My wife and I and a couple who are friends of ours are doing the Gatlinburg New Year's Eve this year. Apparently, the party on the streets is incredible, with a ball drop and fireworks and live music, all free. Of course, the drinks in the various venues are not free.
I am looking forward to this. It is weird, though. Growing up with Gatlinburg, TN, as part of my life (I consider it my other home and even thought about not leaving one time), I have a fondness for the various seasons, the hiking, the pancakes, the cabin in the hills, the hot tub, the outlet malls, the kitch, and all that. But, I canot help but feeling a bizarre attachment to two locations in Gatlinburg, namely the steps on the north side of the convention center (where you get the smoke and talk during the regional) and the bar stools at Calhoun's (the post-mortem). Just plain weird, to find yourself in such a fun city, with so much to do, and yet long for the next round to be called, eh?
Our friends are not bridge players. I sent them the ACBL's link to Fred Gitelman's Learn to Play Bridge, hoping maybe somehow this would stick. I wouldn't mind a few run around the table on a cold night, you know?
This past Thursday, our local club had a LM party for a man who returned to the game and made LM just a couple of months after his wife. (Yes, ribbing occurred.) The format was a "pro am" game, with the regulars each paired up with a beginner, meaning someone who does not play duplicate. This made for a lot of fun. There is nothing like remembering back when duplicate bridge was a new thing, eh? I absolutely love playing with rookies.
My partner announced that he knew Blackwood, but Stayman not so much. He was apparently the "fill in" when the men's club needed another body, the "short straw," if you will. When we ended up winning the game, he was bursting at the seams, having earned bragging rights for at least a year. I personally have not felt as good with any good performance in some time as I did that night. This was not because I dragged a newbie across the line but because he kept up. Decent defense. Good leads. Reasonable judgment. I mean, sure. By our usual standards, it was frightening. But, I could see his mind working, and he used the assets he had very well. I could not compliment him enough. There were times when he would overbid a hand a bit, which meant that I needed to find the squeeze or ruse or coup or whatever, but the 21-point game was playable, and THIS night it made.
My favorite was the 6C slam on the second board of the night. After a 1C opening from partner, I responded 1H with void-KQJxx-Axx-Qxxxx. After 1S by my LHO, partner jumped to 2NT. RHO raised to 3S. Of course, I expected partner to have overbid his hand a lot, but wow was this a possible slam. So, I leapt to 6C. Partner thought long and hard about this and finally said, "I thought I was supposed to bid 4NT to ask for Aces, and so I don't know what to do now." He finally shrugged his shoulders and passed.
Partner's hand was Kxxx-10x-KQx-AKJx, and clubs split 2-2. Obviously, the slam is easily made (hearts split 3-3 as a kicker). Partner lost the timing by ruffing the spade lead, pulling three rounds of trumps (lurker check), and then ruffing a second spade before tackling heats, for down one. The key, though, was how he reacted. He was fascinated by the hand and asked if he could make it. I commented, "Render unto Caesar...lose that heart Ace as soon as possible, while you still have control of every suit." He understood this and found it exciting. From that point through the evening, he was golden. And, he was never shy of trying that slam out.
There is something refreshing from that experience, and something to learn. All too often, we get discouraged and obsessed with a squeeze line that should have worked but we forgot to cater to one more risk than was seen initially. Anyone reading this post on this blog would run circles around Tom on this hand, easily working out the percentages and lines governing how to handle a 4-0 trump split or a bad heart stack. The auctions to get to 6C might have included some sort of flag, cues, exclusion RKCB, some forcng pass analysis, or some other such move. Heck, maybe some of us would have ended up with a lead problem against a spade contract. If we miss capitalizing on a play that adds another 0.035% chance of an overtrick, and should have known, we should probably have a different reaction than self loathing throughout the rest of the session.
Instead, how about this? The next time you drop that trick, reflect upon how much you have developed in this game that you actually know why that 0.035% chance of an overtrick really should have been spotted. Who else is of your ability to spot your own micro-mistake that quickly? Boy, have you developed as a Player!
Oh, and I strongly recommend doing anything you can to get a game every so often with a rookie. It is refreshing to remember, and I bet that rookie will get a story for his or her friends when reminiscing about that 65% game at the local club! If you make sure that they know (or at least think) that they contributed to that game, with compliments from that scary expert, you just might create a monster, one like you were years ago.