I heard about Clark before I met him. Late in 2011 he showed up at our local club and almost immediately I started hearing his name. One of the players at my club that I really respected came up and asked me if I had met the new guy yet, “He reminds me of you when you started, absorbing everything about this game fast.”
A week or so later I finally did meet Clark, and I was pretty sure we were nothing alike. He was good looking, charismatic and outgoing. He handed me his business card and told me he’d love to play with me sometime. I’ve never been any d_mned good at asking people I want to play with if they want to play with me. He made it look easy. When we finally got a chance to play bridge together he made that look easy too. He had an uncanny knack for making me feel like a rock star at the table; and we fell into an aggressive bidding style in which he would push to put me into an almost impossible contract that I would then push to make. “If I don’t stop making these stupid contracts, you’re never going to learn to stop bidding them,” I would say shaking my head, while inwardly glowing at having pulled off another feat of daring-do. Bridge with Clark is always a good time.
After I moved we immediately started talking about tournaments where we might meet up to play again and we settled on a regional in Nashville. As it finally got closer, something strange happened, I started looking forward to playing bridge again. I found teammates for the Swiss, Mr. Miyagi and another co-worker, and the three of us headed off early Saturday morning to meet up with Clark in the heart of Tennessee.
On Saturday we played in the two-session A/X pairs. The afternoon session went pretty smoothly. Clark, MM and I headed off for dinner and got very lucky playing GPS roulette, ending up at an absolutely amazing restaurant near the hotel. This detail is important because I went on to play as if I’d had a lobotomy during the dinner break instead of the world’s best panna cotta.
On the very first board of the evening session, I misplayed a very common suit holding so badly that I went down two in an otherwise cold contract. Funny thing about me, I can usually see this sort of thing after the fact and this hand was no exception, only my opponent wanted to make sure I knew what I had down wrong and took the liberty of writing the correct line* down for me … on my score sheet. So for the rest of the night there’s this notation silently mocking me from the bottom right-hand corner:
In retrospect, I probably should have thrown the d_mned sheet away and started fresh, though my being on tilt didn’t fully account for the lousy splits and the badly placed cards I encountered for the rest of the night it did go a long way toward explaining my inability to cope at all effectively with them. Meanwhile we were following MM and his partner, and the grumbling I was hearing from the North-South pair at table after table was my first inkling that they were having an absolutely huge game. Our opponents were determined to get their tops back from us and many, if not most, of them succeeded. It made for a long night.
After the evening session MM and partner were in good spirits after their big win and I really wanted a beer (or three) so instead of calling it a night the four of us got in a couple rounds of Hanabi. Hanabi is a deceptively simple, cooperative card game in which the only hand you can not see is your own. One must give, receive and, most importantly, remember information to build a fireworks display. The cards (or “fireworks”) must be played in a particular order and if too many errors are made everyone loses. It is especially interesting for bridge players because the order in which information is given can easily be thought of as a convention of sorts, both positive and negative inferences are relied on heavily and, of course, there’s the small matter of trust. It was only the second time I’d played the game. Clark was a natural; and since the first time I had played Hanabi it was also with MM and his partner, the difference it made to have someone who took to the concept so naturally sitting in the fourth chair was especially striking. It’s funny but if the four of us were somehow stranded somewhere where we had nothing better to do than play card games (say Tennessee?) I wonder how long it would take us to get back to bridge. The real answer of course is something less than ten hours, because the next morning, bright and early we were back at the tables for Swiss.
To be continued ….