Saturday, October 27, 2007

I make that 1.84 total

I've been meaning to blog about bridge for a while now. This weekend seems the perfect time.

Here's the backstory. I learned to play bridge at the age of ten, when my parents needed a fourth from time to time. I am sure I didn't love it then, presumably because I wasn't very good, and also because it's a hard game for a ten year old to master. Still, I didn't hate it, and as I got into my teens, I actually enjoyed it. I played bridge with some kids in free periods in high school, and I admired tremendously my brother who got to play in tournaments with our then-calculus teacher. In fact, I think that brother is a life master as a consequence of those tournaments.

But the rest of my life, it was very rare that I would play. There was one exhilarating weekend at my parents' house when Coffee Jones and I arrived for a visit and learned that my mother had enough players to do a mini-tournament. Now, Coffee Jones is sublimely gifted with cards, but the rigidity of bridge -- its rules and conventions, counting and considering -- is very off-putting to CJ, so she doesn't play despite being having the best innate card sense of anyone I've ever known. But man was she on her game that weekend! We came in first of the couples there that weekend, and that included people (like my parents) who'd been playing for decades. (I should point out that the weekend was exhilarating only for me -- CJ may have enjoyed aspects of it, but the bridge was stressful for her. Sorry, sweetie -- even years later, I do get it that you were ambushed!)

So, when I married Hub 1.0, I thought, Cool -- he's a puzzle guy, he's super-smart, he's bound to love bridge. Nope. Just didn't take to it, and I didn't push (this time -- sorry, again, CJ!). Which brings us to Starman, who like Hub 1.0 is a puzzle guy and super-smart, but had even less experience playing cards in his childhood. It might have been a disaster if it weren't for two vitally important things: Starman likes to study (really -- he reads bridge books voluntarily!) and we discovered the Bridge Studio by accident one day.

I forget now why we needed to find a Jo-Ann Fabrics store, but we did, and there was one up in Vestal, NY that was convenient. But for some reason we were there too early so we walked around to see what the Bridge Studio was. Our introduction to the magnificent Mary was a newsletter she had written reminding married couples not to bicker at the bridge table. ("Wow! How the game has changed since my childhood!" I thought.) We got a schedule for Starman to take bridge classes, and off he went for his first class.

Let's just say, he never went alone after that! When he came back and showed me what he was learning to do, I knew that I needed to learn this stuff too. So we've been going to classes since last February, and it's wonderful. Mary is delightful and smart, but also perceptive enough to encourage each of us to believe we can play better, while reminding us that everyone makes mistakes from time to time. (She and her husband Harry have a bazillion match points between them.) At first, all we did was go to the class and play afterwards, about two hours total. But we signed up for a website that allowed us to play against computer opponents (less embarrassing when we make mistakes!) and we practiced. Ross read books. (I started books, but you know how it is -- I've got a novel to read somewhere, so the bridge book didn't usually compare). Last month we started coming to another Bridge Studio session where we play with other people in the duplicate format. The first time there were enough people to run three tables, Starman and I came in second! That startled the woman filling in for Mary, particularly as she hadn't met us before. The explanation that we were still taking the EasyBridge classes may not have satisfied her, but she was very nice to us.

And that brings us to our very first proper tournament. I want to be a life master. Silly, perhaps, but I grew up in a very subtly sexist home: my parents believed in women's rights, certainly, and treated their kids pretty casually across the board. But somehow it was understood that the boys were bright math types, and my sister and I were good at sewing and cooking. (Interestingly, my sister has a Ph.D. and I've got both a masters and a JD, but it's true that I like sewing and cooking more than being a lawyer...) It would just be nice to accomplish something that I thought cool 30 years ago but never thought I could do.

In order to become a life master, you need 1,000 match points, and they have to be in different colors. Black points are the easiest to earn, as everytime you do well at the club level you get some fraction of a point. They do add up over time, of course, and anyway, we all need the practice. Silver points come from performance at a sectional tournament; these are held in various places and the American Contract Bridge League (the folks who keep track of the points!) let us know by e-mail when and where they're going to be. And finally, there are gold points, won at regional tournaments. Those are the hardest to get. To be a life master, you need some number of black, some silver, and some gold points. And this is a slow climb -- when Starman and I did well at the club the first time, we got precisely .41 of a point! We'll be playing a while at that rate!

Starman and I played in our first sectional yesterday -- and we qualified (with .82 of a point between the two of us) for the 199's class. This meant that we were playing with pairs with combined points under 200. I believe there were ten pairs, and we played 21 boards. Everyone was very nice to us, and while I know I made mistakes, it was nothing too painful. It's all learning, innit? Okay, so at the end of the session, I felt good -- Starman had played with pleasure (ultimately, his enjoyment is my most important goal, as I really want to keep him as a partner!) and I'd had a good time. Then the results went up.

We came in first! Yippee!! And that means we've earned our first silver point, or rather 1.43 points to be precise. We're on our way to being life masters!

Check back in five years...

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