I knew I was in trouble at the bridge lesson in the first five minutes. This was not a group of family-friendly card players. These are serious contract bridge people who know all of the conventions: Stayman, Gerber, Blackwood and Jacoby Transfering a bid from one hand to another is a concept that slip off of the tip of their tongues. I save the papers from each lesson, go to to customer relations and have them hole punched, and wouldn’t think of going back to the next lesson without having read the information at least three times. The lessons are taught by a German/American scientist from Los Angeles who teaches bridge at night for fun and who made it to the 6th Edition of the Bridge Encyclopaedia 18 years ago, with one of his masterful strategies. He breaks off into a joke occasionally, which is a bit of an intellectual relief for me. He began the set of lessons with this stern warning. “You are all getting old and getting old is all about what happens to your brain, not your body. Do find something to work at that will keep you young. I choose bridge and I am much older than I look. This can happen to you if you apply yourself to bridge. You make have a knee that is giving out on you, an arm that doesn’t work as well any more, but what is all of that if you can still think clearly. Now, if you stay with me for 8 lessons, I can promise you your bridge will improve exponentially, and in fact, by the end of the classes, you will be wanting to take me home with you.”
Even if my bridge is not improving, I loved these jokes and can feel that internal vibration that comes when comedians are telling jokes that makes my body convulse with internal laughter.
There must be a uniform for bridge teachers. A smart blue blazer over temple whites? He takes off the blazer to teach. “I have never seen that before,” said Wyona. “I have a new incentive to go back to the temple if the people who I know who are dressed in white and in the celestial room are going to be playing bridge.
Not everyone on the ship knows when they are in the right class. “I was teaching on a ship a few years ago,” said Lou Minter, “and half-way through the lecture a woman put up her hand and said, When are you going to talk about how you steer?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” he replied.
“You know. How you make the ship turn around,” she said, rolling her arm back and forth as if she were driving a car.
“I cannot make this stuff up, you know,” Lou Minter said to us. “She was in my bridge class and half way through the lesson still hadn’t caught on that I wasn’t teaching a lesson on how to drive the boat.”
“I can tell you a few things about people though, from my years of teaching bridge. If married people are playing as partners, and the wife is smarter than the man, then she will coach him along, patiently waiting as he learns. If the man is smarter, the man just finds another partner and she doesn’t play with him anymore.” There it was again – more of that internal laughter for me.
He also said that there is a way to transfer the bid between two hands so that the more complicated of the 2 hands stays hidden and the worse hand goes to the board, thus giving little advantage to the opponents. He watched a married couple apply this transfer with aplomb. But a few rounds later, they had a chance to do it again, and didn’t. “Tell me what you didn’t use the same technique in this hand that I watched you play before,” Lou asked.
“Oh,” said the wife, “only he is allowed to use the transfer, not me”. Lou turned to us, put his hands out questioningly and asked, “Can you think of any other bridge partnership who would do that, other than one that involved marriage?” Then he shrugged his shoulders in disbelief and went on.
He has a hard sell with the people in the crowd, for he is teaching American Standard, which we play at home and not the softer British version of Bridge (where you can open with 4 card majors). He throws up examples of hands that illustrate his point, faster than I can add up the pont count in those hands. When the first class was over, I came back and read the 3 page single spaced hand-out he gave us so I wouldn’t lose too much between the first class and the second. I am in a class way out of my league.
Guess who was on my left at lunch at the assigned seating. Yes, the bridge teacher, Lou Minter and his wife, Jolly. Into the meal a few minutes, he stretched out his long arm, threw it across the centre of the table, pointed to a meal that had just been delivered to guests across the table from me and said, “What is that?” This is a very American way of getting information and I was wondering what the British people were thinking who did not know that here is a famous bridge personality and Los Anglese astro-scientist making conversation. When he finally left to get ready for the afternoon session of bridge, I pulled out my 3 pages of foolscap handouts, along with all of the scribbles on my page and warned them, “Look at this! My bridge homework from the teacher who just left. I can’t stay any longer for lunch, myself. I have to go study!”
There is a plethora of events on the ship. Am I interested in the destination lectures? Should I attend the afternoon bridge sessons to improve what I learn in the morning bridge lessons? Am I up to the dancing lessons that Wyona and Greg attend? We walked by the shuffleboard lessons and saw a full fledged battle over the rules. I scratched that activity off of my list.
The best laugh of the lectures is on Greg and me. He went to one called Behind the Scenes, but I didn’t attend, for I don’t want to know anymore about the inner workings of the ship. When Greg came back, he said the lecture was a surprise to him – it was on a man’s experiences working in the film industry – backstage. “I would have gone to that lecture,” I said to him. “Well, its content was a complete surprise to me,” he replied.