Many families have rituals wherein children are recognized as adults. Maybe it’s when they join the grownup table for Thanksgiving dinner. In our family, it was when one joined the bridge game. Ken, the oldest of the cousins, was first. I remember being impressed at how nimbly he tossed those card terms around as he played with our aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
A few years ago, I looked around and realized that, um, I was the only grandchild who was yet to get on board with the whole bridge playing thing. Even my brother, often the youngest one at family gatherings, was all about bridge. I determined it must have little to with age and much to do with mental agility.
Last Thanksgiving I made my first attempt at playing bridge. Have you ever played? It’s hard, okay. I had a good time playing but remember thinking I would never but ever fully understand how to play nor be any good at it.
This past weekend, my brother was home and my grandmother in town. Saturday evening around 7:30, we started a game. At 11:35, I finally stood up and said, “Ya’ll. I have to go home.” Otherwise, we’d probably still be there now.
Of course, when I say I “played” bridge, I more or less mean that I held the cards in my hand, after carefully, slowly arranging them just so, and my mother sat right by me, coaching every move I made.
The first challenge I have is with the whole points thing. Aces are worth four points, kings three, queens two, and jacks one. Simple, no? My problem is that when I look at face cards, I see letters – A’s and K’s and such, not numbers. I have difficulty translating that and then adding up the numbers.
That’s not even the beginning of the bidding process, though. You have to have 13 points before you even think about bidding and it depends mightily on how those points are distributed. AND THEN you have to listen to everyone else’s bid, particularly your partner’s. A seasoned – or maybe just an adequate – bridge player listens to what their partner bids and answers him through his bid. Are you with me? Because right about there is where I get confused. Plus there’s all this other business to do with changing suits in bidding – because spades and hearts are major suits and diamonds and clubs are minor. I think. So you have to have more points to change suits? And if it’s a minor suit, you have to have even more points. Or something like that?
And what you're bidding is not actually how many tricks you plan or project or need to catch. Say if you bid three hearts what you're really saying is that you'll catch nine, as it's understood that you must first catch six (called a book) before those three that you bid on will count.
I’m still very fuzzy on the details, which is why when my mother got a phone call Saturday evening, my dad and I both stared her down until she deigned to pause the conversation for a minute to get back to spoon-feeding me my bid.
One also must count, yes count, the number of trump cards that have been played. That helps you determine…something. Oh, yeah, that helps you in determining what you can finesse (get the player to play against his will – yes, in bridge, one can really be that powerful) and what you should slough (play when you can’t follow suit and can’t or don’t play a trump card for whatever reason). Hey, listen to me, all hip to the lingo and all. Just wonder if I’m using it correctly…
In this particular game, my dad and I won handily. Or perhaps I should say the three of us won, as without my mother’s help, I would have lapsed into playing cards like it was a game of spades rather than this one that I still don’t understand all that much about.
Although I have spent part of every single holiday – ever – not kidding – close to a bridge table, there was some bridge talk that had heretofore been unfamiliar to me. My grandmother, in remarking about how my dad and I were beating she and my brother so badly, said something about how we were running with the bathtub.
Now that was a new one on me. Apparently, conventional wisdom holds that the players who are sitting in such a manner as they are running parallel with the bathtub? Well, those people have better luck. I cannot imagine from whence this came but really, Dad and I were winning pretty handily (I looked at the scorepad once and our score was four digits while theirs was three, so I’m thinking that was a good sign) and the way we were sitting indeed was running with the bathtub.
(My mother pointed out that the lingo developed during a time when households had only one bathtub. At my parent’s, there are three bathtubs. The way Dad and I were sitting was running with only one of the bathtubs, so apparently, it is the dominant bathtub in the house.)