Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For Bridge Players Only

If you don't play bridge, you might want to skip this, as I doubt that it will make much sense to you or be at all entertaining.

In the tournament bridge world there are many professionals who "play for pay." That is, weaker players pay the pros to be their partners, hoping to win club and tournament events. The payment is usually in money, but not always. Years ago the story went around that Oswald Jacoby (R.I.P.), for many years one of the top bridge players, was approached by a sweet young thing who simpered, "Oh, Mr. Jacoby, what does it take to get a good player like you to play with someone like me?" Ozzie is said to have replied, "Money or sex."

(As an aside, many such sweet (and not so sweet) young things wear low cut tops in order to distract male opponents, often succeeding. Jacoby is also supposed to have said that he had played many a hand cross-eyed.)

For those who pay in money, this can involve travel and expenses for the professional (and even for a family or companion) for the duration of a tournament.

One such weak player, a middle-aged/elderly oil widow, consistently paid an expert we'll call Benny to play with her, even at local club games. He had devised a bidding system designed to prevent her from playing no-trump and major suit contracts. She would bid suits other than her strong suits, but indicating those strong suits, so that he could bid those suits first. Thus, if their side played the contract, he would play the hand.

Sounds foolproof, and is almost foolproof. Unfortunately she had played bridge and learned some standard bidding concepts before learning the "new" system, and occasionally got the two sets of concepts mixed up.

Now here is my recollection of one mini-disaster which resulted from that confusion. If the bidding isn't precisely correct, at least the concept will be apparent.

During one session at a club she opend the bidding on a hand with "one diamond," indicating that she had strength in hearts. Benny dutifully bid "one heart" so that if they wound up playing hearts he would play the hand. She bid "three hearts" indicating that she had a very strong hand. Benny wound up declarer at four hearts, down one, while everyone else was playing two hearts, making. He had played it one trick better than the others, but the partnership had overbid by two tricks. When she put down her hand as dummy, he was surprised to see a hand with good hearts but of only ordinary strength.

After the hand he asked her if she didn't think her jump to three hearts was a bit much, and she replied, "Oh, Benny, I wouldn't have done it but when you bid hearts my hand went up so much in value."

Depending on your bridge knowledge, that might be a time joke.

She wasn't the best bridge player around, but she was a very nice person, and my emotions were mixed when I heard a few years later that he had dragged her into first place in the Mixed Pairs event at the Canadian Nationals, an astounding feat. I just feel that there's something not quite right about the weaker player gaining such a title in that fashion, but I confess that I was happy for her.

1 comment: said...

I am a "weaker" bridge player and can fully appreciate anyone giving me some coaching on better signals to bid!