Are you ready for a serious relationship?

By Tihana Brkljačić

A partnership is the single most important thing that makes bridge different from other games and sports. Completely depending on each other is exciting, challenging and frightening. I'm convinced that bridge partnership is one of the most complex and demanding relationships in human society.  Its delicate, sensitive, and turbulent structure raises so many issues that need to be tackled in order to build a successful long-term relationship. 

Tihana Brkljačić

I'm sure you’ve noticed that in many ways bridge partnership is similar to a romantic relationship. Both often go through comparable stages: (1) the introduction; (2) dating or casually playing; (3) committing; (4) dealing with tensions and conflicts; (5) breaking up or enduring.  

The introduction occurs, as in romantic relationships, either suddenly (you come to the bridge club to find a partner there, as you might pick someone up in a bar for a one night stand) or gradually (you’ve known someone for a while, but at some point, you start to think about them as a potential partner). Some people are cautious, choosing carefully with whom they will play, while others take a chance with someone they hardly know. And of course, as in life, you can find a partner via partnership desk, or a friend can arrange a date for you. 

Regardless of the circumstances leading up to the introduction, some partnerships enter the second stage, analogous to dating. You start to invite each other to tournaments and look forward to the next encounter with your “perfect match”. Everything's new and exciting, and it almost feels like falling in love. In this honeymoon phase, people may idolize their partners and tend to overlook their flaws. Positive energy and harmony often lead to some unusually satisfying performances which additionally boost the partnership. The two of you are recognized as a partnership by the others, your names somehow fit together; you're a unit. You may be developing your system, looking for adequate teammates, dismissing other activities to play bridge more. Ambitious plans for the future are made as you happily realize that you're committed.  

However, just like in life, the honeymoon doesn't last forever. You may overlook occasional bad results, but sooner or later inevitable differences and misunderstandings will cause tensions and open cracks in a partnership. At this stage you know each other pretty well, you're familiar with your partner's strengths and weaknesses. You notice every mistake and refuse to empathize with your partner's blunders. Their attitude, style and temper start to annoy you and power struggles become commonplace.  

I believe that the phrase “not ready for a serious relationship” fabulously mirrors bridge partnerships at this stage. So many of us are not comfortable with either exposing our own or accepting our partner's vulnerabilities. As disappointment escalates, we doubt if it's worth putting additional effort into solving issues and repairing the relationship. Many partnerships don't survive the first year. Still, the majority of players would sincerely acknowledge that they'd like to have a steady partnership, but very few are ready to put the necessary energy into the process. Are we all that naïve to expect to find our prince charming with whom every bid will be pure magic and every board a fairy tale?   

Two types of partnerships outlast this stage; the doomed and survivors. Neither of these would jeopardize the partnership. But for different reasons:  

The doomed are those who gave up on searching for a better match, but also avoided confronting the problems. The partnership became a (bad) habit or a convenient routine at best. They rarely have any aspirations, the thrill is long gone, and again, similar to life, some of them don’t even believe they deserve any better. 

On the other hand, survivors are those who managed to maintain the partnership with mutual satisfaction. How?  

It could be that they realized that the partnership is more valuable than their ego. Unlike the doomed ones, whose only investment was time, survivors made efforts, adjustments and sacrifices and they're aware of it. Survivors’ partnership is a dynamic, cyclical process where when an issue arises, they work together to solve it. They have bad days of course, and they occasionally flirt playing with others, but there is no doubt who their partner is.  

These partnerships last a long time, sometimes a lifetime, and for many, it's the most precious relationship they ever have.  

Are you, lucky or wise enough to enjoy the benefits of a steady, flourishing partnership? Are you still in the honeymoon phase where every card has a pink reflection? Or maybe you feel stuck in your current partnership and yearn for change? Perhaps you're one of those liberal souls avoiding routine and regularly switching partners?

