My teacher likes to say that it is easier to find a spouse than a compatible bridge partner. (I should probably note he’s been married for 50+ years.) There are days when I think this may be only the slightest of exaggerations.
Roughly four months into my bridge career I hit the partnership jackpot. Every Monday night at my club there is a short bridge class followed by a “No Stress” duplicate game. One night a few months after I started playing there regularly a man walked in who had taken about 20 years off, but had maintained his ACBL membership and kept up with the modern bidding style through the Bulletin (though he wanted to make sure he was truly up-to-date, hence his attendance at the bridge lesson).
The first week he played with my teacher who likes to play with newcomers to get a feel for their abilities. He was clearly out of the league of the rest of the beginners. The next week he played with a woman more advanced than I, but as luck would have it, when he returned for a third time he played with me. (To hear her tell it I stole him away, something she mentions periodically when his name comes up.) For the next several weeks after, I would arrive and hope that he’d be willing to play with me again. I knew almost nothing about bridge, but I did know that if I was going to learn I was going to do so by playing regularly with someone who was much better than me. Over that summer we became a regular partnership.
In the fall, he asked if I wanted to play in a sectional tournament. I did. We won the NLM event and I was over-the-moon and if I hadn’t been completely hooked on bridge before that moment I was then. Shortly after that I was going away for a weekend to visit my grandmother and before I left he gave me a book on 2/1 and told me if I wanted to play in tournaments and, especially, if I wanted to be able to pick up a good partner, I needed to know how to play that system.
Over the long weekend, I tore through the book keeping copious notes and jotting down all the questions that occurred to me on a legal pad. When I got back I asked him questions. I asked my teacher questions. Their answers lead to more questions. Then satisfied that I knew enough to fake it and being the sort of person I am by nature, I went off alone to my first regional tournament where I picked up partners for two days and had a grand time. (But I know without a great partner in the background telling me I could do it I wouldn’t have had the nerve until much later.)
We played in lots of sectionals and a few regionals together before 9 months after we started playing he moved a few states away. It was, I admit, crushing. Since then I have established a few casual partnerships, but nothing with quite the same … potential (though that’s a word I generally loathe). I work on my declarer play (the only truly solitary aspect of bridge). I keep multiple systems played with different partners straight (most of the time). I pick up partners when I must and make the best of it. I almost always enjoy playing, but admittedly not as much as I did when it felt like every mistake and every victory was building toward a stronger partnership.
My former regular partner and I still play a couple of times a year at tournaments and we e-mail problematic or interesting hands to one another, share wins and losses, and I whine (he doesn’t). Last year I was playing with him in Pittsburgh when he became a Life Master, that is my favorite bridge memory by far. I know at some point we’ll both have partners we’d rather play with in big events, but until then we’ll keep playing and I would just love to be playing with him when I reach Life Master this year (maybe even in Pittsburgh).