Forests of Live-and-Learn

A Game of Mistakes

Prager_Headshot“There’s no crying in baseball!” That admonition, delivered with splenetic frustration by Tom Hanks to Bitty Schram in A League of Their Own, came roaring forth from its sleeper cell memory pod when Jo Ann made a similarly instructive statement, albeit with utter calm and reasonableness, after a one-day silver points competition conducted at the Bridge Boardroom in York, Pennsylvania.

Early on that day, in between my opening 1♠ and Jo Ann’s unobstructed response of 2♣, my mind had gone walkabout, metaphorically speaking, into the vastness of an astral meadow. Sublime solitude and intoxicating bouquets of wild lavender and lily of the valley filled the senses – again, metaphorically speaking. Through a creamy pastel haze, I emerged from the short-lived sojourn just as my RHO opponent passed. Eyeing the 2♣ card across the table, I deduced with negligent certainty she really must like her clubs – and passed.

My left-hand opponent seemed confused, shook her head, and turned toward Jo Ann to inquire in the form of a statement: “I thought you said you played Two-Over-One.”

Jo Ann sighed deeply as the third straight pass card hit the deck. “So did I.”

I could feel my blood pressure and body temperature rising by leaps and bounds. I had a vision of my head as a superheated pinata, with piercing jets of steam screaming out of every orifice and pore. How could I have missed her Two-Over-One?!

At the mid-session lunch break, Jo Ann boosted my hangdog spirits with understanding and encouragement. “Happens to the best of us. One board, over and out. We’re still in the hunt. Keep your head in the game is all. You can do it.”

Forgiven, if not forgotten, and humbly grateful for Jo Ann’s nurturing encouragement, I did rise to the occasion by recognizing all sorts of clever devices which are second nature to the seasoned player, yet brave new world to me – Cue Bid Limit Raises, Michaels, Support Doubles, and even the all too frequently overlooked Reverse.

Then came the next-to-last board of the day. Our opponents held 33 high card points and wasted little time arriving at 7NT, with the declarer sitting to my right. Three straight passes on, it was my lead. I carded the ♣A.

Jo Ann, holding K-10-x, played the ten, a clarion call for me to proceed with another Club – for down two. Our opponents had gotten lost and entangled in the thornily confounding Gerber-Blackwood Thicket of Coded Responses and emerged under the impression they held all four bullets. The result would have been a high board for us anyway, but afterwards, out of earshot on the way to the car, Jo Ann asked, “Why didn’t you double? There was nowhere for them to hide after 7NT. You had them down one cold.”

“I could tell they messed up,” quoth I, “and I felt sorry for them.”

That elicited her no-crying-in-baseball inversion of the Golden Rule: “There’s no ‘feeling sorry’ in bridge. It’s a game of mistakes. They take advantage of yours. You take advantage of theirs. Period. End of story.”

“Darwin? Survival of the fittest? Dog-eat-dog?”

“Yes, yes, and no. We’re competitive, but not ruthless.”


Sitting South at a regional tournament, I opened 2♠ (weak).

My appreciation for the vectors and nuances of Weak Two openings were only modestly above the foothills of acquired knowledge and experience, in that while I did pay attention to absolute and relative vulnerabilities in deciding whether to open with less than a classic no-brainer, I had not yet learned to hold fire and pass when my weak six-of-a-major hand also included four spots in the other major or three to an adult honor. My hand held four Hearts to a juvenile, the Jack.

A heartbeat after I had laid down the 2♠ card, West, with the steely eyes and granite-jawed, no-nonsense countenance of Lee Van Cleef in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, whisked a fat red X from the bidding box and snapped it to attention. Jo Ann, sitting North, unperturbed and pokerfaced, calmly deposited a P card onto the playing surface. The balance of the bidding proceeded fairly swiftly until my third turn.

South West North East
2♠ Dbl Pass 3♣
Pass 3 3♠ Pass
4♠ Dbl All Pass

Jo Ann had passed on her first go, after West’s X, and then topped West’s 3 bid with 3♠ on her second, indicating to me that she had points. After East’s second-round Pass, I considered the possibility that with East and West bidding the minors, Jo Ann and I might have a second-suit fit in hearts to boot.

The difference between audacity and foolishness is told in the outcome. Wishful Thinking and Brash One-Upmanship were my dubious spirit guides as I reached for and carded 4♠. West’s glower telegraphed his intention to X, which he did with an even more robust snap, as if to register indignation and portend dire consequences.

Jo Ann and I did indeed have a two-suited fit in the majors, with cross-ruffing potential in the minors. At trick eleven, I knew the contract was safe and claimed: “Making four.”

Eyeing me with a dollop of disgust and a gallon of venom, Lee Van West shot his right arm into the air and exclaimed, “Director, please!”

Jo Ann and I were at a loss as to what infraction had been committed. With the insistence of the Infallibly Righteous, Mr. West repeated his call, “Director, please!”

“Okay, folks. What do we have?” asked the director, arriving tableside in less than sixty seconds.

“He opened a Weak Two,” West explained, “and then later went to game, making four doubled.”

“Are you in agreement, then, that he made the contract?”

“Yeah, he made his four – but he opened weak. He’s not allowed to raise to game after opening weak.” Every word bore the full weight of aggrieved consternation and demand for justice.

The director, standing toward my right, extended his left hand, palm up, in my direction. “Well, actually, he is.” With a wry smile, our adjudicator continued, “Nothing in the rules says he can’t do something perfectly stupid, if that’s the case. Four doubled and made. Let’s move on.”

Over drinks that evening, we revisited the highlights and lowlights of the day’s labors. When we got to 4♠X and made, Jo Ann inquired, “There’s a lesson to be learned. Do you know what it is?”

“I think so,” quoth I, admiring the rich amber hue of two fingers of Johnnie Walker Green. “But you go first.”

“You had a good six Spades and four Hearts to an honor. With ten cards in the majors, check to see if the hand qualifies for a Rule-of-Twenty opening. Otherwise, if you’re in first or second position, I suggest you pass first and see what partner might have to say. That way, we have a better chance of finding game – if it’s in the cards. Is that what you got out of it?”

“Not exactly,” I confessed, taking a long, luscious sip of the fifteen-year-old whisky, “though I do take your point. What I did learn was this: if you’re going to be stupid, do it perfectly.”

(To Be Continued)

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