The Bridge Road Warriors: Atlanta NABC
On 11 August, 2013 At 3:03
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Visit: Great American Bridge Tour
Serge de Muller interviews GS Jade Barrett CSBNews USA Correspondent
14:23 11 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.” – John D. Rockefeller
“You will never beat Hamman and Wolfe playing Hamman and Wolfe’s methods” – Rev Richard E Barrett
The remarkable accomplishments of Bridge24 (s Jacek
Kalita, Michael Nowosadski, Rafal Jagniewski and
Wojciech Gawel) an exceptional collection of very youthful players from Poland has shaken the bridge world again. They join the growing number of under 50 year olds who challenge the outstanding legends of the game on a now daily basis.
The products of JR teams the world over, whose development of these players is to be commended. The players themselves deserve the lion’s share of the credit, their persistent efforts to train, to grow, to think, to seek new lines of reasoning are as impressive as those that preceded them. Every Champion broke new ground in the same manner since the dawn of bridge time.
Given the lifespan of bridge athletes in general, the old guard of each generation will not be taking these challenges lightly and neither should the new – the battle for dominance is ever ongoing.
17:55 10 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“But your thoughts will soon be wandering, the way they always do When you’re riding sixteen hours and there’s nothing much to do And you don’t feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through” – Bob Seeger (turn the page)
As the North American Bridge Championships (NABC) wind down, the athletes begin their journeys home. More than a few leave with a sense of accomplishment, having successfully attained a goal they had set for themselves. One particularly hirsute player stated that his greatest achievement was not resembling a baboon while declaring. His wife pointed out that wearing a shirt went a long way to accomplishing that mission.
Others will make their way to the next tournament, often beginning the Monday immediately following the NABC, prepared to meet others from the tournament at the table.
Same day, different week.
Many of the top level players compete against each other twenty to thirty weeks a year as they travel the American Contract Bridge League tournament trail, and while they fiercely compete against each other, they often act as extended families to each other. The bridge athlete is an unusual beast that way – frequently in mental combat and best friends at the same time. Despite their best efforts, they always become more than opponents.
09:47 8 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett CSBNews USA Correspondent
“I need a hard-headed woman, one who will make me do my best…” Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam
As every man of every age, generation and era can attest to, a great woman is hard to find. The bridge community has its own peculiar rituals regarding this phenomenon of both attraction and avoidance visible to those who pay close attention. As there have been few studies researching this odd performance of bridge athletes, there is little known beyond what has been casually observed.
Every summer during the North American Bridge Championships the males seek out the single female in order to have a chance to be crowned Mixed Team Kings and Queens for the coming year. The dance begins in earnest the moment that teams are eliminated from the Spingold and Wagar Teams, as well as those completing the Senior Swiss competition. Unattached males wander the streets, corridors, hallways and aisles with the occasional quick search of the nearest pubs and restaurants in pursuit of the elusive Great Woman. When one is found, the immediate pairing courtship begins. While furtively glancing around the room, the male finding no immediate threat will begin the overtures in one of the typical manners: 1) Hi, (Insert name here if he knows it, otherwise the short form will have to do), what are you doing tomorrow?”; or 2) the more direct “Are you available for the Mixed Board a Match?”; perhaps he will select 3) “I want you for a partner, and by the way, do you have a girlfriend for my buddy?” if a pair of males is prowling together (not typical, but hardly unknown to occur).
Occasionally a young cub will approach a more mature lioness and suggest that she “dumps the stiff and win the event with me!”. This always entertains those within earshot as the rebuff reduces the immature lion to infancy, in some cases for many years to come.
Additionally, the Mixed Board – A – Match has its fair share of married and otherwise committed couples, driven together by a poorly thought out prenuptial agreement that requires them to enter this event to test the strength of their relationship. With the goal of finishing all four sessions without the requirement of attendance of their respective legal counsel, this trial by fire has proven the power of the banns of wedded bliss.
The late Max Hardy – Hall of Fame member and Head Director for many of these events – performed his appointed duties dressed in a tuxedo for the Final Session. While this tradition paid tribute to the seriousness of the proceedings, in later years he was sometimes mistaken for the Headwaiter. He took the order for a martini from one young woman, delivered it and then informed her that she was late for the next round. It was said that she tipped him, anyway, despite his insolent behavior.
