Art and Joy McHaffie are an active bridge-playing couple in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Art is an important part our District 17 ACBL board and is currently Vice President and Chairman for our district’s Finance Committee.  Art and Joy go to many Regionals in District 17.


Since retiring to Santa Fe in 2000, they both have been active volunteers for local non-profit organizations. Art was Finance Chair of the Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity for a few years and have served as Treasurer, Vice President and President of the board of the Santa Fe Council on International Relations.  He joined the TNA Facial Pain Association board in 2011 after he had successful surgery to correct his trigeminal neuralgia.

Joy's favorite non-profit organization is the Museum of International Folk Art where she is a docent and a volunteer documenting the collection.  They would love to spend more time with their grandchildren, who live in Vermont and Sweden.

Art was kind enough to answer the following questions:


Personal Category Questions:


How did you first get involved with bridge (individually and as a couple)?

I think the very first time we played bridge of sorts was in college when a friend's mother was coming to visit.  Her mother was a life master, and we were asked to sit in to fill out a table.  Needless to say, neither of us knew any conventions or bridge etiquette.  We must have had fun because we continued to play social bridge over the years.  Joy had more opportunity to play during daytime because I was working.  In 1993, we were playing social bridge with another couple but it was the men against the women.  When we won by a very wide margin, Joy said something like, "Okay smarty pants.  If you think you are so good, why don't you go to a real bridge club and play against some real competition?"  Reflecting on her question, I started playing on Saturday afternoons in the Bridge and Game Studio in Houston with the male spouse from our couples match.  Again our knowledge of conventions and duplicate rules was extremely limited.  I think we knew Stayman, Blackwood and Gerber.  My partner was a very strong declarer who loved to play No Trump contracts.  After a few months on a steep learning curve, we would scratch almost every Saturday afternoon.  When Joy noticed that I was enjoying the duplicate game, she came to kibitz one day and also wanted to try duplicate.  We began to play together weekly in an evening game at the club.


What problems, if any, did you face playing as a married couple?

Joy is my favorite duplicate partner.  We try not to let whatever happens at the table spill over into our personal relationship.  We have had some dust-ups, usually after I ask something like "Why did you do that or not do this?"  As with all partnerships we still forget bids that do not come up often and miss our partner's signal on defense.  I tend to be an aggressive bidder, and occasionally we go for a big negative number.  We have found that it is best to note a bad result when it happens but save the discussion for after the game when we can see the hand and discuss it with less emotion.  As partners in life, bridge is an activity that we enjoy together that does not involve family.  Whatever the outcome of a bridge game, we always return to compete with a positive outlook and strive to do better the next time.


What advice would you like to give other couples playing duplicate?

Try to keep everything in perspective.  Value your partner and opponents.  Be respectful at the table, and try not to argue.  Remember the person opposite you at the table is your partner, not the enemy.


What was the biggest obstacle you faced in becoming a good player?

In 2004 we switched to precision from two-over-one.  There were several months when our results dropped significantly while we were learning the subtleties of the new system.  However, we both believe the investment of time and sacrifice of master points while we were playing precision badly was worth the switch.


Because of your background what part of duplicate was relatively easy to learn?

Once I got the knack of duplicate scoring I was hooked.  My results did not depend solely on the cards I was dealt, but how well my partner and I bid and played the hand versus everyone else in the room.  As a child I learned to play several competitive card games like Euchre and Hearts.  I love to compete and strive to do well.


What do you like most about playing in regional tournaments?

I prefer team games in tournaments.  We like to travel to tournaments with another pair and compete in two team sessions per day.  We used to play three sessions per day but found that we lacked the stamina to play consistently well in all three sessions each day.  


What persona (character, image, etc.) do you strive to maintain while playing duplicate?

Try to keep an even temperament and be polite.


Bridge Playing Strategies


What suggestion or helpful comments would you like to give to relatively new players?

Do not be discouraged by results while you are learning the game.  Continue to study and play with and against stronger players.  This way you will learn faster.


What are some common bidding problems players should avoid?

One of the advantages of precision is that you put limits on your hand earlier than with standard or two-over-one auctions, so you tend avoid auctions where you get too high before you know what your partner really has in her hand.


In general, what are good strategies for defense?  What about lead strategies that work well?

Our first bridge teacher advised us not to try exotic defensive signaling until we had mastered standard signaling.  That was some of the best advice we ever received.  We still use standard carding with the exception of odd-even first discard.


What are good pre-empting strategies?

I try to preempt whenever I can.


How much is extra length in a suit really worth? 

After you have established a fit with partner, long suits are extremely valuable whether it is the trump suit or a side suit.


How can one do well playing with many different partners?

Try to play the same or similar systems with your various partners.  It is difficult to remember all the gadgets that many diverse partners using different systems want to use.  


Future of Duplicate Bridge


What are your thoughts on zero tolerance, bridge ethics, and/or the recent cheating by high level players?

ACBL introduced Zero Tolerance about the same time we started playing duplicate.  I definitely believe the game has been improved because arguments with partners or opponents are much rarer than they were.  I read with much interest the recent articles about high level cheating in ACBL and WBF events.  I think cheaters should be exposed and barred from competitive bridge.


How do you feel about on-line bridge games for practice and/or tournament play?

We used to play in online bridge games several times per week.  We found that we prefer the personal interaction with other players at the bridge club and in tournaments vs. the online experience.  We occasionally have used online bridge to practice team play. 


What can local units do about gaining new players, with so many older players leaving the game?

Unit 383 in Santa Fe has an active education program to attract new players.  District 17 has funded a few grants to enable this education program.  Unit 383 also offered Learn Bridge in a Day last October.  We have had a Newcomer game limited to players with no more than 20 master points.  In January, I began directing a weekly 199er game for players that graduated from the 0-20 game as a next step in the competitive ladder.


How can ACBL get the newer players interested in playing in tournaments?

Participation in team games, especially Knock Outs has declined in recent years.  District 16 has reversed this trend by offering Bracketed Team events.  These are two-session events where teams play a round robin vs. seven other teams of similar master point levels.  With a new Bracketed Team event starting each day in their regional, all levels of players are attracted to team games again.


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