Sex and bridge

Queen of HeartsYou rarely hear the call 'Anyone for bridge' these days. It went out with leisurely sea voyages and the private clubs of nomadic politicians. Besides, rubber bridge, the gambling form of the game, has gone out of fashion, and an innocent invitation to a stranger to 'join me for a rubber' might easily be interpreted as a different proposition altogether.

I learned to play bridge between university lectures a lifetime ago. I played indifferently then and have not progressed much since. I suppose my standard is about equivalent to a golfer with a 14-handicap, respectable but easily intimidated, allowing enjoyment but only rare excellence.

I am blessed with a regular partner who is a much better player — three-handicap, say — and who has the admirable and, in our partnership, necessary quality of refusing to take herself, her partner or the game too seriously.

I recently re-read Charles Lamb's famous essay on Mrs Battle and her views on whist, one of the parents of the bridge game. His heroine 'took and gave no concessions. She hated favours. She never made a revoke, nor ever passed it over in her adversary without exacting the utmost forfeiture.'

Mrs Battle's modern descendants gather in clubs all over the country every night of the week to pit their wits against each other in a pastime that makes no concession for age or gender. The role of referee or umpire is taken by a person known as the Director, blessed with a thorough knowledge of the rules, and the ability whenever a violation occurs to give an adjudication which rivals in length and complexity a High Court arbitration.

One of the great contributions that the game of bridge has made to civilisation is that it brings out the worst in people. In recent times, the word partner has taken on a meaning away from the card table, implying that two people are living together in a permanent or semi-permanent sharing of bond, board and bed.

The theory is that if they can put up with each other in such close proximity, there is a chance that the arrangement might be successful in the longer term. That's the theory; in practice, it is just an excuse for ... well, you know what I mean.

How much better, less expensive and less stressful on parents it would be if the couple in question were to form a bridge partnership. If that lasted more than a year, there is a sporting chance that they are compatible.

Should there be any such people reading this, I assure them that if they can find a person of a gender appropriate to their taste who can execute a Reverse Squeeze or a Scissors Coup at the bridge table, there is every chance that they may be able to carry out equivalent manoeuvres in a loving relationship.

Of course, once they get married, they must give up their bridge partnership. Marriage tends to bring out previously hidden kinks in people's character and there are few things as disedifying as seeing such imperfections brought to the light of day at the card table.

You rarely find husband-and-wife bridge partnerships. Even the great US husband-wife pairing of Ely and Josephine Culbertson ended in divorce. For most married couples, their conjugal state is much too important to be put in jeopardy by a wrong guess.

Perhaps I should explain. In bridge there is a thing called a finesse: it involves determining which opponent holds a particular card, and since there are only two opponents, it is a simple 50-50 guess. In such a position you guess, or rather I should say, I guess, happy to be right half the time.

Good players would not do anything as vulgar as that. They 'make an inference' or 'take a view' or use some obscure piece of information that escapes the ordinary mortal. They may still get it wrong of course, but much less often than the rest of us.

To return to Mrs Battle. She believed that cards 'are a sort of dream-fighting; much ado; great battling, and little bloodshed; mighty means for disproportioned ends; quite as diverting, and a great deal more innoxious, than many of those more serious games of life, which men play, without esteeming them to be such.'

The next time you watch a sporting contest between opposing teams who dislike each other — Australian and Indian cricketers, say, or Collingwood and any other football team — you may regret the loss of that word innoxious from the language.

Frank O'SheaFrank O'Shea is a retired teacher. His book Keeping Faith: 40 Years of Marist College Canberra was published in 2008.


Topic tags: frank o'shea, card games, bridge, sex


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