Perhaps she should have been shaken, not stirred.
13:03 7 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“I think there needs to be a meeting to set an agenda for more meetings about meetings” – Jonah Goldberg
There is another stamina challenging event at the North American Bridge Championships called “The Meeting”.
Only the best trained athletes can perform the sometimes Herculean task of staying alert – much less awake – during these marathon sessions of discussion, voting and tabling agendas. Great competitors have been known to volunteer opponents for these late night committee competitions, sure in the belief that given enough opportunity to extend the game that they will gain an advantage over their ill-rested adversary on the morrow.
This strategy works particularly well when there are trivial, but seemingly endless details up for consideration. If the Committee has a weak Chair, they are guaranteed to have a eons long meeting fraught with conversation and distractions, and – with any luck at all – a suspension of activity that must be continued the next day.
Not to say these organizations responsible for the preservation of bridge are not important, for indeed they are vital to the sustainability of the game. Many good ideas surface, and if not drowned in the sea of doubt nor burned out by passionate, but misguided debate, will provide some entertainment by the people who will help them flourish to the benefit of all. And occasionally, something worth losing sleep over.
08:56 7 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
The Venezuela Junior Team has experienced more than their fair of success here in Atlanta at the WORLD OPEN YOUTH CHAMPIONSHIPS. More to come!
13:56 6 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“A journey, I reflected, is of no merit unless it has tested you” Tahir Shah.
As the North American Bridge Championships enter their sixth day the energy of the competitors levels off. It is extremely easy to relax and suddenly lose focus -the Victors recognize they must work efficiently, but extremely hard every hand.
Failure to maintain vigilance will cost every athlete, it is simply a matter of time. Much has been written about the quality of play in the later rounds of major championships, about the qualifying rounds revealing the greatness of many players rarely seen after the round of eight. This reveals the difference between great players and great competitors – the ability to conserve energy and enthusiasm for the moment that you need it most. But if you have enough gas in the tank to play another deal after the match has officially ended, you have not worked hard enough.
17:55 5 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“You speak it the same way you speak English, you just use different words” – Old Time radio comedian Gracie Allen when asked how to speak French.
With as many colloquial dialects of bridge as players in the world, it comes as no surprise that the explanation “Standard” is very meaningful – but only to the people who are saying it. With that in mind, the casual kibbitzer often bears witness to more than a few perplexing conversations. Adroit users of the “Alert” procedure are constantly coming up with new and more confusing descriptions daily. Over the decades, more than a few have become legends.
Anne S Hoffman was known for her particular wit when describing her partner’s conventional calls: “Our systemic agreement for that bid is that he has no clue what is happening”; “He wants to know just how bad the piece of crap I opened is”; “That bid requires you to start doubling for penalty now” and last, but not least the ever popular: “Scattered values and a desire to go down”.
The sheer number of agreements available to the average player is quite large, and therefor the huge number of possible outcomes of an auction is stupefying.
Ted Muller (check out his Ted’s Bridge World, www.tedmuller.us) provides this calculation:
“If each of earth’s 7 billion humans could simultaneously operate 7 billion computers, each of which could spit out 7 billion unique bridge auctions every second, it still would take more than a trillion years to complete a listing! Yes, the total is approximately equal to the odds against your number coming up a winner on 30 consecutive spins of a roulette wheel.”
14:26 5 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends We’re so glad you could attend Come inside! Come inside!” – Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Monday sees the start of the show of shows at the Atlanta North American Bridge Championships as the Spingold Knock-Out Teams conducts the early round matches. With representatives from numerous countries and continents, the level of play will be astounding. Each match is entertaining and kibbitzers are in no short supply as even those in the competition will watch during their breaks. In no other sport is the field so balanced that every single match is a toss-up. No wonder there are very few Bridge handicappers, and those who do dare to predict a match rarely have over a 65% accuracy rate.
The TRUSCOTT/US PLAYING CARD SENIOR SWISS and the WAGAR WOMEN”S TEAMS features a vast majority of the best players on Earth that fit those categories, and anyone who captures any of these events has certainly earned the title of NORTH AMERICAN CHAMPION. Thanks to BridgeBaseOnline.com for the great coverage they provide. The commentary is brilliant and entertaining and reflects the joy of the game.
