Concentration   (or  How I Died Through My First Duplicate)


It was cold winter night, back in '74
When I found the courage to make my debut
And headed, alone, for the duplicate
Known on campus as the Thursday Zoo.

I'd heard this club was a tough one,
That it had launched many a bridge career.
Woolsey, Martel, Ewen and Caravelli 
Had all started playing here.

But one look at this group and I understood
How the "Zoo" had earned its name.
The room was packed with loud, rowdy men.
I was the only woman in the game.

I meekly approached the director, who said
He'd fix me up if an "odd person" came.
Some serious arm-twisting later,
Odd Person and I had a game.

The director scribbled our names on the recap sheet.
I took a peek when he was done.
We were listed as "New Girl and Victim",
Followed by the numbers "100:1".

Odd Person was an undergrad
Who boasted he had "experience".
He was third in the last club championship
And had been playing six whole months.

He sat me down and began rattling off
A litany of confusing conventions.
He said we had to play them all,
And I would have to pay attention.

This is a mental game, he preached at length,
So I promised that I'd try real hard
To concentrate on every bid,
On each and every card.

A constant clamor filled the room.
This was the wildest club in town.
But the racket didn't really rattle me
... Until the final round.

"Now don't be nervous," Odd Person warned.
"Here comes the best pair in the game."
For what was about to happen,
Perhaps those words would be to blame.

With their arrival came the major source
Of the roar in the room that night.
On my left was a loudmouthed comic,
And his straight man was on my right.

The Mouth hogged the play on the first board.
I remember my awe that he could declare
Without once breaking his line of chatter,
Nor coming up for air.


Then Board 15:

I had a good hand and opened One Heart, 
But that didn't quell the Westerly wind. 
The Mouth still hadn't used the word "Pass". 
He was intent on declaring again. 

The Straight Man seemed amused, but passed, 
So we sailed easily into our game. 
I had just relaxed, when from my port side 
A bellowed "Four Spades" came. 

They were white and we were red. 
Hadn't partner lectured me on this situation? 
Bid one more, I thought he had said, 
That his pass was an invitation? 

A handful of kibitzers had drifted our way. 
All the other tables were done.  
Amid the noise, I tried to remember 
Why I had thought this would be fun. 

I pondered my bid for what seemed like an hour, 
But The Mouth soon tired of sitting. 
"Girl in a coma! Call the medics!" he yelled, 
And scared me into bidding. 

"Five Hearts" was barely past my lips 
When his "Double" pierced the air 
So loud, it brought more vultures 
To watch the New Girl declare. 

Odd Person was obviously insulted
That our judgment had been attacked.
Or maybe it was the flock of kibitzers
That made him send it back.

As partner proudly spread his dummy,
He cautioned: "Concentrate!"
The Mouth rapid-fired the club ace-king,
Then a spade . . . and sat back to wait.

I cursed myself for bidding,
For getting us into this fix.
But when I finally looked up at dummy,
I saw eleven tricks!

I called the spade ace with stifled glee.
I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.
The rest of the tricks, even I could see:
Two suits solid down to the seven.

The Mouth's frown told Odd Person this was cold.
My claim he was awaiting.
But I remembered what I'd been told . . .
So I started concentrating.

I took a deep breath and formed my plan.
I wouldn't risk a contested claim.
I'd carefully play out the entire hand,
And make my first-ever redoubled game.

I focused all my energy on forming each word.
"Small trump," I called to start my plan.
And with those two words locked in my head . . .
I played a small trump from my hand!

"I knew I could beat this!" crowed The Mouth,
As he won his singleton six.
Through concentration I had found
A way to lose three tricks.

The room erupted in laughter and I in tears.
But as I fled from my disgrace,
I thought I saw a single look of pity
On the Straight Man's face.

I vowed that I would play no more,
But the very next day, the telephone rang.
Someone I'd met the night before
Was asking me for a game.

So the next Thursday and many after that,
I discovered how much fun this game could be,
That the secret to concentration
Was having The Mouth across from me.

      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two decades later, the volume has dropped,
But not the spirit he brings to the game.
The Mouth became my most colorful partner,
And he can still live up to his name.

The night we won our first regional,
The entire ballroom heard him bestow
Himself with the dubious credit:
"I taught her everything she knows!"

I think back now that if I'd made Five Hearts,
If I'd taken a less "memorable" line of play,
I'd have remained the nameless New Girl,
And we'd have gone our separate ways.

So I still thank that redoubled disaster
For bringing such special partners into my life.
For today, The Mouth is one of my closest friends.
And the Straight Man? . . . I'm his wife. 

Illini Union Bridge Club
University of Illinois -- January, 1074

Board #15 --  South dealer, NS vulnerable

        A74 
        Q1074 
        KJ108 
        65

 Q1092                         KJ653
 6                             32
 42                            653
 AK10843                       Q92

         
        AKJ985  
        AQ97  
        J7

South
 New Girl  

West
 The Mouth  

North
 Odd Person  

East
 Straight Man

1H

2C

3H

Pass

4H

4S

Pass

Passs

5H

DBL

RDBL

All Pass

 


The Straight Man (my husband) was and is Mike Halvorsen.

Copyright 1997, Karen Walker