Letter from a Player

Their Sixty Year Road to Life Master

Bobby and Ginny at the Philadelphia NABC
December, 2020
By Robert Willig

Our Sixty Year Road to Life Master

We, Bobby Willig and Ginny Mason, were separately taught bridge rudiments in our early adolescence by our parents, who were friends and played social bridge with each other. We each enjoyed playing here and there with a few friends, could run finesses, count hcp, and bid haphazardly –– some would say little has changed in 60 years. Bobby's mother taught bridge to many hundreds of retired folks at classes organized by Brooklyn College, and special mother–son moments were created by home discussions of negative doubles and the math behind the principle of restricted choice.

Seventeen year–old Bobby was a counselor at a summer camp for gifted kids, and when it was announced that a bridge tournament would be one of the climactic events (instead of the typical summer camp "color war" or swim races), one of the kids in his bunk invited him to be his partner. Every day during "rest hour," eleven year old Richie Friesner trained Bobby in sophisticated Standard American with the kindness and intensity Richie had experienced from his partnership with his Dad on the tournament circuit. While this was a thrilling win for Bobby, it might not have overshadowed Richie's many wins with his Dad, and future successes at the Spingold, partnering with Bill Gates, and as a leading biochemistry academic and entrepreneur.

Bobby's gaming in college was poker and pinball, and Ginny's was whist and hearts (omitting discussion of sex, drugs and rock n roll – it was the sixties afterall). However, now together thanks to our parents' match–making, during Ginny's senior year at BU we coerced her newly arrived freshman sister to play bridge till late every night, while the dummy did her homework. A few years later, in the Bay Area, we successfully tested our marital prospects by co–parenting 7 dogs and by playing duplicate against a hundred Silicon Valley ego maniacs. Of course it turned out later that real–life was even more challenging to marriage than what those tests entailed!

After decades of our cardless preoccupations with careers and parenting humans, Ginny was enticed to partner with a skilled family buddy, to join the ACBL before its inflation of the requirements for life master, and to do well at some club games. After a shorter gap, some of Ginny's friends asked her to drop in on their ongoing lessons from Joann Glasson. Bobby was reluctant to dip in a toe. But even one exposure was wildly stimulating and persuasive due to the cheerful and patiently subtle depth of Joann's teaching. Nearly five years later we are still in her thrall, arranging frequent coaching sessions from her with a few friends.

Pre–pandemic we played in Princeton area club games a few times a week, and during our 2 month summer stays in the Adirondacks we played in local clubs in Saratoga Springs and Lake George and even driving to Albany. Princeton and the Adirondacks are both in ACBL District 3 for unknown geographic reasons. It was special fun to travel for big tournaments, like in Kansas City, Toronto, Philadelphia and Honolulu where we abandoned the family to stay on for a regional and even won the "Hibiscus Bowl." We visited Denver to luxuriate in the great Monet exhibit by day, and then to play bridge each night with dear cousins. We adventured to modern igloos above the Arctic Circle to experience the northern lights, and while they were not much in the sky, we did have a fine time playing bridge with ginny's sister and her good sport of a husband.

It turns out that despite the loss of physical camaraderie and snacks that we wouldn't provide for ourselves, the pandemic has brought us club and ACBL games via BBO that are intensely engrossing and captivate us almost every day. There was never before anything that came close to the pedagogical power of the "history" feature of BBO that lets us see every board and how it was bid and played at every table. Our Zoom coaching sessions led by Joann Glasson, with online hands and PowerPoint lecture notes, are every bit as pleasant and even more effective and convenient than in person.

And now, finally, some 60 years after first learning the game, Bobby has joined Ginny, of whom he has been jealous for a year or two, with the award of life master. It has always seemed a bit silly to care about master points, their colors and the ensuing rank titles. But we must confess that we are both rather thrilled at this accomplishment and recognition.

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