Learning the Language of Bridge

Amy Muscoplat shared her touching story during the Cards of Kindness event. Today, she delves deeper into her experiences with bridge, sharing insights and memories.

I'm a new-ish bridge player. I write that despite having taken bridge classes on and off since the fall of 2020. It took me until January 2023 to play my first game in person! Before that it was "BBO all the way baby." Given not being fully retired, it's been an easy way to keep playing and learning the game whilst still attending to other commitments.

When I started bridge classes, I was also playing with my then 97-year-old grandmother. Online. She and I would meet on BBO and use Skype to talk. We played almost every day together until she passed away at 100 and a half years old. She was my original bridge playing motivator because she always loved the game, but she also encouraged me to keep taking classes and playing so that I could get better. I’m still playing and enjoying it.

The competitive streak in me wants to do well but I keep choosing to play the Just Declare games on BBO late at night when I'm tired and I don't do the best at my ABC's of assessing the situation, browsing the declarer's checklist, and considering the order. I do play better earlier in the day! The ACBL and BBO have some great links and ways to get better at bidding and playing and keeping up with bridge playing tips and trends. When I’ve played in person for “real games” or online in unit games, I can hold my own these days and occasionally my partner and I have scored quite well. Girlfriends of mine and I will hop online and play an hour or two of bridge once a week and it kind of satisfies a need to play and to socialize. Another friend and I will sign up and play in an online club game hosted on BBO.

Occasionally, I'll head across town for bridge seminars or experts who've come in town or just to play social bridge. I have very few masterpoints though and I would like to get more. My bridge teacher's wife, who herself is a good player and a “newbie bridge booster” and encourager, makes a point to mention that, at my level, bridge is about playing the game and having a fun time doing so. It's not about the masterpoints, which she kiddingly refers to as bridge-merit badges.

I like the challenge of having to use my brain. When I first started playing, a friend of mine said she was surprised to find out that there were 2 parts to the game, the bidding, and the playing. Having played canasta for umpteen years, she hadn't played bridge before we both started, and she thought it was "just about the playing". She didn't realize that bidding was a whole science and art unto itself. When I took a class from Robert Todd, a renowned bridge master and expert teacher, I looked across the table at my partner, who admittedly was better than I, and in between hands, I mumbled it was like he was speaking Esperanto. I’ve managed to learn a lot more of the lingua franca of Bridge-ese than I give myself credit for. As time has gone on and I've played more bridge, it’s helped! Bridge itself has had many iterations of language, from Gorn to Standard American, and now everyone seems to speak 2 over One Game Force.

When I took my first bridge class, there were so many details, it did feel like a new language. After playing the Audrey Grant Bridge app for a while, the language started "sticking" a little more in my mind. I’ve had teachers and partners tell me from time to time I have good card sense. But I know this was not instinctive and that it’s come with time and practice, persistence, and luck. And sometimes pluck!

One thing that's helpful in playing online, or in person, is to not get hung up on people's idiosyncrasies. Sure, sometimes people can get a little bent out of shape if I'm slower than they'd like, or I myself can be perplexed with how a regular partner or a new partner/stranger might have bid when I play with them for the first time, but it's not worth getting myself upset about it. As long as I'm enjoying the game and no one's behavior is terrible, I don't have to let the other person's upset or play get me ruffled. The world is full of all sorts of people and all sorts of bridge players. Nobody wants to play with a stick-in-the-mud! Sometimes people are even pleasantly surprised when something their partner bids works out and they happily make the contract or defeat the opponents.

Like a recent article here on BBO noted, bridge is teaching me good life skills. I've met all sorts of people through Bridge Base Online, and from bridge classes too. It would be great if I was able to play more often and I know that when I have more time in my schedule, one thing I’ll devote more time to is bridge. For now, I go across town to the bridge club that has friends and a teacher from when I took some online classes. There are closer clubs but this one has a special place in my heart. They're dedicated to kind play, no small feat in our world today.

I still organize small classes with some of my friends from those classes (we're doing a review of 2 over 1 soon) and I still play with some of the friends from my first bridge class encounter online back in the fall of 2020. Since all of us are still learning and taking classes whenever our schedules allow us to, we catch each other up on how to play certain conventions or how to get better at making a plan whenever we play together. We all have very different backgrounds and careers, but because of our mutual enjoyment of the game of bridge, we now trade book titles, recipes, and crafting ideas, in addition to playing bridge.

There's a sign in the bridge club when you walk in that says to "Play with joy, humility, and good humor." In addition to those key values for kind bridge play, what should a bridge newbie think when starting to learn bridge? The number one thing is not to be afraid of making mistakes! I remember a wise teacher saying to me in the very beginning of my bridge adventure that he had a lot of recent retirees who had had very successful careers. They thought they would take up bridge when they retired, and many of them gave it up very quickly when they realized that bridge was a humbling game. It's humbling if you're used to being right, or you have a hard time making mistakes because there is no such thing as 100% in many of the circumstances surrounding what bid to make or how to open a certain hand, or how to play something in bridge.

There are conventions and there are definite rules. AND sometimes there are exceptions to the rules, or hands that don't play the way you've been taught they should. There are sometimes many ways to play and win the same hand to make your contract. There are also numerous ways to play defense well. You may have two bridge teachers and three opinions on how to play something!

As a newer bridge player, I find the game helps me keep a good attitude and outlook in life. The language of bridge affords me the opportunity to keep learning, growing and playing with amazing partners and other players from all over the world who also speak this fabulous language of bridge.

Check out Amy's bridge story video that she shared with us during the Cards of Kindness event.

7 comments on “Learning the Language of Bridge”

  1. The first thing that I would recommend is to play BBO in any Club other than the Main Club. Many obnoxious ‘experts’, who make it their mission to belittle anyone who is not a Life Master. Forget about Masterpoints, the reward for being a Lifemaster only gets you an asterisk on your obituary in the ACBL Bulletin. Play for fun, this is a game, not a war.

  2. Joy, Humility and Good Humour. Yes that's the way to do it right from the start. I am a new retiree and the more I play and get a sense of the knowledge and application required to succeed at this game, then those 3 values are key to it. Thanks Amy

  3. Two general thoughts: 1) a bridge hand is a bunch of mistakes waiting to happen. 2) newpartnershipitis is a curable disease

  4. Thank you Amy. You are a beacon of light, not only in bridge, but many ways. You know who I am, your best bridge partner, gjp

  5. Dear Amy, thank you for your story of relationship with your Grandmother. I share the same gratitude for my sister in law in Arizona. We played bridge often during the pandemic. I was alone in that time of isolation and so having bridge to look forward to was a big boost in my day and a way to build a stronger friendship with Kathy (two Kathys and both Kathleen's). Kathy is more like my sister than my sister in law. So thank you, Amy, and thank you BBO!

    The Rev. Kathleen Crowe

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