I love Bridge.
Made my living at it for awhile. Have played it since I was in my late teens, and hope to be playing it well pass my 100th birthday. Having played with a 100-year old codger or three in my career, I know that's possible. The trick will be getting to 2056 outside of the pine box.
But I don't play locally much anymore. And the reason I don't is because the local game has become much more of a social outing than a true rousing Bridge game. At least that's my perception. It might be that it was always that way, but I was more socially-inclined back in the day. Now that my anti-social proclivities are no longer a secret, it seems I'm less likely to try hide them.
I was reminded of this while reading the editorial from the October 2005 issue of The Bridge World. (I'm currently going back and re-reading my stacks and stacks of older Bridge magazines, while eating alone at the dinner table). In it, it was mentioned that the then editors of the magazine once went to a club one night and passed their hands throughout. I don't have the issue in question, but it bears directly on my reason for not playing locally.
It happened to me ... at least for a single round. And that's when I quit playing anything resembling regularly at local clubs. I've practiced with Ed Hills or Danny Ioannidis on nights before big tournaments. But that's it.
The night in question was like any other at the Brampton Bridge Club. Danny and I were partnered. We would win the night by a fairly substantial margin despite what happened on the two hands we played with Mike and Pat Fernane. I had played with Mike at an Epson World Pairs and thought at the time that he had the potential to be a pretty solid player. Thoughtful, even-keeled and technically sound, we had a good game (albeit not a winning one). But Mike wasn't all that interested in going all out and was satisfied with playing regularly with his dad, Pat. Both of these guys are real gentleman.
On the first hand of the round, Pat, Danny and Mike passed to me. I opened one spade and ended up a couple of rounds of bidding later in a four spade contract. I played the hand well, getting a big fat ZERO for my expert play. I went wrong on a two-way finesse for a queen when Mike, who had already shown up with almost an opening hand, turned up, improbably, with the queen. He had passed an opening hand.
The second hand was eerily similar, with Mike passing in first seat and Danny ending up in four spades. Once again, Danny played to count out the cards and points. It then became obvious that Pat had to have the queen Danny was looking for. He finessed through Pat, only to find Mike had passed an opening hand again and had the queen in question. Another BIG FAT ZERO for being a good declarer.
I hit the roof. I snarled a "Why'd you pass two opening hands in a row?"
"You guys are good defenders. So I just decided to pass here," responded Mike guilelessly. It was true. Danny and I are amongst the best defenders in the area, rarely giving away tricks and finding inspired leads more often than average. It's something I take pride in.
"So, let me get this straight," I started. "You decided to quit playing Bridge and instead decided Poker was your game of choice at this table ... without telling us!"
I got up and left the table to cool off. I came back, finished the game. And never went back regularly.
Bridge is a game that requires full disclosure. Any first year novice can close his or her eyes and just finesse through the left-hand opponent because they like the clock-wise direction better. Or the other way, cuz the wind was blowing from that direction on the way to the game. Or whatever non-reasoning thought makes them make any particular play.
A GOOD declarer listens to the bidding and to the LACK of bidding and forms ideas of the shape and point counts of the opposition hands. The declarer watches what is played, in what order, and what is NOT played, and that adds to his or her information store. As long as EVERYBODY at the Bridge table is playing BRIDGE, then those clues are legitimate and help form the pictures of what each of the two opponents are holding in their hidden hands. When one side breaks that covenant and decides NOT to play decent Bridge then the expert declarer's advantage is eliminated, if not reversed!
That's why I don't play local clubs much any more. It's not like everybody plays well at the best of times. But when they give it up totally at my table, it's no longer worth faking being nice and civil to get in a few hours of pushing cards.
No Bridge, no Gary.