02:57 5 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“To err is human, to forgive divine” – Alexander Pope
“Sorry, Partner” is one of the more commonly used phrases in bridge and will be heard virtually countless times (and failure to count is usually the main problem) during these ten days of premier competition.
The ability to forgive partners is critical to the success of every partnership, for without this absolution no relationship could last more than a few seconds. Many bridge partnerships have lasted more than a generation, surviving many trials to keep playing in the face of overwhelming odds. The emotional fortitude of these hearty individuals is difficult to imagine, much less describe.
The discussions between partners is often heated, for bridge is unquestionably an emotionally charged game. The athlete’s mistakes are readily visible for all to see and the expert who errs will have the story of their folly shared frequently. Therefor the need for the safe haven of the hospitality suite.
The hospitality suite often acts as a refuge where stories of hands past and present are exchanged over cocktails and snacks. The camaraderie among the participants grows with each related tale of outlandish actions of the opponents, partner or self, all the while at the other end of the room your partner is sharing their perspective on your horrible auction/play. Anyone may throw their cautionary tale into the review, fully aware that the next hand that is shared may reveal their feet of clay. Yet, no matter how difficult the circumstances of the previous session, the best relationships will come together, strong in the belief that this time they will get every possible action right. Bridge is a game of hope.
14:05 4 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“There is a fountain of youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring in your life and the lives of people you love” – Sophia Loren
The invasion of young voices into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta for the 3rd World Youth Open Bridge Championships raised the level of energy for the entire tournament. The older players always rave about the joy of seeing so many young faces and over 240 players under the age of 21 filled the room when they began their competitions.
China, Venezuela, Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Poland, USA, Canada and others are represented here, each young contingent brings the newest wave of hope and joy to the game.
Many of the older players started in high school and college, left the game for a time and returned, while others have stayed here the whole time. It is hard not to remember the innocence of their youth when every finesse worked and no one ever ruffed your winner – unless it was your partner.
03:39 4 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly all your life” – Sir Paul McCartney
The insomniacs share the hotel lobby with the late night gatherers. The set-up crew continues to do its superb job of preparing the playing area for the 10:00 events. The Midnight session contestants make every effort to find libations of an alcoholic nature, but the bars are closed and the local laws prevent the sale of any form of liquid mood enhancer until noon on Sunday. Atlanta is supposed to be a civilized city, but the revelers do not believe that to be true.
The insomniacs are a wee different. Some are kept awake by their success, others by their failure. The first Saturday night of the Summer North American Bridge Championships is different than most evenings. With the Finals looming in seven different events, many of the athletes have retired to their rooms.
That leaves the hardcore late-nighters to roam the halls, often discovering people playing games other than bridge. Poker is a favorite; different card and board games are also acceptable time passers. As if playing sixteen hours a day isn’t enough
18:31 3 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“If you want me to disagree with you, you will have to change the subject” – Platinum LifeMaster Miles Adkins
The discussions of hands played and bids made or not made is continued throughout the day. Competitors will seek out more experienced players to offer a opinion – in some cases asking different greats in the effort to find one (any one) who will agree with them. That can take a while.
With so many World and North American Champions in attendance it comes as no surprise that the level of competition is so astoundingly high. Even the side events are full of players that can – and have (in some cases a multiple of times) won World Championships. They play to practice, they play for the rewarding experience, they play because that is who they are.
Some years ago, the one session Pairs tournament with fifty-four tables had over sixty individual North American Champions and World Champions in attendance – more than the total who competed in the two session Swiss that was held simultaneously!
While winning the side game is not a major, it is still an accomplishment and any accomplishment is worthy of some note. One player explained his journey through a minor four session Teams Tournament like this: “Our prize for winning the first match against four World Champions was the opportunity to play FIVE World Champions. The prize for defeating our second round opponent was the opportunity to play SIX World Champions. The reward for advancing to the final round was to play SIX more World Champions coached by a bridge legend! I thought Regional events were supposed to be easy. Next time we will enter the North American event that’s scheduled and play an easier field!”
Some people are never satisfied.
13:11 3 August 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest; of excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times… ” – William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
One of the disadvantages of the North American Bridge Championships is that we hear all the sad news. World Champion and favorite of virtually every single bridge player who had the pleasure of making his acquaintance was Hamish Bennett whose passing was the large story of the morning.
