What you can do about the superior partner, or the partner who thinks he's superior, is another matter entirely. You can never turn him to your own advantage, and all too often you can't shut him up, either. One way to handle him is to excuse yourself, grab a coat and go out the back door. This approach has one drawback: it breaks up the bridge game. The player who considers himself superior, and isn't, nearly always leads his partnership into consistent underbidding, and for a number of reasons. Mostly it just seems safer to underbid when you are facing a table tyrant, even though underbidding is expensive mathematically. You arrive at a contract of three spades, and you make four easily. Partner-tyrant may be annoyed, but usually he will restrain himself because, after all, 90 points are being chalked up below the line and his team has made something. But if you bid four spades and make three, partner is now incensed because the opponents are getting 50 or 100 points. Now he says, "Why in the world did you take us so high?"
There are many soft answers possible to turn away your partner's wrath, and the half-true ones are the best. You can point out that a game should be bid if it has about an even chance of success, regardless of vulnerability, and that the odds were in your favor. Tell him that you had put him into game because he played six clubs so well in the previous rubber. But on no account give him the real reasons; it might ruin your reputation as a nice guy to play with. You may have been taking the risk in the hope of finishing the rubber, because you desperately want a new partner. Don't tell him that. The rubber is not over yet and, anyway, you may have to play with him again someday. Or you may have stretched the odds a trifle because you happen to know that both your opponents defend badly, but it would be the height of tactlessness to say so. One of them is likely to be your partner in the next rubber, and you do not want your partnership morale to start at zero. The most important single psychological element in rubber bridge is to make sure that your partner loves you and will be delighted whenever he cuts you in the future.
I have a friend who has been playing contract bridge only about three hours less than Harold Vanderbilt (who invented the game), and he still makes the same errors. My friend is almost immune to bridge; on occasion, he can even be counted on to forget the score. And yet I get along very well with this player because I jolly him along. I tell him how much he has improved; I fuss over him when he makes one of his rare (and often accidental) good plays. I pride myself on getting 105% out of him.
But what happens when he cuts a tyrant in a rubber bridge game? At the first insult from the other side of the table, my friend folds up. He overbids and underbids, leads the opponents' strong suit and fails to see any and all signals. And the rude tyrant who drew him gets just what he deserved: a poor result.
It is a shame we have to encounter such boors at bridge, a game that requires so little beyond good companions—a table, four chairs and 52 cards—to provide superb entertainment and stimulating mental exercise. On the other hand, if we didn't meet them, many of us might never get up from the table; and, indeed, I myself have been involved in marathon sessions that continued far beyond reasonable bounds.
The longest game I've ever been in began one night at the Wissahickon Bridge Club in Philadelphia, when I ran afoul of three of the youngest old men in bridge. Charlie Warner was in his late 60s, Dr. Shelley was only a few years younger and Dr. Kirkbridge was the baby of the trio at 56. They inveigled me into a game that started at 8 o'clock on a Friday night. At 2 a.m. this unholy trio suggested that we send out for coffee and sandwiches and play till dawn. We played till dawn and right through Saturday and into Saturday night, when we sent out for sandwiches and coffee once more. When Sunday morning's sun came up, and my head began to droop, my cronies gave me a verbal pasting for being "too old for this game" (I was 30). So I played on, until spades began to look like clubs and I didn't know whether I was playing bridge or lacrosse. Late Sunday night, after more than 48 hours at the table, I fell asleep right in the middle of a hand, and no amount of shaking or prodding by those bulldogs could wake me up. I never heard the end of that.
But if the two good doctors and Charlie Warner were still around and wanted to have a go at it again, they could count me in. Come to think of it, there's very little I would do differently, if I had another crack at life, and certainly I wouldn't miss that two-day session at the munificent stakes of a tenth of a cent a point. Or any other session with companionable players. When it comes to the noble game of bridge, I feel much the same as Talleyrand felt about the noble game of whist. The French statesman invited an aide to make a fourth, whereupon the fellow confessed that he didn't know the game. "Young man!" said Talleyrand. "You do not play whist? What a sad old age you reserve for yourself!"