Concentration

Or: How I Died Through My First Duplicate

Written by Karen Walker
Source: http://www.prairienet.org/bridge/c_tod.htm

Archived and preserved only on this site.

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:

Illini Union Bridge Club
University of Illinois

Board #15 -- South dealer

A74
Q1074
KJ108
65
Q1092
6
42
AK10843
KJ653
32
653
Q92
8
AKJ985
AQ97
J7
South
West
North
East
New Girl
The Mouth
Odd Person
Straight Man
1
2
3
Pass
4
4
Pass
Pass
5
Double
Redouble
Pass
Pass
Pass
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.

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

Copyright © 1997, Karen Walker