About the Author: Jonathan Friendly

Jonathan Friendly writes the “First Hands” feature for the ACBLEF website. We asked him to tell us something about his own first hands.

Jonathan FriendlyAbout 70 years ago, my older brother and I were desperate for opponents for Canasta, so we recruited my mother and one of her friends; in return, we had to learn to play bridge with them.

That first encounter, at a summer home on Chesapeake Bay, hooked me. A Christmas gift of AutoBridge, with its silver sliders that told me what I should have done, took me the next step, enabling me to hold my own in family games and later against couples who played for – gasp – real money (a tenth of a cent a point, but still in the 50s that was a serious stake).

The family games continued over the years in Washington, D.C. Despite my not playing duplicate, it appears that those were the very qualities that defined me – at least at the bridge table.

So I proved a rotten inspirer when my own children were of an age to learn. They concluded, quite rightly, that what I offered was more sarcastic denigration then they enjoyed, and they opted for nicer partners, particularly their maternal grandparents. To this day, my question “want to play bridge” during lulls in holiday family reunions is met with dismissive scorn.

In the early 1970s I signed on with The New York Times as a copy editor. One of my duties was to edit the thrice-a-week column written by Alan Truscott. The second time I pointed out to him an analytical error, he suggested that we should play together at his club in the city. To my lasting regret, that never happened, but the invitation certainly bolstered my ego.

Rather than listen to me complain about the absence of games, my wife (a more-than-skilled social player as well as being the love of my life) got me a subscription to The Bridge World. Watching the dance of intellect on those pages confirmed my view that the challenge was everything and that bridge was the most challenge I could accept as chess and Go are way beyond me.

Happily, at 73, I was lured into a club game in northern Michigan where my partner, a Lifemaster and teacher, was pleasantly surprised when we finished first. A year or so later, she found time to partner with me regularly and to teach me non-Goren niceties like 2/1, Bergen raises, Smolen and Puppet Stayman – although the latter did require the threat of a 2X4 to the head on my several instances of misremembering what the bids meant. She took me to some sectional and regional tournaments where I, at least, had serious fun. It must have been okay for her, as she and I, now 1,000 miles apart, still compete together in the ACBL events on BBO.

Two years or so ago, I encountered Joel Kramer – whom I had known through our common careers in journalism – at a club game in Sarasota, FL. When he became chair of the ACBL Educational Foundation board, he invited me to help out with some communication issues including ways to add fresh content to the Foundation's website.

Remembering how I had gotten started led me to wonder how the nation's finest players had gotten hooked. The First Hands Series became the way to find out.

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