|Updated 5th July 2020|
I LIKE TO PLAY BRIDGE
W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
AM NOT at all the proper person to write an article on bridge, for 1 am an
indifferent player and my chief asset as a partner is that 1 never have thought
myself anything else. Nor would it ever have occurred to me to embark on such an
undertaking if Charles Goren hadn't asked me to write an introduction to a book
on bidding that he was about to publish. Everyone knows that Charles Goren is
one of the greatest bridge players in the world, and 1 accepted his suggestion
with alacrity. It was a great compliment he paid me, and 1 felt proud as a
lieutenant might feel if he were bidden by his admiral to lead the flagship into
battle. But having a practical side to an otherwise idealistic nature, I told
him I thought I should let him know at once what my terms were. He paled They
were that he should dine and play bridge with me. He heaved a sip of relief and
accepted. Of course 1 knew I should lose my money, but I was certain that the
fun it would be must make whatever it cost well worth it. 1 have played only
half a dozen times with life masters and it is rash to generalize on such slight
experience, but it has seemed to me that they are easier to play with than
players of the second or third class, for you know they have a good reason for
doing what they do, and when they make a bid, mean what they say. Bridge is a
much more difficult game when one has to deal with players who trust their
hunches rather than their common sense and allow their wishes to warp their
judgment. My story has a happy ending. On that momentous evening I held all the
aces and kings and rose from the table the only winner.
then, I came to read Charles Goren's Standard Rook on Bidding in order to write
my introduction, I felt I could never hope to remember all the rules it gave and
that to try to do so would only confuse me. But presently it dawned upon me that
very few of them, not more than half a dozen perhaps,
obligatory rules which must he followed as you follow those of any game
‑and that the rest depended on horse sense, so that if you had that and
were prepared to abide by it, you need not clutter up your brain with any great
number of precepts. The moral was clear: if you have a cool head, the ability to
put two and two together and get the right answer, and if you will tell the
exact truth about your hand, you will be a useful partner and a formidable
having finished my pieces, 1 found that I had various things to say about bridge
which 1 had not had occasion to say. 1 am going to say them now.
The first thing 1 want to do is to remonstrate with the people who don't play bridge. They are apt to he hoity‑toity with those of us who do and tell us they can't understand how presumably intelligent persons can waste their time on such an idle pastime. That is stuff and nonsense. Everyone has a certain amount of leisure and everyone needs distraction, and when you come to inquire of these supercilious folk how they prefer to occupy their leisure and in what they seek their distraction, the chances are that they will say in conversation. The conversationalist needs an audience, and it is true that the bridge table robs him of it. No wonder he is bitter. But the fact is that few people can talk entertainingly for three or four hours at a time. It needs gifts that few of us possess, and even the most brilliant talker grows tedious if he goes on too long; and when, as he is apt to do, he monopolizes the conversation, he is intolerable. I dare say it profits the soul more to read great literature than to play bridge, but not many of us are prepared to spend our leisure in that improving pursuit. When we can't get a game of bridge, we are more likely to take up a detective story. I have read hundreds of them myself, ‑but 1 cannot put my hand on my heart and say that 1 am conscious of receiving more spiritual benefit from reading the latest whodunit than from playing half a dozen hard fought rubbers.
No, let the carping carp, they don't know what they miss. If I had my way, 1 would have children taught bridge as a matter of course, just as they are taught dancing. In the end it will be more useful to them for you cannot with seemliness continue to dance when you are bald and potbellied; nor, for the matter of that, can you with satisfaction to yourself or pleasure to your partners continue to play tennis or golf when you are past middle age; but you can play bridge as long as you can sit up at a table and tell one card from another. In fact, when all else fails sport, love, ambition, bridge remains a solace and an entertainment.
though I think everybody should learn bridge, I do not think everybody should
play it. Not lessons, books, or practice will make players of those who have no
card sense. These unfortunate creatures must look upon it as a defect of nature,
like tone deafness or colour blindness, and resign themselves to solitaire,
crossword puzzles, or what not.
is the most entertaining and intelligent card game the wit of man has so far
devised, and I deplore the fact that so many people go cut of their way to make
it a bore. There are the people who, after a hand has been played, will tell you
all the thirteen cards they held. Well, you'd seen them played, so you know; but
even if you didn’t., why should they suppose you care? Then there are the
people who during the deal or when you're sorting your cards start to tell you
about Aunt Annie's operation or the trouble they're having with decorators in
their new apartment. There is no stopping them"
heart," you say.
take no notice.
y dear, I've had three cooks in the last two weeks and not one of them could
boil an egg."
heart," you repeat
I’ll tell you what happened to me," says your partner. I got a couple.
They drove up in their car, looked at the house, and didn’t even come in. They
just drove away,, and I was expecting eight people to lunch on Sunday."
heart," you say.
know that Betty’s got a new beau?" the player on your right puts in.
you mean Harry," replies the player on your left. “I've known that for
months. She always has liked heels."
to get a little attention, you have a mind to say, "Seven no trumps,"
but of course it might be expensive and your partner wouldn’t
be sympathetic, so you meekly repeat, "One heart"
But this is nothing compared with the post-mortem. It is the commonest nuisance that besets the game. It is not only boring, but useless, for if you cannot see a mistake when you have made it, no argument will convince you of your error; and if you do see it, the probability is that your vanity will prevent you from acknowledging it; so the critic may just as well hold his piece and deal the next hand It is a very good rule, when your partner points out a mistake you have made, to agree with him promptly and when on the next hand he lets you down fourteen hundred by grossly overcalling, to tell him cheerfully not to give it another thought. Of such, you will say, is the Kingdom of Heaven, and I heartily agree.
time to time I have read books on bridge, profiting by them as much as it was in
my sinful nature to do and I have been surprised that they lay no more
stress than they do on the advantage it is to you to find out as quickly
as you can something of the nature of the persons you are playing with.
had a friend once who held the opinion that you could tell the character of
people by the way they played. 1 think he was generalizing, on the single
instance of himself .He played a bold. generous, and dashing game, and he liked
to think of himself as a dashing , generous and bold fellow. He was a picture
dealer and by the proper exercise of qualities
on which he prided himself succeeded for many years in selling many
second-rate old masters to the rich at fantastic prices, Well, I don't know
whether there was truth in this notion but I’m pretty sure
it is a distinct help if you can guess the peculiarities of your
partners and opponents with accuracy. There is the diffident player who
consistently undercalls, the aggressive player who as consistently overcalls;
there is the cautious player who follows the rule when it is obvious that the
ride doesn't apply; there is the sly player who thinks you are such a fool he
can fox you every time. All these you can size up pretty quickly and deal with
according to their idiosyncrasies. But there is one player whom I have never
learned how to cope with and that is the player who never stops to consider that
you also hold thirteen cards; he will ignore your bids, he will pay no attention
to your warnings, come hell or high water he will take command of the hand and
when he has been doubled and gone down several tricks, he'll ascribe it to
nothing but bad luck. You are fortunate if he doesn't smile blandly and say,
Well, I think it was worth it, partner. I am still looking for the book that
will show me how to deal with him. Shooting is too quick and too painless, and
besides, there might not be another fourth available.
As 1 look now at what 1 have written, it seems to me that the essentials for playing a good game of bridge are to be truthful, clearheaded, and considerate, prudent but not, averse to taking a risk, and not to cry over spilt milk. And incidentally those are perhaps also the essentials for playing the more important game of life.