Trepidation is too strong a word. Dread even stronger. Apprehension was more like it. The ride from our home on the eastern shore of the Arcadia peninsula to the Severna Park Bridge Club was hop-skip-and-a-jump of twelve miles in twenty minutes, but it had all of the emotional trappings of running a gauntlet. Rules are rules, my inculcators had emphasized, whether in a limited or an open game. “Bid and play in tempo. Don’t touch your bidding box until you’re ready to pull a card. No table talk except between boards. Pay attention. Have fun.”
At the tail end of a litany of admonitions, was the instruction to “have fun” ironic afterthought or Orwellian edict? If the latter, if certain aspects of the dystopian state depicted in George Orwell’s 1984 might have bearing on what lay ahead, then I was well-positioned to exemplify the slogan Ignorance Is Strength.
Having chauffeured Jo Ann to and from the club on several occasions, many of the faces and several matching names were familiar to me. Located on the far east end of a small strip mall, the card room was a modest affair, accommodating up to thirteen tables, with kitchenette-coatroom and contiguous bathroom off to the left side at the rear. One part cozy; one part claustrophobia.
It is one thing to observe, and quite another to participate. To be in on the action. To have to think, act, and react in real-time. To know that eyes and ears are upon you. To be in partnership with someone whose success or failure to achieve desired outcomes may turn on your acumen and attentiveness. To realize that the one thought rising to preeminence in the mind of the first-timer as the director starts the clock and offers good luck wishes to all is, “I want my mommy.”
I have zero recollection of what cards I held on the inaugural board. None. But crystal clear as if on some form of neuro-tape is the inner dialogue that flashed and evanesced in the heartbeat between after I’d counted them face-down and before I turned them face-up: “Please, please, please . . . don’t let there be any picture cards or aces.”
We were sitting East-West in a Mitchell Movement. I fanned my one-fourth of the deck, organized suits black-red-black-red, performed a point count, and waited. And waited. Until my left-hand opponent suggested, “Your bid, Gordon.” Not a terribly auspicious beginning. They wound up with the contract. That much I do remember. As well as when the room started sway, seven tricks in, and the faces of the other three players at the table commenced to melt into a fog.
Jo Ann, recognizing the problem, came to the rescue. “Breathe, Gordon.” I had forgotten.
By the time we had moved to our sixth (of eight) three-board-rounds tables, I had settled down. Out of the fifteen hands already put to bed, I had been declarer twice, going down one in the second. The experience of ‘going down’ in a contract was far from new to me. It had happened numerous times in boot camp, but having it occur when points were on the line was hurtful. “Good try, partner,” Jo Ann commiserated as my One Notrump fell shy by one. “A tough make.”
That first-ever recorded failure, reported and memorialized by North’s Bridgemate, marked the beginning of my disdain for any auction landing 1NT at my doorstep. To this day, I would much rather face a stretch challenge of 3NT than to be stuck with its infant sibling.
At the aforementioned sixth table, sitting East as dealer, with all vulnerable, I pulled a miserable set of cards. This particular maiden voyage hand I do recall:
♠ xx ♥ xx ♦ K J x ♣ Q J 9 8 7 3
Thankfully, by the grace of fast-track teaching and learning, I knew exactly what to bid: 2C.
Carding a ‘Weak Two’ would deny our opponents first-level bidding space and, potentially, interfere successfully with their ability to reach an optimal contract.
South passed. West (partner Jo Ann), displaying not a scintilla of emotion, bid 2D.
Though I’d opened with a mere seven high card points, I knew that I owed my unpassed hand partner another bid. As she (obviously) had a healthy holding in diamonds, I was only too happy to respond in kind with a bid of three.
What happened next was cyclonic. South passed. Partner bid 4NT. Someone realized what had happened and blurted out, “Wait a minute!” North hollered, “DIRECTOR, PLEASE!”
In a state of shock, I realized that it was I who had called for a halt in the proceedings. It was I who had sought to halt the merry-go-round and return to square one.
The rest is too painful to relive any further. We went down a whole bunch doubled and vulnerable. “Let it go, Gordon,” Jo Ann consoled me. “Just one board, off to Bridge Heaven.” And to my Bridge Hell, wherein dwells the one and only Weak 2C opener of my life, sweltering ignominiously in fire and brimstone for eternity.
Mavis Roberts was the first call we received after we had returned home. We had stopped along the way to pick up pizza, pork dumplings, and crab dip from Little Carmine’s, Szechuan Café, and Angel’s, respectively. “How’d you do today?” Mavis asked of Jo Ann as I laid out the eclectic spread of goodies.
“We’re celebrating,” Jo Ann beamed. “Gordon gets the munchies whenever he’s up. Or down. Or anywhere in-between. He’s an equal opportunity foodaholic. We scratched. Barely, bottom rung, but still.”
I could hear Mavis’s joyful whoop, even though the handset was not on speakerphone.
At end-of-play an hour or so before, after the club’s antediluvian dot matrix printer had cranked out that session’s results, I was incredulous. “This game may not be all that hard after all,” I opined telepathically to the devil’s advocate gremlin perched on my shoulder.
I could not have been more naïve.
To Be Continued