Don’t despair if you've never made it to the survival stage. Through the years, a bridge player will find themselves in various, more or less satisfying partnership phases. Going through the processes of formation, stability, tensions and disintegration enriches one’s life. Actually, bridge partnership is a relatively safe arena to exercise social skills and emotions such as trust, commitment, respect, patience, adjustment, empathy, assertiveness, restraint and forgiveness. These virtues, developed at the table, may transfer to “real” life and help us cope with daily stressors and challenges. Therefore, enjoy your partnership, regardless of its current state, if not for its own merits, then because of the experiences and perspectives it provides. 

What are your thoughts on partnerships? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Tihana Brkljačić is a psychologist and a bridge player. She teaches psychology and bridge at Zagreb university. She represented Croatia at multiple European championships and at The World Championship (Wuhan cup) in 2022. As a psychologist, her main areas of interest are in quality of life, well-being and communication. Additionally, she studies the psychology of games (focusing on bridge in particular) and consults players on various topics.

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51 comments on “Are you ready for a serious relationship?”
  1. I think your analysis is very accurate. At the beginning of Covid, some recent acquaintances and I began playing together on BBO. One of them, another woman, asked if I’d like to be regular partners. We had a regular game on Tuesdays and Saturdays with another couple which went along quite well considering the circumstances everyone was living through. It really gave all of us an anchor in some thing that we enjoyed. And as we all became vaccinated, my partner and I met together and lunched together and even got together with our husbands. Two years into the relationship, we met together to go over a new convention card, and I have no idea what I did or said but apparently it was offensive enough to her that she cut me off. It felt like someone was breaking up with me. It took a few weeks for her to drop me, but I sensed her being distant and dismissive. She never did tell me what it was that she found so offensive, but indicated that “good friends don’t treat each other like that.” I lost sleep over the whole issue.

    Thankfully, that is in my rearview mirror, and I am trying to meet new people and play bridge both in person and online. I really never thought of this exactly as a relationship comparable to a romantic interaction, but your comments are very astute.

    1. People can be very sensitive and easily offended when emotions arouse at the table. I am sorry that this friendship did not survive, but as you said, it is always exciting to meet new people to play with. Good luck!

  2. I would like a regular by partner on BBO , but how do you get a partner, if anyone has a good idea for setting up partners it would be helpful.

  3. Dear BBO organizers.
    I agree with Deborah Russell. I have the professional background to help BBO to arrange a module to find the best bridge partner fit. I am happy to talk with any of your representatives to further this initiative. I am doing it as a contribution for the Bridge game which I enjoyed from a young age and as a token of appreciation for BBO who enables so many people to enjoy the game. Just to clarify - I am not looking to any monetary benefit; I have enough from my profession as a Family Physician and a psychotherapist. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  4. Enjoyed the article- but how the h&@* do you ‘meet’ someone on bbo?- it is something bbo could add to it’s offerings, and I for one would appreciate it.

    1. Hi Paige,
      It seems that there are many players sharing this problem. I will try to provide some tips in the next column.

  5. Très bonne analyse, une relation ça se construit pas à pas avec des hauts et des bas mais il faut persévérer pour avoir des résultats stables car papillonner ne mène à rien sauf à jouer au grand écart avec les résultats de tournoi....

  6. My Partner and I have been together for almost 10 years, we met on bbo and then found we lived close enough to play together in person. Overcoming our differences and finding common ground is a work in progress. We are helped by an excellent teacher (ACBL_10) on line through Skype.

    1. Thank you Marianne for sharing your experiences.
      It is good to hear that some partnerships created online manage to survive and successfully develop over the years.

  7. "...1978 at Kate Buckman's in Toronto..."

    I have had 2 lifelong partners, one passed just yesterday who was a college fraternity brother at Worcester Polytech (MA, USA) where we learned the game in 1971 junior year playing Precision Club. The other, my actual brother Peter who passed in 2013 also playing PC.

    It was in the mid-70s when my brother was living in Toronto that I urged him to learn the game and so he did. During a visit, the Canadian Nationals were being held at the Royal York & we showed up, perhaps for 1st time playing we scored 3 Red points in some event. Thereafter, it was Kate Buckman's.

    Glad you shared the comment. Brings back Toronto memories.

