I had always wanted to learn to play Bridge.
I agreed to marry my husband before I knew that his was a Bridge-Playing Family. Bridge was to be an added bonus to a life mate who for me was “practically perfect in every way”!
Of course, I’m still learning the game. (Even competitive Bridge players will laugh and say, “So am I!”) Life circumstances have been such that, for the most part, my husband and I only play when we get together with his family for holidays. During our decade Down Under, that was only once every two years. But, low hours of Bridge playing aside, I LOVE this game!
Last Christmas, I was playing with my husband against his parents. After seven hands in a row without getting more than 15 points between us, my Father-In-Law laughingly commented, “If you were Betty, you would have gotten angry and stopped playing by now!” (Betty is a lady with whom my in-laws play Bridge once a week. She seems to take it personally when “the worm has turned” against her.)
His comment got me to ruminating on the fact that the great game of Bridge also serves as a great metaphor for life. We have only to pay attention.
In Bridge…as in life…we do not always get to play offense.
Play the cards you’re dealt.
Each hand is unique. Each hand has its own challenges, its own potential success and its own surprising defeats. Do not take for granted the good hand, and do not ever under-estimate the Jack-high defending hand. One well-placed single point in your own hand can make the difference between a big win for your opponents and a significant defensive win for yourself.
In order to experience that joy of using your less-than-stellar hand to set (cause them to not make their bid) your opponents, however, you must first engage fully in the game at hand. You cannot blithely throw your cards in, not paying close attention to your partner’s play, hoping to finish the current hand quickly so as to move on to the next hand (which, you’re certain, the law of averages assures will deliver lots of points!). Were you to play Bridge with this attitude, you’re sure to be disappointed with at least one very long evening.
In Bridge, you’re playing defense roughly half the time. If you only show up for the offense part, you’re missing half the game. (See “Play the cards you’re dealt” above.)
Tell the truth
In most card games I’d played before Bridge, lying (aka “strong bidding,” “bluffing,” et al) was generally advantageous. Bidding stronger than your hand justified over the course of an entire game would lead to more control and more wins.
But Bridge is different. While bidding conventions have changed such that (especially) third hands now open lighter than in the past, bluffing has no place in Bridge. It is vital to be honest with yourself and your partner. No good bluffing your opponents when you mislead your partner at the same time.
I learned this the hard way, early on. I’ve not made the mistake again.
Give your partner credit
It’s not all about you. You’ve got a partner. He likely has some points. In playing defense, challenge yourself to assist. Watch for his cues. Set him up. A Bridge partnership will not be successful in defense if each player is out to set himself up. The thrill is in reading the signals, thinking through the bidding while watching the play, and tracking the cards. Communication is more about listening (watching) than about talking.
Give yourself credit
Having said that, don’t be so caught up in supporting your partner that you sacrifice a better hand in your own paw. Don’t be afraid to lead strongly when you know you’ve got the setting trick. It’s also not all about your partner!
Bid the slams
Don’t let fear of the agony of defeat keep you from the thrill of victory.
This is about personal commitment and making yourself constantly work hard to get better. Raise the bar. When you’ve got the points, bid for the slam or grand slam. If you only play for the rubber, you’re missing out on the adrenaline, the tough challenge, the thrill of victory…not over your opponents, but over the lie of the cards.
My family plays Duplicate Bridge for this very reason. In Duplicate, we are not trying to defeat our opponents in the conventional card game fashion (our dealt hand against their dealt hand), but in a more honorable and less luck-prone way. Will we score more points with a given hand than our opponents will score when they play the same hand?
Or really, more aptly, when we’re playing at home, will we score the most points possible? (We analyze the cards afterwards to see how the hand should have been bid, how we should have played it to make our bid or to get more tricks, or how we should have led or played it to set our opponents.)
Eat a few doubles!
“If you don’t eat some doubles now and then, you’re not doubling often enough.” A Bridge player doubles when his opponents get the bid and he believes they will go set. Not doubling enough is reportedly the single largest mistake made in Bridge. It involves risk-taking. All of life involves risk, and this is just a game, for Heaven’s sake! Double!
Be a lifelong learner
It’s tough to get outside our comfort zone. In bidding for slam, we had always used the traditional “Blackwood” convention, which would sometimes cause us to over-bid because there was no way to abandon the bidding at the lower level.
My in-laws introduced a new convention, “1430,” to us. While half-heartedly and clumsily employing this new convention, we messed up a slam or two that, had we used our old convention, we would have nailed. We groaned, we whined, we said aloud that we should just go back to Blackwood.
Is 1430 perfect? No. But it does have a higher percentage of success – because it communicates more information — than Blackwood.
Sometimes, in order to take ourselves to the higher plateau, we have to get worse before we get better. This involves checking our ego at the door, allowing ourselves to take on childlike qualities (we do not know it all!), and learn by doing – and naturally, making mistakes.
I cannot say enough good about my mother-in-law’s open mind when it comes to Bridge. She is constantly learning, considering new conventions, trying new things. She knows that if she is not open-minded to new conventions…if she sticks to her own play and refuses to learn any more…if she is not constantly working to solve one of the infinite number of new problems that arise in this ever-surprising game…Bridge will leave her behind.
And Bridge is simply too awesome a game to allow that to happen.
Don’t stop playing. As the Finding Nemo fish say, “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”
Life and Bridge both have their low points, their slumps, their crushing moments in the face of high expectations. But they also both involve heady highs, satisfying successes through tough thinking and hard work, and unexpected strings of luck.
You can’t enjoy them if you don’t play.
I love agriculture. But I also love other things, like philosophy, physics, family and fun. Bridge is the best card game invented to date. I’d like to thank my husband and his parents for putting up with a neophyte Bridge player for the last 17 years. I’ve learned much more than Bridge from you!