How long have you been playing bridge?
I learned with Acol member Richard Spencer about fifty years ago. Our parents played what they called 'social' bridge. Their game was primarily a pretext for spirited argument. I lived in Los Angeles for forty years where I played only rubber bridge. When I returned to London in 2010 I was surprised to discover that Richard had given up that form of the game. "Once you develop a taste for duplicate," he told me, "you'll lose the urge to play Chicago." I didn't believe him but he turned out to be right.
Who do you like to play with?
Three of my favourite duplicate partners have been rubber bridge players: Hana Marmarchi, Robert Goldsobel and the late Richard Selway. You don't waste time discussing conventions. It's always "Strong and Four, Partner". Strong Twos, Strong No Trump, Four Card Majors. No conventions other than Stayman and regular Blackwood. No negative doubles. I've fared well with all of them. No misunderstandings.
My most frequent partner recently has been K. Mobin Rahman, an incredibly sophisticated player given that he took up the game under two years ago. He insisted that I should learn Jacoby, taking the time and trouble to teach me a useful convention that I'd stubbornly and foolishly resisted for six years.
What do you enjoy most about the game?
That sound declarer play, accurate bidding and strong defence will normally be rewarded. But not always.
Unlike most other forms of human endeavour, in bridge age is not a determining factor. At one end of the spectrum I played for several years with Sheila Peers until she was 97. At the other I enjoy playing with Alex Crystol, Sarah O'Connor and Shahzaad Natt whose combined ages are lower than mine.
Dinah Caplan is my favourite partner. She firmly believes there's a correct bid in whatever system you're playing, and that's the one you should always make. I'm not sure I agree. My bidding is more situational although Dinah might describe it as erratic. I vary my bids according to the opposition.
I picked up from Dinah this nugget of excellent advice: When you've made a costly mistake forget about it until the session is over. Forgive yourself and move on. If you dwell on it you'll misplay the next board.
So many good players are drawn to the Acol. I've been lucky enough to partner Howard Cohen, Yaniv Vax, Richard Bowdery, Emile Lawy, Bijan Dolatabadi, Steve Capal and Steve Root. I've learned from them all. It's also a rare privilege to play against Glyn Liggins, Ivor Miller and Ian Pagan. When they dissect a hand for their partners you're a fool not to listen.
Why do you choose to play at The Acol?
Geographical proximity, the quality of the food and a fondness for the membership are all factors. But the primary reason is my admiration for Noorul Malik. It's rare in life to find someone so perfectly suited to his job. Noorul has effervescent charm, boundless energy and good organisational skills. He's a terrific chef and caterer. I think he's also an underrated bridge player but seems lately to have given up playing unless he has to. Or maybe he just doesn't want to play with me. Noorul has managed to assemble the most capable bridge staff in London. I pray every day that he doesn't fire anyone.
How did you get to be so good?
I don't think I am. The best aspect of my game is an uncanny ability to cajole good players into partnering me. I take pride in my promiscuity. I've had more partners - over 150 - than anyone else at the Acol, including members of staff. Steve Root has unkindly suggested that's because no one will play with me twice.
What did you do in your career?
I was a screenwriter, working in motion pictures and television in California. Unlike bridge ageism is evident in that arena. After a long and enjoyable career my phone stopped ringing when I turned sixty. So now I'm happy to be playing bridge every day.
Back of the Pack Part 9
It was ‘Useful hints for useless players’ that first caught my eye at the back of The Bridge Player’s Bedside Book by Tony Forrester?*. “At last, a genuinely relevant bridge book” I thought to myself, shelling out £3.99 with scarcely a twinge from the old war-wound. And thus it turned out; although slipping it to Partner without him taking umbrage required diplomatic skills of a high order.
* Colt Books, 1997. Yours for £0.01 plus postage from a cornucopia of Amazon Marketplace sellers.
This literary masterpiece, by one Dennis Spooner rather than Forrester himself, adopts what one might call a psychological rather than a skills-based approach to the competitive game; it calls to mind Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, compulsory reading from the 5th Century BC for all young and thrusting executives in the Isle of Dogs. The article runs the gamut from cunning ejaculations, through innocent asides, past artful questions to expressive body language, and is mercifully short of the sort of dense reasoning about defence against 1NT that is inclined to make the eyes glaze over.
For the sake of clarity, the list below organizes Spooner’s suggestions in time order. However, merely the highlights are sketched; the reader is encouraged to sit at the feet of the master himself** at the earliest possible opportunity.
Upon arrival: Demoralize the opposition by continuing a conversation with your partner, concluding with the line “… anyway, just average scores from now on should keep us safely in first place.”
When your opponents are bidding: At an appropriate juncture, ask a question such as “Do you play Wilkins’ raises / modified Steptoe?” followed by an incredulous riposte to any positive or negative reply. The convention invoked should be imaginary, which guarantees generating of a sense of inferiority in the opposition.
When partner’s dummy goes down: Smile knowingly and say “Yes, exactly what I thought.” This is especially crucial when you have bid yourself into another totally hopeless contract; your opponents may avoid playing their obvious winners because they assume (quite wrongly) that you have them all covered.
During the play:
- Always frown. This gives opponents the misleading impression that you are thinking.
- When defending, suddenly look relaxed around trick four as Declarer plays some completely inconsequential card such as the 5 of Diamonds. Couple this with “He did have it!” The implied suggestion that you know exactly what each player holds can be quite unnerving, as well as hopelessly false.
Between hands: Some such line as “(sigh) Andrew has asked me to play with him again this weekend!” hints at an unsettling standard of play, such that your mistakes may be construed as high-level tactics, spreading confusion. Adjust the name invoked to the club being played at (although “Andrew” is usually safe).
If all else fails: Learn to play bridge properly. Oh dear.
**Dennis Spooner (1932 – 1986) played professional football for Leyton Orient and wrote scripts for Doctor Who and The Avengers. He also played bridge at the Harrow Bridge Club, many of whose players are immortalized in the names of his TV villains.