He joins the legion of great personalities who now inhabit the heavens, hopefully having just the right number of players for the perfect movement.
As in every organization whose members participate for generations, we share our losses collectively. The community of members is a support group unlike any other – so much so that many people who have lost a loved one seek their solace at a game. What may seem callous to the casual observer is actually a welcoming environment for those experiencing acute personal pain. They are surrounded by people who’s relationship with loss is beyond profound. Who better than to console you than your bridge family and friends?
17:42 August 2 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“Actually, this seems to be the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis — a good hot cup of coffee”. ~Alexander King
Every North American Bridge Championship is attended by hoards of coffee drinkers. The Europeans and South Americans discover that you can acquire any flavor of coffee you want in the USA – except coffee flavored.
It becomes a secondary competition among many of the players to find the best coffee within a walk of the playing area, with scouts being sent searching in every direction. Occasionally one will return empty handed and while there are no loud complaints, you can see the shame in their teammates eyes.
There are those who favor tea, but they are typically treated in the same manner as embarrassing relatives – unless they discover a great bar.
Charlie Coon, a great player from New England who has since gone to his reward, certainly gained many points for heavenly entry from his friends and neighbors due to his uncanny ability to find the cheapest scotch in whatever community he was in. People would just follow Charlie and reap the rewards of his discoveries.
It pays to know who to look out for.
12:08 August 2 2013 GS Jade Barrett
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded “. Yogi
People start mingling in the lobby about 45 minutes before game time, catching up with the new arrivals, searching for teammates or seeking a partner for the coming days. Within a quarter-hour negotiating a path through the mob requires some energy of its own. Thousands of players will be seated by game time, prepared to face the hands of the day.
Given that there are more possible hands than any human can conceive of, it takes a fair amount of time to train the mind to cope with the virtually unlimited variations. Despite the intimidating numbers, every competitor displays a fairly consistent level of competence. There is an amazingly small difference between a good player and a great one.
To the casual observer, some of the tables are much less serious than others, however this would be a misconception. As many varied personalities as there are in the world, all of them are represented here. Every individual deals with the stress of competition in their own way. In this manner every single athlete’s journey is their own.
1 August 2013 11:37 PM GS Jade Barrett
“Well we was having so much fun
I didn’t know it was half past one
I turned around to have on more
I looked at the clock and it was half past four”
Lyrics from “Hey Bartender” by Floyd Dixon 1954
The first twenty-four hours of every North American Bridge Championships (NABC) is the equivalent of an alumni reunion for many attendees. People who played a generation or two ago appear and rejoin the party that has been going on since the 1930’s.
Many of the athletes have been competing successfully for sixty years or more, and they may have left the tournament environment for a while, but somehow they always find their way back. Many of the NABCs have photos from the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s on display, as the subjects of those photos study themselves and remember those yesterdays. One bald player was heard to comment that he deserved to lose his hair given the way he had chosen to wear it.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of these memories is that they are not faded glories from an era that no longer exists. They are moments in time that just happened.
People in the bridge community are forward thinkers, rarely looking back, and even more rarely with remorse. While they all have the championship that they lost – though in all fairness virtually every event is lost rather than won – there are a few that escaped through no real fault of their own.
The gathering of the community regularly occurs in the bars and smoking areas, restaurants and hotel lobbies, but almost never in the playing arena. While old friends are greeted at the table and social intercourse does take place, ultimately the bridge room is for serious business.
1 August 2013 “The effort to play perfectly is a sure path to madness”. GS Jade Barrett
They arrive by plane, train and automobile, from every corner of the Earth. Within moments of my own arrival at the Atlanta Airport I have seen athletes from China, Poland, Turkey, Canada, Netherlands, England and at least 26 US States. They come from every walk of life, with success in their professions that prepares them for the titanic mental struggle that awaits.
The confidence is there, but so are the doubts that haunt many of them. It is hard to avoid the occasional crisis in an arena where all the greats have had their moments of disaster, where bad luck has prevailed perhaps more than it should have.
Not one competitor enters these Championships with the expectation of failure, in fact, they always seem surprised when they stumble. It is the resilient player that moves on to the next event, strong in the faith that the previous loss was atypical; remaining prepared to succeed in this current endeavor.
There may be no other sport in which the ability to withstand loss is this large a part of the game.