November 7, 2022
Thank you for the communication. I'm not sure how inspiring my story is, but if I had a title for it, it might be "Third time a charm."
I learned bridge in college and my classmate Dave (also a bridge newcomer) and I began to play in the university's club game. It was known for being a "friendly" game (non-smoking, no arguments, etc.!) and some pairs from outside the university were attracted because of the good manners. My earliest memory there was leading KA (as it was done in those days) and seeing a high-low signal from partner. Dave ruffed the third round and the opponents eventually went down 2 in a game contract. The wonder of defending was opened up. We played in a tournament once toward the end of our senior year. It was a newcomer section, and we finished 3rd. I found open pairs the next day with a pick-up partner to be far less satisfying. Too much smoke and arguing, and very little friendliness. I had no inclination to continue playing after my friend and I graduated.
About twenty years later, my newlywed wife suggested I needed a hobby. (Apparently, she liked to do her own thing at least one night a week without me hovering around the house.) I had the inspiration to see if there was a bridge club where we lived then, in Iowa's Waterloo/Cedar Falls area. No idea where the itch came from. They assigned me another pickup partner, playing in her first ACBL game. We finished third, and looking back on my own ignorance of the game then, I know not how. I played once a week for a few years, but eventually got discouraged again. We moved to Kansas City after adopting our daughter and it was difficult finding a willing person for developing a partnership. Our daughter was getting older and family activities were more important. So I dropped out.
In 2016, I got the itch again. I emailed the contact person for a small club in Bremerton WA, where my family and I were living at the time. Will responded almost right away and had a partner ready for me when I went to my first game in over a decade. He was the best club owner and director I have ever encountered. Newcomers trickled in, and they stuck. Club regulars were friendly, loyal, and many were willing partners. Bridge had changed so much in four decades. Not only the bridgemates and the computer scoring, but the active ethics and zero tolerance for bad behavior. Even the tournaments were far more enjoyable.
My main partner out West was my friend Bob. He is an ACBL director and bronze life master and one of those players who has hardly seen a convention he didn't like. I went along. I still like playing the cards more than bidding. He was probably more determined to get me to life master than I was. My funny memory from the Washington days involved our choice for the NAP. My work schedule prevented us from pairing up for anything but the flight A game. We didn't do well--last in session 1, and about 44% in #2. I was astonished to see the award for first was 24 gold. I joked to Bob that if I had known that much gold was available, I would've tried harder. We had a good laugh over it.
After I moved to Minnesota, Bob and I could still play in online regionals. We were actually winning a BBO gold rush one day, but ended with two bottoms in our last round, dropping the award from about 7 gold to 2. When live bridge opened up in Minnesota late last year, I returned to over-the-board play. I know some people criticize the gold availability at clubs (and I tend to agree). But the trickle of gold in a royal STAC last month was enough to fill a gap of 0.17.
You asked about what the district or unit can do for me. I think the bigger question is what can the district do for the game, broadly, in the upper midwest. It's a time for teamwork and setting aside rivalries and infighting.