    I always think of the clubs that seemed like a 2nd home to me. The first that I cut my teeth with was Springfield, MA. It seemed so elegant for someone so young (20) at the time. Where did all the years go?

    I love the article.

    1. Thank you so much Samuel for sharing your story.
      I have similar perception of bridge clubs as a second home, and bridge players as extended family.

  8. Oh so true! I’ve shocked my non-bridge-playing friend though, by showing it to her and mentioning my four male partners!

  9. Brilliantly summed up- will use it for all my new Beginners - Maybe it will turn them off immediately maybe it will encourage them to work hard 🙂

  10. Thank you for this article. Actionable tips & suggestions would be very helpful in finding compatible partners.

    1. Thank you Joyce!
      I rarely play online but my nick is tihana, so feel free to contact me if you see me there.
      Cheers

  11. Thank you Tihana Brkljacic for your well written article. I am a bridge enthusiast for many years. Partnership is a special feature of this game. It is a game that combines skills and communication in the right proportion. It is popular enough to connect people from remote places thanks to BBO and other online tools. As a family physician I don't have enough time to dedicate to the game as I wish, but I'd appreciate as many of the other commentators above a high-quality partnership. I wish to reach a survivor level with someone with the same attitude. Like dating, it is highly rewarding when you find the one but you need to be ready to work hard to find this one. Do you?

    1. Thank you Zeus for sharing your thoughts. Indeed, long lasting rewarding partnerships are not easily maintained.

  12. That was fun to read, having been through several "bridge relationships" and still trying to develop some satisfying ones. I find that taking time to discuss problematic hands afterwards is very useful, and the features on BBO make this easy to do (until the results are announced, at which point you can no longer see how others' hands were played out). Unfortunately, we do not all play with others who speak the same language, and communication is difficult.

    1. Thank you Rochelle for sharing your thoughts. I agree, BBO makes discussions about boards much easier. It is a great feature for solving partnership misunderstandings.

  13. At first when i started competitive bridge i thought i the cat's whiskers. It's only now after 35 years of playing that I have realized "how much" I know about bridge.

  14. If you are trying to find a new partner at a new club you absolutely must have your own complete convention card that you show them, then ask them to discuss adjustments they wish to make, then negotiate from there. Alternatively, ask to see their convention card and negotiate from there. If they don't have one then you simply must arrange to take the time to complete one with them before you play. If they are not prepared to do this, then they are probably not the partner for you.
    Working out a complete convention card with someone who has never done one before can take some hours, not 10 minutes before the game. If you don't know how to complete one, ask someone at the club how to do it or what each section means.
    I have recently run a series of sessions at our own live club on how to complete a convention card and it is surprising how many people have played for years without ever knowing how to complete a full convention card. The improvement in results and partnership satisfaction is now very noticeable.

  15. loved this article, thank you! Completely agree. I have dumped unsatisfactory partners and gone through all of the phases with various new ones, many whom have survived. I speak up if it's not working and sometimes the partnership improves. If not, it's over! C'est la vie! Bridge is like relationships, you have to believe you deserve the best and when you find someone compatible, love, trust and commit.

  16. A very good article which reflects my experience. A bridge partner is more important to me than having a life partner. It’s challenging as in a marriage but rewarding. I love Bridge and I value my partner who is happily married - not to me.

  17. My belief in good bridge and partnerhip, is to play conventions correctly, take advice and instruction from no one , other than your books. Agree on conventions you play. Trust your partner, and sometimes , break the rules!! Mostly, enjoy, and you will, if you both agree on the above.

  18. I really enjoyed the article..it is so true! I have many good friends on BBO, playing some good bridge as well as chatting and joking with those friends, I have found a regular partner who unfortunately lives on the opposite side of the world. We play daily unless there has been a little tension with bad results. We do talk about mistakes without trying to 'blame' each other, but the most important thing is to laugh with each other .We have been together for over 2 years and skype regularly to talk about life other than bridge. I think we help each other to sort out personal problems, by sharing our family (grandkids) and life's challenges.

