I like bridge, but I have found many who play it often less than charitable to those of us not skilled.  I started reading the bridge column fifteen years ago, read a few books about the game, liked it, and on a cruise ship to the 2005 eclipse, played a little. During the last few months of my father’s life, I played with him and his group.

I played “party bridge,” often disparaged by those who play duplicate, members of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) who get Master’s Points from tournaments, hoping some day to become a Life Master. I would be careful to disparage party bridge.  Good players can be anywhere, and dissing one style of play is like my saying that somebody who just learned basic algebra doesn’t know real math, because I know much more.  Good for the learner.  They learned something.

I wasn’t good at bridge.  Occasionally, I would do the right thing, because bridge is a game of probabilities, and sometimes the stars align.  With time, I did a few more good things, meaning I was learning, but too many people with whom I played were neither helpful nor nice.  “Four points?  I’ve never seen a response with four points.” I had four trumps, a side ace, and distribution, for those who know the game.  Or “Why didn’t you bid xxxx?”  There are a lot of mistakes one can make in bridge, and there is no shortage of critics, many of whom are dead wrong.  They have to be, because I was criticized on the same hand and being told contradictory things.  That happened a lot when I played basketball in city league, too, and I found it annoying.

At the beginning of the session, the head of the club said that comments about play were not to be offered unless asked for.  It was a nice thought, but it failed in practice.  One man was particularly nasty.  I didn’t understand his bidding, and he always had to have his style followed.  One day, he finessed me correctly for the king of hearts, knowing that eventually he would capture it.  I had 4 cards in hearts, including the king, and rather than not playing the king last, played it on the third round.  He took it and continued his play, rather surprised when I turned up with the missing heart at the end, sinking his contract.  I had learned through reading the technique of playing a “dead” honor sooner than expected.  I remained silent.  He hadn’t counted trump.

The last day I played at the club, my partner made a bid that I misinterpreted.  Had she passed, which she should have (she preempted over a preempt, for those who know the game, and one doesn’t do that), I would have defeated the contract four tricks.  Instead, my misinterpretation cost us being set two.  I was loudly criticized by the other three people at the table and never returned.

I read the bridge column every day; my wife and I occasionally deal out hands and play them.  These allow me time to safely think and process.

After a seven year hiatus, on a cruise to the 2016 eclipse in Indonesia, I decided to play on board, not surprisingly finding myself the worst player in the room.  Bridge is a sedentary game, and while I try not to be too judgmental, many there needed to do more physical activity.  I played duplicate bridge three afternoons, calling it quits after the third.  I was paired with a different person each day, and with a partner one doesn’t know, bridge is even more difficult. I wasn’t the only one who made mistakes, and the tone of voice may not have sounded critical to the owner, but it did to me, whether I was being criticized or somebody else.  There is a way to correct people that works, and good teachers know it.  Unfortunately, there are not many good teachers.

I ran into my last partner later in the cruise.  He had played for years and explained bridge players clearly, so clearly I wondered why I never figured it out.  You see, the irony is that I am good at numbers, probability, and have a decent memory, which should make me a great bridge player.  But I have a big deficit: I process slowly, bridge is a timed game, and most play it even faster.  I can’t keep track of cards when they are played quickly.  My partner simplified matters: “The best bridge players are options traders: they have to be quick with numbers and risk averse.”  That doesn’t describe me at all.

There are those who teach bridge, but I am reluctant to seek them out, because frankly, not many are good at teaching.  I am. I understand different styles of learning, I understand that not everybody knows something as well as I, and I try to be patient.  I do this when I tutor math, show people the night sky, or explain medical conditions.  I’m enthusiastic, not critical.

What I need is a bridge hand where everything is played slowly.  I need a chance to figure out who has what and decide what to play next, being gently guided with tips how to keep track.  The bridge I have played isn’t this way.  I know it exists somewhere, but not where I’ve been.  In a sense, bridge reminds me of learning German.  I was always in a group of better speakers, but I couldn’t find one who would work with me to make me better.  It is why after 3 years I eventually gave up trying to be fluent, yet can understand it well enough to teach beginners how to go about learning it, because the teachers and online methods I know are insufficient.

I will return to reading books on bridge and watching German videos alone. I enjoy both.  I will continue to devote efforts to volunteering as a math tutor both at the community college and online, where the comments about my teaching are “You are awesome,” or “Thank you for explaining everything so clearly <3.”

I understand math.  I understand that people have different learning styles, so I teach to the person.  Perhaps most importantly, I realize that many don’t “get” math the way I do and never will.  I am neither a language person nor a bridge person.  I can improve, but I am no longer going to hit my head against a wall trying to be something I cannot be.

Better I break down math walls and save some heads.  I’ll avoid options trading, too.

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  1. Sally Wilson Says:

    I discovered the appalling lack of sportsmanship when I went to an American school in Bangkok and went to watch my brother play baseball. I couldn’t believe the loud insults and snide comments from the spectators in order to put off whoever was batting. It really shocked me. I was reassured it’s just ‘part of the game’.

    I asked my older friend today if she has encountered that problem in bridge here and she said generally no.

    In most other categories, I would say Americans have more manners than Australians but not in competitive activities it appears.


    • Mike Says:

      I would agree with you except in the matter of football-soccer, where this American simply cannot understand the riots, hooliganism, and other boorish behavior that occurs. That stated, I live in a big football town where Game Day is practically a holiday. The behavior of many of our spectators is boorish and uncalled for. When I was pitching in a baseball game once, a spectator yelled at the batter to “knock his (mine) head off.” I did stop there and stared at the spectator. This was a city league game, which had absolutely no meaning in the scheme of life, which of course made it important!! Bridge has “Zero tolerance,” (for bad behavior) but I’m too busy watching people’s feet (behavior) to listen to lofty words. When I played, my first goal was to be a good partner. My second goal was to play well. I didn’t achieve the second, but I did achieve the first. We are an incredibly competitive society, which explains the “winner take all” mentality in politics, and the “zero sum” approach we often take.

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