Modern Bridge - The Art of Colluding
Recently, I was involved in a friendly game of Bridge on a Thursday afternoon.
Four of us, including my longtime Bridge partner, Jill, were taking time out from our Linda Christas studies to shore up our skills in preparation for a rugged week in the Hamptons during which we will sail, play more Bridge, and perhaps take in a party or two in the City.
We have been invited to three events, one at the Waldorf, one at the Aureole on 61st, and one at Le Bernardin on 51st. None of these events will cost us a farthing, although the hosts must be spending gobs of cash, since both the Aureole and Le Bernardin are internationally respected for their cuisine.
As the afternoon wore on, it became obvious that Jill and I had the advantage. Since small children, we both have had the privilege of not ever having to actually work for wages. We have been provided any sort of lesson our rather ordinary whimsical brains have desired, and, have had loads and loads of time to memorize the four-hundred or so ways of running away with Bridge rubbers when playing against kids who have not had sufficient time to learn to, well, to collude successfully.
Bridge is sort of a leisure class training ground, teaching various ways to basically cheat, in order to secure contracts.
The collusions in Bridge are called "CONVENTIONS," and are a testimony to the leisure class' ability to bend any law, circumvent any rule, trounce any non-Vanderbilt using the power of the cabal, the same power that has secured the riches of the very people who support me, and, thank God for that.
I find it desperately humorous that there have been huge scandals in the world of Bridge when folks have attempted to "cheat" by sharing information with their partners outside the approved ways of cheating.
For example, gasp, in what was referred to as the Bermuda Bowl Bridge World Championship of 1975, two of the Italian players (because they wouldn't allow more at a table) seemed to be stomping each other's feet under the table. If memory serves, the names of the players were Facchini and Zucchelli (I believe that is correct). The tournament authorities solved the problem by placing blocks on the floor between the two players. The US Team captain threatened to pull his team out of the tournament if the Italians weren't expelled. They weren't, and he didn't, and, in the end, the Italians won.
Hurrah! I'm only happy the American captain didn't have access to the BOMB. But, those Italians, I must admit, are even more clever than the Rockefellers.
A second example of world crashing importance, (and one that involved one of my favorite people who passed away not too long ago, Dorothy Heyden), took place at the Bermuda Bowl held in Buenas Aires (not sure I understand the name). Buenas Aries isn't in Bermuda, is it?
In this case (where everyone in the room was colluding like mad on every hand because, like me, they had had hundreds of hours to spend learning how to cheat in a sophisticated manner, which is any way that puts the lower classes at a disadvantage), two players decided to use the way they placed their fingers behind their Bridge hands to indicate how many hearts they, the players, had.
It was Dorothy, along with B. Jay Becker, who called the "hearts villains" out to the dusty street for a draw down. I believe Jay made the accusation of collusion and, THEN, rising to the Peak of Hypocrisy, bid four No Trump in order to ask Dorothy how many aces she had. Evidently she had two, so SHE bid in hearts. I mean, that's really ironic, isn't it? Here Dorothy uses hearts to basically TELL her partner, Jay, how many hearts she had, and then Jay makes an international incident about how many fingers an opponent has behind his or her hand giving away what? Well, of course, the number of hearts he had.
In case anyone cares, the "cheaters" lost, and Dorothy and Jay, the honorable, won. In addition, in reviewing the hands, no points seem to have been scored by the "cheaters," especially after Jay was told by Dorothy mid-game how many aces she had using hearts in the Gerber tradition. (Does anyone see something odd here? Probably not. In my circle, this is called following the rules, all four hundred of them for which we have bought and paid.)
Not only did the accused at the Bermuda Bowl quit the event, but they filed a forty-four million dollar lawsuit against the sponsor of the tournament. That sum was just a tad in excess of the top Bowl prize.......or any card championship in 1975; although I understand that nobody got paid in the end, except the Morgans who scored big again with Chase's assets, which included approximately half the natural resources of Brazil, which they secured by business conventions that appear and feel, not surprisingly, just like the conventions used in our Bridge tournaments.
Back to our game on Thursday afternoon.
As I mentioned, my partner and I have, like all good leisure class children, had all the time in the world to learn to collude appropriately using approved Bridge conventions. From my standpoint as an egalitarian card player, it seems just a tad unfair for us to garner a decisive advantage over any middle class or poor kid by making the game based on not only skill, but one where if skill isn't enough, my crowd then relies of what it does best, being devious.
To win simply because we have four-hundred ways of colluding memorized, and can call upon them at any time a member of the non-leisure class gets close to threatening our divine right to reign, seems well, gross. However, my Bentley does ride very well; a little rough perhaps, but I'm still young. I'll graduate to the Cobalt Blue four door Mercedes later.
So, feeling that our memorized conventions were basically cheating anyway, and really not enjoying the fact that I had no idea if Jill and I could have beaten our opponents on a level playing field, I was amused when, out of the proverbial blue, the oldest scam (convention) in the book was perpetrated by our middle class opponents. (I was delighted that they knew this, actually.)
This particular swindle, for the benefit of the non-Bridge (unenlightened) community, is called the Chicago Convention, I suppose in honor of people like Al Capone and Meyer Lansky who cheated all of the time, and at least, in Lansky's case, died with all of the loot so well hidden, the government couldn't find a dime. I think Lansky did my great Granddaddy's books while he, Granddaddy, was amassing the fortune from which my trust fund was taken, and for which I am so immensely grateful.
Not to stray too far away from the Chicago Convention, which I will explain shortly, one of my favorite stories about Lansky is his reassuring the mob by saying, "Don't worry, don't worry. Look at the Astors and the Vanderbilts, all those big society people. They were the worst thieves - and now look at them. It's just a matter of time. I'll get you there."
And, who do you think "refined" the modern game of Bridge with all its four-hundred ways to collude. Indeed, none other than Harold Stirling Vanderbilt himself. We should all be proud. Am I going to give the money back? I should say not. My sympathy for the non-leisure classes is not that genuine. I would like to stop colluding at Bridge though. Seems like the least we could do to level the playing field a little, and we wouldn't need to give up a peso to do it. Our class could run special business training sessions to bring the conventions back; the same ones used by the Harvard Endowment. We could have Harvard grad students coordinate the program.
Back to the Chicago Convention.
The non-leisure class team we were playing, neither of whom has a trust fund, started the Chicago by the first player picking up her hand, and saying aloud by previous arrangement, "How is your Auntie in Chicago?" Her partner replied, "She died last week." Once this exchange had been made, both players knew that their respective hands were very poor. The first conspirator then said, "I have only twelve cards," to which her partner said, "and I have fourteen cards." The players then quickly threw their cards together on the table so their opponents (Jill and I) couldn't count them. That made the situation according to the rules, it's called a "foul or void" deal, and a new deal was required.
Jill and I just laughed, and let them have the new deal. After all, we know 399 other ways to collude in Bridge that don't require that kind of theatrics, and, unlike our opponents for the afternoon, ours work over and over again......It's all legal. Ethical? Well, that's another matter. And, egalitarian? No one ever said that life was fair. I am living proof of that. Deal 'em to Jill and me if you dare.