Mark and I are in Sarasota, Florida this week for a bridge competition.Â Well, Mark is here for a bridge competition.Â I’m here to lounge around in the hotel room and use the sauna.
Our friend, Robert, is a bridge pro.Â Like, yes, there are bridge pros.Â Bridge isn’t like poker; there’s not a lot of money to be made just by playing and winning.Â So bridge pros make their living by teaching lessons.Â It turns out that the best way to teach a lesson is to take your client to a tournament and just play plenty of hands (except they’re called “boards”), criticizing their play and getting them a lot of tourney level experience.
This week Robert had a couple of clients who were interested in hiring on a full team of six.Â Which meant Robert needed several of his bridge playing buddies to round out the team, including Mark.Â In exchange for Mark’s bridge-playing services, we are getting a hotel room for the week, gratis, and Mark is getting to play one of his favorite games at a competitive level.Â It’s a nice life.
All week long Mark has been trying to get me interested in playing bridge.Â I’ve written before about my near-dangerous love of gaming, and I have to admit, it feels weird to be traveling for a tournamentâ€”any tournamentâ€”and not playing in it.Â But I’ve tried bridge.Â A few times.Â And while I finally get how to bid and respond, I’m weak on rebidding and overcalling, and very weak on actually playing the hand.
See, bridge is actually two games: the game of bidding, where you and your partner use a very bare vocabulary (1 Club, 2 Diamonds, etc.) to communicate about your hands and how many tricks you think you can take.Â And the game of cards, which is a trick-taking game similar to hearts or spades.
You would think that first game was fairly simple, but I am here to tell you it is Not.Â Imagine this conversation if you will.
“Do you play Jacoby No Trump?”
“What about Drury?”
“I like Drury with weak twos.Â You play Stayman?”
“Stayman!Â Well, yeah.Â Duh.”
I tend to treat this talk the same way I treat Programmer-ese; I just zone out a bit and listen for the emotional content.
I can’t play any of these strategies (called “conventions”).Â Mark keeps insisting that if I just read these three bridge tomes, I could know everything, and we could play together, and oh!Â The fun we’d have!Â But here’s the problem.Â I Don’t Want to read the bridge books.Â Not even a little bit.
“I Don’t Want to read the bridge books,” I finally told him in no uncertain terms.
“Ok.Â I get it,” he said, and turned his mind to other ways to sway me.
He thought of one last night.Â “In bridge,” he said, “there’s bullying.”
“Yeah.Â First there’s pre-empting.Â That’s where you know your opponents can make a good contract, so you jump the bidding up to say, 3 Spades.Â You have Spades, but maybe not enough for 3.Â But by jumping to the 3-level, you take away all the room they needed to talk.Â Now they have to make a guess about where to end up.Â Maybe they guess wrong.”
“Ok.Â I get that”
“Then there’s the psych.”
“That’s where you just flat out lie.Â You don’t have anything, but you say, oh, 3 Hearts.Â You don’t have hearts.Â Maybe your opponents are the ones with the hearts fit, but how will they ever find out now?”
“But what if your partner gets fooled by the psych?”
“Yeah, well.Â That’s the problem with the psych.”
“Ok.”Â I thought about it.Â “So there’s bullying.Â I like that.”
I think he finally got me.Â We played a couple of hours of bridge tonight, and I have to admit I liked it.Â It doesn’t have any dragons or zombies in it, so that is a serious minus.Â But we won a lot, so that is a serious plus.