Bridge & Humor: Bombs Spurred Bridge Interest

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Alan Truscott learned to play bridge in an English bomb shelter. It was 1941, he was 15 and German bombers …

By Ana Roth
On 27 December, 2016 At 20:23

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Reading Eagle – 19 Abr 1979

Alan Truscott learned to play bridge in an English bomb shelter. It was 1941, he was 15 and German bombers were passing almost daily over his boarding school on their way to London. Truscott has been bidding and trumping ever since, as a champion player and, for the last 16 years, as the New York Times bridge columnist.

“Before our teachers realized we could do our school-work in the air-raid shelters,'”• Truscott recalled re
cently, “we were quite behind in our studies but ahead in our bridge.” Truscott took his skill to Oxford University and on to European bridge tournaments.

He first came to the United States in 1961 to write a bridge encyclopedia. Two years later, he landed his job at the Times, becoming the second person to write the bridge column in its 50-year history. Truscott, a witty man who retains his English accent, continues to preside over a local bridge club and play in major tournaments.

“I win my share,” he said modestly. He has had to cut back a little to write his daily column where he reports on bridge news and offers technical advice. There is so much going on in the bridge world, Truscott said, that he often has to decide what not to write about.

Not a Grind

But it is never a grind, he added, because “the bridge came first, then the writing, and I love what I do.” Plus, he said, “I’m the only Times writer who gets a byline every day.” Truscott estimated that there are 5 to 10 million bridge enthusiasts in the country, 200,000 of whom are serious tournament players. He said he writes for all players and for a pack of people “who never sit down at the table, like commuters on the train who follow the column every morning.”

The appeal of bridge, he said, is “intellectual and social. When you’re young and introverted, you play chess. When you grow up and become a little more social, it’s bridge.”

Very Murky

Bridge history, the expert said, is “very murky.” But it probably evolved from the 16th-century servants’ game of whist. By the 18th century, he said, it had become a popular upper-class pastime. It was not until about 100 years ago that modern bridge features — the dummy hand, bidding and contracts — began to appear. Most people learn the complicated game “the wrong way, by sitting down with their neighbors,” Truscott said.

He suggested instead consulting bridge instruction books or taking a course. He warned, however, that it takes years to really learn “the language of bridge.” He mentioned how he recently spent weeks perfecting a new strategy only to try it out at a tournament and make “a minor but fatal error.”

Sharp Eye

To be a professional, one needs analytical abilities —mathematicians make good players, Truscott said. And
then, one must have “the stamina to concentrate furiously hour after hour” and a “psychological awareness” of competitors’ personalities. Finding a partner with the same level of expertise is also important, he said.

Truscott often teams up with his wife, Dorothy, whom he met at a bridge table and described as “one of the two or three best women players in the world.” But husband and wife teams are not always so successful, Truscott said, launching into the story of the great bridge-table murder of 1929.

Kansas City

It seems a Kansas City couple had planned to go to the movies but it rained and they decided to play bridge instead. As the game progressed, they became more and more incensed with each other’s moves and, somewhat to the embarrassment of the other team, began trading insults. Finally, when the wife made a particularly risky play, the husband called her something unprintable, and she left the table. She came back with a gun and killed him. She was eventually acquitted by a jury but, as Truscott noted,” she had a hard time getting bridge partners after that.”

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