make a good one.”

Harry Goldwater (1901-1995) of Yonkers NY became a National TD in 1957. Starting in 1962 he served as an adviser to the ACBL Laws Commission and was a contributing editor to the Official Encyclopedia of Bridge. Harry served in the Pacific with the Navy throughout WWII.

Harry Goldwater

Harry Goldwater