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One of the favorite, though presumably apocryphal, stories of the game concerns the bride who came home to mother on her wedding night crying. "All he did was talk about the duplicate tournament you and he played in last night," she wailed. "He started by explaining how he played the first hand, and when he got to hand No. 25 I ran out and came home to you."
"That's too bad," answered the mother. "The 25th hand was the most interesting of the night."
It was a more sporting, and very real, wife who couldn't get a baby sitter the evening of a tournament being held in a Chicago hotel. So she took the infant with her. Midway through the competition the baby wouldn't take its bottle and began to cry. The noise disturbed the rest of the competitors, so the mother's table was moved into the hotel hall. When the baby still cried the mother opened her dress, discreetly fed the youngster in the natural fashion and continued to play against some presumably rattled opponents who must have forgotten their own conventions when the young lady forgot hers.
The ACBL is not only not surprised at such signs of point compulsion in its players, it expects them. "Every player is striving to advance himself into the next category, which not only impels him to play more often but increases his enthusiasm and enjoyment in the game," says the league in its handbook for clubs.
Any rubber-bridge player accustomed to the amenities of the neighborhood game would certainly wonder, as he first attempted to play duplicate, what enthusiasm and enjoyment the ACBL was talking about. Arriving at the local YWCA at 8 p.m. on a typical night, he and his partner find 20 to 50 of what he assumes are friendly fellow townspeople. Only now they look as worried and irritated as a baseball team about to take the field against the Yankees. The player registers. Most ACBL clubs arc open and he need not be a member to play. He pays a small entry fee (usually about $1) and sits down with presumably as much chance to win as the next man.
By evening's end he has learned that an adequate ability at rubber bridge will not suffice for a duplicate game. There are several reasons. The competition is too tough, which it ought to be, since all the uncut lawns, unread books and dirty dishes in town belong to duplicate players who feel they are putting first things first. ("Baseball?" said one recently when asked about Maris. "You mean the great American wastetime?") And duplicate bridge has many technical nuances that rubber bridge does not. For example, getting set one trick at one no trump can be a calamity, while getting set six tricks at seven spades may be the most brilliant move of the night, if it succeeds in keeping North-South from making a grand slam.
Worst of all, duplicate abounds in what may be called pointsmanship. This is a psychological—if not necessarily ethical or sporting—attack designed specifically to reduce inexperienced opponents to malleable masses of blubber. In its more subtle forms it can shake experts as well. Because pointsmanship is invariably successful against apprentices, no matter how much rubber bridge they have played, a first duplicate tournament is likely to be remembered in the same context as a first driver's test, a first tooth extraction and a first artillery barrage.
Though pointsmanship assaults are infinite in their variety, no one delivers them with the cunning ferocity of that saber-tooth tiger of small-town duplicate tournaments, the Little Old Lady. The phenomenon is well worth detailing.
A Little Old Lady attack starts gently; the neophyte and his partner sit down and are totally ignored. It is considered glaringly gauche to introduce yourself to an opponent. Enmity is the proper mood. Nice bridge players, the consensus is, finish last.
Once the newcomers arc feeling as welcome as a Borgia at a wine tasting, one Little Old Lady asks her LOL partner, "Did you pick up our pink slips from last week, dear?" They may not have won a point in a decade. No matter. The ploy is designed to make an opponent feel he is hopelessly outclassed and can't win. He is, and he can't.