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8th December


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Alex Pemberton

One of our youngest members, Alex has played bridge for four years and regularly at the Acol for about two years. Partnering with his father John, they usually play at weekend and sometimes mid-week sessions during school holidays.

Why did you start? Where did you learn to play?

I was very much encouraged by my father to start and to get me going. I went to the junior teach in at Loughborough University where I played my first ever duplicate.

What do you enjoy most about the game?

I love to play bridge with my friends and my dad but what I love most is the maths, it is my absolute favourite subject.

Who do you partner with? Who makes the most mistakes?

I nearly always partner with my dad and sometimes other juniors. With my dad it is me that makes the most mistakes (and the worst mistakes), but I think that gradually the difference is becoming less.

Rumour has it you’re a great player – have you played in any tournaments? Do you want to play professionally when you are older?

Well I hope I am a reasonable player for my age. I have played in tournaments at the Loughborough junior teach-in, the Year-End congress, and Coventry – and really enjoyed them. I am not sure if I would like to be a professional when I’m older but I think it is really nice that bridge is something I can turn to enjoy – and who knows.

Would you recommend other young people learn to play bridge? If so, why?

I would certainly recommend bridge to younger people especially if they enjoy maths; bridge is just so much fun. I would suggest it because even though some people would say bridge is not a very social game, I don’t think so. I meet 16+ people every time I play and if that’s not a social game: I don’t know what is.

What school do you go to? What are your favourite subjects?

I go to North Bridge House school and am in my last year - next year I start at UCS. Aside from maths my favourite subject is sport – especially cricket and cross-country.

What do you want to be once you have finished studying?

I really don’t know but I definitely want to be doing something mathsy.

Do you have any other activities aside from bridge?

Yes, I play cricket for my borough and I play in a club - I am a wicket keeper. I play rugby and football for the school and run cross-country. I also like skiing and this year started snow boarding which was great. In my downtime, I like playing computer games such as Plants vs. Zombies.

Back of the Pack Part 6

Back of the Pack Part 6


B Player

A moment’s reflection will confirm that only half of the players at any Club duplicate session can achieve above-average results.* Of course, the mathematically literate will mutter into their beards about the distinction between “mean” and “median”, but the fact remains that many pairs will always be languishing in the lower reaches of the leader board. And given that the same £8 in table money is extracted from these poor unfortunates as is demanded of the winners, there is significant scope here for a major happiness deficit on every bridge occasion.

*This is contrary to government education policy, of course, that all schools should be “outstanding”. However, bridge players, unlike governments, are handicapped by the rules of logic.

One possible answer, of course, would be the introduction of non-competitive, co-operative, mutually-affirming bridge sessions (possibly run by the Woodcraft Folk). But however much this might appeal to the politically correct, I imagine it would be about as gripping as non-competitive sports days and community paint-drying vigils. No, the real solution came to me in a flash of enlightenment the other day while I was staring over Partner’s shoulder at the results screen and our usual dismal position thereon. I, and possibly all duplicate bridge players, should take up the practice of Buddhism.

Now, I do not have in mind here dressing the Club Manager in maroon robes, and getting him to beam beatifically whilst intoning “My religion is kindness”, like a West Hampstead Dalai Lama. Although that is certainly an intriguing image. Nor was I thinking of arranging for Nag Champa incense to be burned behind the bar, or compulsory meditation sessions before the start of play. Rather, I have in mind one of that profound religion’s core principles.

“Life is a matter of suffering*,” says the first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths. “It will always be unsatisfactory; something will always be wrong. Even when you have moments of elation you are aware that they cannot last and suffering will return in due course.” How very true. Especially for those saddled with Partner. Moments of elation still do occur, I reluctantly admit, but they are rare, oh so very rare. Suffering is without doubt the default mode with him across the table. 

*A translation of the Pali term “dukkha”, which roughly means “unsatisfactoriness” rather than the pain of raging toothache, although it also includes the latter.

True, but perhaps not terribly helpful. However, “it is wanting things to be different that causes this suffering; stop such wanting and suffering disappears*,” the Noble Truths continue. That’s it! Equanimity! Being happy because you are content with things as they are; not because they are outstandingly good (just as well) but because you are content anyway. Or, as Kipling so pithily puts it in If**, possibly with bridge players in mind, treating triumph and (overwhelmingly, in our case) disaster, those two imposters, just the same.

*A very free translation of the second and third Noble Truths, as the previous paragraph is a very free translation and expansion of the first.

**If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

So, let’s get this straight. The route to happiness is to regard Partner benignly, not as the cause of my despair, but rather as a potential aid to my own self-improvement. Every occasion on which he causes me grief (about once every 5 minutes on average) I need to thank him for an opportunity to engage in profound spiritual practice. Well, that’s certainly different. I cannot wait to rush off and try it out.

Next time, no doubt, I will reporting upon the dismal failure of this enterprise. Meanwhile, dear me, this column has almost become serious. I do most humbly apologise. It certainly won’t ever happen again.

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Player of the Week!

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