Like many bridge players, I first became exposed to bridge watching my parents play. They used to play “social” bridge with their friends in London but, as I recall as a kid, the only time my parents ever argued was over the bridge table. Their friends were even worse – hurling nasty insults across the table which, as a 10 or 11 year old kid, was somewhat unsettling to my impressionable ears. Anyway, I quickly learned the basics of the game and formed a foursome with three of my school friends who had also watched their parents play.
From the age of 11 or 12, we played regularly every Saturday night, starting at 7 or 8 pm and going through until 4 or 5 in the morning for the next 4 or 5 years. It was then that I realized that my other friends had begun to date and I quickly concluded that there were much more interesting ways to spend my Saturday nights and so the weekly bridge game disbanded.
I didn’t return to bridge again until my mid-twenties. I was in South Africa at the time working for an insurance company and began to play in the national insurance industry bridge league. My regular partner was an imposing Scottish alcoholic whose performance as a bridge player resembled a normal distribution bell curve. To be specific, he was a merely average player if he hadn’t had a drink all day but his performance improved dramatically as his alcohol intake increased and then, later, fell off a cliff. At the bridge table, I got to learn quickly the point when his abilities peaked, and urged him at that point to slow his drinking down so we could enjoy his masterful play for as long as possible. Unfortunately, there were too many occasions when he rapidly deteriorated but there was one game I particularly remember. We were down to play in a Swiss teams event in the insurance industry league against by far the best team. Each individual member was the local equivalent of a Grand Life Master or better. Not only were they very good but they knew it too and, as I recall, had never lost a game. As the game began, they clearly relished the thought of pummeling us into the ground, particularly as my partner had his drinks neatly lined up on the side table. To cut a long story short, we beat them, thanks mainly to my partner’s alcohol-induced masterful psych bidding. We were narrowly ahead at the break and I remember them being so bamboozled that they went into a huddle for 10 or 15 minutes.
After I left South Africa, I didn’t play competitive bridge again until I retired several years ago – a 40-year hiatus. It was then that I joined Mountainview Bridge Club and was surprised to encounter bidding boxes for the first time and strange mechanical scoring devices. What was even stranger was that no-one played Acol. After my first embarrassing game at Mountainview, I took a few weeks off to read up on Standard American and, later, 2/1. After returning armed with my newly gained knowledge of American bidding systems, I started to become a little more confident – until I made an illegal bid. The bidding had gone 1D/IH before it came to me to bid. I had four spades and decided quickly that I had a perfect hand for a negative double. I confidently doubled and, to my dismay, there was a pause and then all three players around the table, almost in unison, and my partner being the loudest, called for the director. Well, I’d doubled my partner. Even the director didn’t know how to handle that one and had to retrieve her book.
To conclude, I never expected that bridge would be a significant part of my life as a retiree but the camaraderie at Mountainview, Northwest Tucson and at other clubs and local tournaments, despite the current hiatus, has ensured that will continue.
District 17 is one of 25 geographically defined Districts of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), a membership organization whose mission is to promote, grow and sustain the game of bridge. D17 is home to over 8,500 of the approximate 150,000 members of the ACBL.