    1. Thanks so much, Rae, for sharing your thoughts.
      This is exactly what bridge is all about.

  19. I don’t normally read articles like this. I am very happy I did.
    Very challenging and heavy thoughts, but so is bridge. The thing what I like best about bridge is how I can feel my grey cells being stimulated. How good am I?I don’t know really, but I am very competitive with myself.
    I do not have a partner and just divorced my life partner of 51 years.
    I was nearer good at dating when I was young and find I have not improved with that either. You have given me my first steps to looking further for a partner. Thank You !

    Dennis

  20. I met my partner when I started my study ( 1974) I was 18 years old. My partner played bridge already and he and friends tried to learn me to play bridge on long evenings where they drunk a lot of bear! But.......... we fell in love and married in 1976. Since 1976 we have always played together! It is lovely and we try to improve our skills, but we never blame each other.

  21. I am searching for a partner as I write this. I have been to a new club three times and played with three different people and came in last each time. I have never ever done so poorly and it certainly makes me want to toss in the towel!

    1. Hi Jaci,
      Yes, searching for partner can be difficult task. I will try to provide some tips in the next column.
      Good luck!

  22. Hi Linda, please contact me if you are interested in forming a partnership. Player1771 on BBO.

  23. I enjoyed your article. I consider myself a decent intermediate player. I love to improve continually. Most of my improvement is due to reading experts' opinions and reasoning. I have relied on my own talent (logic). I have studied the ACBL Bulletin for decades. I know and understand many conventions, and can play either standard or 2/1. I have tried many partners but all have resulted in me trying to be the 'teacher'. My many past partners have been unable for various reasons to improve very much, none even coming close to my level. My few attempts at finding a partner better than me has been futile; most that I know already have partners, or are unwilling to try me out long enough to see my true potential. I am open to new ideas, but like to discuss and decide which conventions are best, relying on what the true current experts have to say. Do you have any suggestions as to how to locate such a partner, one that listens as well as talks? PS: Because of my age and health issues, I am limited to online play. Cheers

    1. Hello Linda,
      Yes, in the next column I will offer some suggestions on how to locate a suitable partner.

  24. I met my longtime bridge partner in 1978 at Kate Buckman's in Toronto. We were partnered together, came 2nd in the novice game and were pumped. We gradually formed a team that played in numerous flighted events and mostly did well. He dated and introduced me to the woman who became my wife. The partnership broke up after 20 years or so. In the first round of a matchpoint duplicate, he held QJ10xxxxx, Kx, x, xx and opened 4S in second seat. With AKx, xx, AKQx, AKxx I cued 5C. He passed. Each blamed the other. We didn't play bridge again but remained friends. He is 80 now with dementia and unable to remember the bidding or play. Still I do my best to help him, a lifelong friendship from bridge.

  25. Partnerships are delicate. I have had two great partners with whom I enjoyed competing to great success only to have both quit bridge for family demands. My current partner is a very good friend of many years and for that I am grateful. The downside is that he doesn't live close enough to play in face-to-face games and so we are limited to BBO.

    After I lost my local f2f partners I asked pros at two different local clubs for assistance with a new partner. At one club it was suggested that I simply show up and surely they could find 'someone' for me to play with. (Sorry. If I want to play with a 'someone' I can put myself in the partnership pool on BBO. The commute is shorter and the coffee is better.) The pro at the second club suggested that I just show up and play with a pro at $125/hour. The message was crystal clear: Thoughtfully assisting customers with partners based upon their knowledge of local players is outside of the Bridge Pro job description. Needless to say, I play with my long distance partner on BBO and hope he sticks with competing.

    When I read posts such as this one, I feel that the author is living in some sort of alternative reality where Bridge partners are plentiful and just out there to rotate through. The dating analogy is appropriate though. I have suggested several times in various forums that ACBL contract with one of the dating app companies to adapt a version for finding Bridge partners. I will suggest it again here, but assume it will again be ignored.

    1. Aren't we all living in a bit different realities :)?
      As Zeus offered to develop a partnership application maybe this option will also be available.

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