Bridge figures prominently in cryptic crosswords but even if you don't play the game, you can get by with just a little surface knowledge about it.
This article gives you an overview of what to know for solving bridge-based cryptic clues.
The Bridge Table
Bridge is played between four players in two competing partnerships. Partners sit facing each other.
It is traditional to refer to the four players by their position at the table - North, South, East, West. North-South and East-West are the two partnerships that play against each other. The placement of partners and opponents forms the crux of most bridge-based cryptic clues, so take in bridge table layout:
Clues that refer to bridge players individually may lead to full words for their positions - North, South, East, West – or their abbreviations N, S, E, W. These abbreviations give great "bits and pieces" fodder for clues.
The definition could be a direct one like "card player" or "bridge player", or more subtle like "one who holds a hand".
Times 24679: Most wonderful bridge player holding deck I shuffled (9) WICKEDEST
WEST (bridge player) around (DECK I)*
Times 24177: Have a hand in game — no hard finishes (5,3) PLAYS OUT
PLAY SOUTH (have a hand in game) hard = H
Times 24164: British card player one’s terribly upset to beat? (6) BREAST
BR (British) EAST (card player)
N,E,S (most bridge players) taking in ASTI (wine)
A mention of bridge partners in the clue leads to a two-letter pair in the answer - NS/SN or EW/WE. You can narrow the choices for which pair to use according to where it occurs in the word. Start of a word, think on the lines of SN or WE; end of a plural word, bet on NS.
The clue could say "partners" or, less specifically, something about bidding together.
Times 24245: Rather frail partners holding hands getting a peck from a drunk (7) WEAKISH WE
WE (partners) A KISH (peck from a drunk)
Times 24657: Extremely slick, bidding team to change direction suddenly (4) SKEW
S[lic]K EW (bidding team)
Times 24460: Couple bidding to follow the second person’s desires (4) YENS
YE (second person) NS (couple bidding)
When the clue says "partner" in the singular (this is rare, and I don't like it much), it is equivalent to any player (N, S, E or W).
Guardian 25008: Lazes about, supported by partner's immoral practices (6) SLEAZE
(LAZES)* E (East, partner of West)
For each player, there is one partner but two opponents, which makes the task a little more difficult for the crossword solver – the number of possible replacements for "opponents" are twice as many as for "partners".
Opponents in the clue could lead to any of these letter pairs:
NE ES SW WN
EN SE WS NW
Opponents are also neighbours, those bidding against each other, or rivals playing tricks.
Times 24048: Opponents caught by light blow and left spinning (6) ASWIRL
SW (opponents), inside AIR (light blow) L (left)
Times 24629: Bread, tea and hamburgers two neighbours at table missed ... (8) CHAPATTI
CHA (tea) PATTIES (hamburgers) – ES (two neighbours at table)
Times 23686: Penalises opponents for risky card play (7) FINESSE
FINES (penalises) SE (opponents). This meaning of "finesse" - risky card play – is another bridge term to keep in your vocabulary.
Times 23884: High-spirited man on bridge opponents charged (5) LADEN
LAD (high-spirited man) EN (bridge opponents)
As with the singular "partner", the singular "opponent" is equivalent to any player – N, S, E, W.
You don't need to know the ins and outs of the game to be able to solve most bridge-related cryptic clues. There will be the odd mention of specialist bridge terms (I've seen chicane and tenace in a the last few months), for which a non-player can look up a good glossary of bridge terms.
For most clues just remember these as you'll do fine -
Players : North (N), South (S), East (E), West (W)
Partners: Opposite compass points NS/SN or EW/EW
Opponents: Adjacent compass points - NE, ES, WS, etc.
Times 24567: Degenerate reluctant to kidnap partners? It’s not entirely clear (11) T_________T
Guardian 25160 (Orlando): Discover South American bridge player abroad (4,3) SU__ ___
Times 24265: Superlatively clean strike caught by player sitting down (7) _HI___
Guardian 24597 (Brendan): Opponents at bridge almost overcome in what follows (6) S__U_L
A set of articles on the other game you find a lot of in cryptic crosswords.
- Cricket and Cryptic Crosswords: Part I
- Cricket and Cryptic Crosswords – Part II
- Cricket and Cryptic Crosswords – Part III
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