The Opening Deal
Little did I know on that cold, damp January night what a strange turn my life was about to take or just how many hours would be spent there once I had found my way to the basement lair of my local bridge club. That first night I sat down with a dozen other students, told the teacher I had never played bridge before and knew nothing of it except for the indecipherable column in the local newspaper.
Which isn’t to say I knew nothing of card games. I grew up playing cards. At almost every gathering, my family plays a trump game called “Ol’ Heck” (renamed thus when my preacher father joined the family). My first word was, “Two,” spoken during one such session as I sat in a high chair observing the proceedings (“two” is a very common bid).
Aside from the aforementioned newspaper column, my only exposure to bridge was through popular culture. There was the social bridge club which figured in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums there is a brief scene in which Ethel Tenenbaum (Angelica Huston) is shown playing bridge and the narrator notes that she teaches the game along with her paramour Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). I would come across cartoons of a certain vintage that contained inscrutable punch lines, and I came to identify these as bridge jokes, but I couldn’t begin to understand why they were funny. It had been my experience that many card games were alike in some way and that one could use experience with one to understand another, but bridge remained impenetrable.
And so in the first few days of 2009 I found myself searching the Internet for more information on bridge and I came across the local bridge club’s website which advertised free lessons for beginners. That was how I found myself at the club that night, thinking I would just learn a new card game and perhaps share it with my family next time I visited them. In the coming weeks the original dozen students dwindled to a handful, and I can’t say why it is that I was hooked and they were not, but within a few months I was playing twice a week and now a year and a half later I play four or five times a week — sometimes more — and I devote more time, money and energy to this game than to anything else.