I headed back to the city for my second week of bridge lessons unsure of what to expect. The first week had been mediocre at best. I met some decent people and ate great food while learning to play a new albeit complicated game.
Sitting at a stop light about five minutes away my instructor’s house, I notice a motel. I notice it for a couple reasons. First, the motel has no name…just a sign that reads “Motel”. Second, there appears to be a dead body being brought down the stairs. I thought I was being paranoid, but then I saw the ambulance and the cop car in the parking lot. I see two EMT’s carrying a motionless body down the stairs with a sheet covering it. On the bright side, nothing was on fire.
I get to Betty’s house for my lesson and my meal. I’ve already ruled out the possibility of gaining new friendships from the lessons but at the very least I could learn to play a new game and maybe convince some people I already know to give it a shot.
Sadly, about an hour into the lesson I realized that probably wasn’t going to happen either. Most games seem complicated when you first start play. Bridge is unnecessarily complicated. For those who have never played, here’s a simple run down of the game.
Bridge is a game played with partners. As is the case with most partnered card games, the goal is to win more books/suits/tricks than the other team. You and your partner bid before play begins. Where things get tricky is that you don’t actually speak to your partner. You use a bidding box with numbers and suits which explain to your partner what you have. I’ll let Wikipedia explain it a little further:
The goal of a single deal is to achieve a high score with the cards dealt. The score for the hand is affected by two principal factors: the contract (number of tricks bid in the auction, the denomination, and which side has bid it) and the number of tricks taken during play. It may also be affected by the vulnerability. The contract, a feature which distinguishes contract bridge from its predecessors, is an undertaking made during the auction by one partnership that they will take at least the stated number of tricks, either with a specified suit as trumps, or without trumps (notrumps). The contract has two components: level and strain (also called denomination).
There are seven levels, numbered 1-7, and the number of tricks required is six plus the level number, so may be anywhere between 7 and 13. The five strains are ranked, from lowest to highest, as clubs (♣), diamonds (♦), hearts (♥), spades (♠), and notrump (NT). The two lower-ranked suits (♣ and ♦) are called the minor suits (or minors), and the higher-ranked suits (♥ and ♠) are called majors. Minor suit contracts score less, so are less frequently chosen.
For instance, the contract “3 hearts” is a promise that the partnership will take nine tricks (six plus three) with hearts as the trump suit. Thus, there are 7 × 5 = 35 possible basic contracts; 1♣ being the lowest, followed by 1♦ etc., up to 7NT.
In the bidding stage or auction, the pairs compete to determine who proposes the highest-ranked contract, and the side that wins the bidding must then strive in the play of the hand to fulfil that bargain by winning at least the contracted number of tricks if it is to obtain a score. Broadly speaking, there is an incentive to bid accurately to the optimum contract and then to play to make the contracted number of tricks (or more if good play or luck allows). If the side that wins the auction (declaring side) then takes the contracted number of tricks (or more), it is said to have made the contract and is awarded a score; otherwise, the contract is said to be defeated or set and points are awarded to the opponents (defenders).
How do win at bridge? The short answer is no one wins when they play bridge. The longer answer is that bridge if you’re playing with just four people the winner is the team with the highest score after eight rounds of play. The scoring system is extremely random and I won’t bother with the details. If you are playing tournament style, the winning team is the one that scores the most points over the course of eight hands. In tournament bridge (which I was being groomed to play), everyone plays the exact same hands over the course of eight rounds. Cards aren’t shuffled. They are placed into a metal holder and rotated.
It was too much to handle. After about third or fourth game of the night I realized I wasn’t going to make it nine more weeks. I was grasping the concept of the game but I wasn’t enjoying it. I couldn’t imagine teaching my friends this game. I had to do something.
To be continued…