Duplicate abounds in what may be called pointsmanship. This is a psychological—if not necessarily ethical or sporting—attack designed specifically to reduce inexperienced opponents to malleable masses of blubber. In its more subtle forms it can shake experts as well. Because pointsmanship is invariably successful against apprentices, no matter how much rubber bridge they have played, a first duplicate tournament is likely to be remembered in the same context as a first driver’s test, a first tooth extraction and a first artillery barrage.
Though pointsmanship assaults are infinite in their variety, no one delivers them with the cunning ferocity of that saber-tooth tiger of small-town duplicate tournaments, the Little Old Lady. The phenomenon is well worth detailing.
A Little Old Lady attack starts gently; the neophyte and his partner sit down and are totally ignored. It is considered glaringly gauche to introduce yourself to an opponent. Enmity is the proper mood. Nice bridge players, the consensus is, finish last.
Once the newcomers are feeling as welcome as a Borgia at a wine tasting, one Little Old Lady asks her LOL partner, «Did you pick up our pink slips from last week, dear?» They may not have won a point in a decade. No matter. The ploy is designed to make an opponent feel he is hopelessly outclassed and can’t win. He is, and he can’t.
Duplicate pairs are required to write the conventions they play on a card, which is placed where their opponents can see it. All a novice can think of writing on his is his own name and «Goren.» Any LOL worthy of the title has a convention card that looks like a microfilmed Gone With the Wind.
When the novice finally takes his hand and manages to bid a quick, «One club,» an LOL will ask sharply, «Are you playing the Hazard Inverse Transfer?» Somehow she manages to get across the simultaneous implication that if you aren’t playing such a thing you should be, and if you are you shouldn’t.
Eventually, when the newcomer has remembered not to shuffle the cards, not to play them in the center of the table and not to breathe, when the sweat has stopped trickling down his yellow spine and the face of his partner is again in focus across the table; in short, when he just begins to relax, one of the LOLs will suddenly bellow, «Director,» loud enough to startle a sloth.
The official running the tournament advances sternly. Every pair of eyes at every table jerks up to look grimly at the novice, and there he sits, the Caryl Chessman of the East Orange YWCA. He had burped. The LOLs claim he was trying to signal his partner.
Ridiculously, novices rarely give up. Pointsmanship triggers a hostile reaction. The peaceable card player gets so mad he is determined to come back next week and give it to some frail LOL right in the gizzard.
A couple of months of returning to the same weekly tournament to get revenge on the same LOLs, and the beginner and his partner unexpectedly finish third. Next week he is handed a small pink slip of paper. Across the top it reads, «Fractional Master Point Certificate.» It bears his name, and in a small box at the lower right is the figure .05. He has five-hundredths of a master point. These people are pretty friendly after all, he decides. Two weeks ago didn’t one of them say hello?
He will now buy a five-foot shelf of the 1,000-odd bridge books available, read some of the six syndicated newspaper bridge columns and take lessons for $20 an hour. He will find out about a Thursday night game in a church cellar and a Saturday afternoon game at a community center and a Sunday morning game in a closed hardware store. He will play five times a week, take his vacations during regional tournaments and develop insidious pointmanship techniques of his own with which he tortures not only novices, but LOLs (he has found they usually are not the best players).