I didn’t know it upfront but Cardturner is pretty much about bridge; you know, that four
old person, card game? Now, if I had known it was a about bridge I might not have read it – even though it WAS a Louis Sachar novel – because I had been very seriously scarred by my bridge playing experience many years earlier.
When I was going out with Not Yet Husband* I discovered that he loved bridge. I came from a family that went to watch Shakespeare plays. My parents didn’t play cards. I knew what they were – I played Cheat with my cousins – but why would you play card games when you could watch Macbeth or King Lear? (Don’t get me started on that…)
NYH*’s family started me off slowly: I was taught to play Whist, Drellacabella and Sevens. Every time – and I mean EVERY time – we prepared to play, someone had to explain the rules to me. Again. And again. And again. Any experience I gained of the game evaporated from my head the very moment I left the card table. Retaining detailed bits of information is crucial in bridge. This is when I got my first inkling that some people’s brains are different from mine.
Eventually I agreed to learn bridge. Perhaps I thought that a life with this man would have to include it and perhaps I wanted to make an effort with something that was important to him. So, during uni holidays I attempt to learn, playing with NYH, NYMiL (have you got that?) and some cousins. They thought I was terribly clever because I’d seen all sorts of Shakespeare plays but that wasn’t to last long. They explained the game to me and were infinitely kind and generous and
put up with my immense stupidity acknowledged my learning status. I had a little notebook that I wrote notes in, explaining the rules and bidding for contracts and even some of the play.
In my third year at university, NYH had a colleague in the chemistry department that played bridge and with the promise of a chilli con carne and beers we scrambled together some other friends to make two tables of four. They were great fun at the beginning when everyone else was learning but soon as our friends became more experienced… I realized then that it wasn’t bridge, it was me; I remained in a fug of bafflement.
You play bridge with a partner. When you see the hand dealt to you you have to bid a contract (saying how many tricks you’re going to win.) You need to know what kind of hand your partner has so there are rules to bidding
which made no logical sense to me at all you have to follow to communicate with your partner. (If you aren’t already wanting to slash your wrists, for a laugh you can see here what some opening bids mean.)
So many things about bridge puzzled me. In order to know what tricks you might make it’s helpful if you can retain the information the other pair gave during bidding; and you should try to count the high cards as they are played. Except I couldn’t: ‘Was that a King of spades in the last hand? Hmm, it could’ve been, or it might have been a diamond and a Queen… Hmm; Who cares?’ As we were learning, we were allowed to query (this is strictly forbidden in real games;) NYH would say ‘she played the queen because she knew that it was good for a trick.’ ‘How?’ ‘Because the ace and the king have already been played.’ Really? And you’d all noticed this?
I tried for about two years to learn bridge. It was long enough for me to establish that I was void (a bridge joke!) of any natural ability to play cards.
And NYH married me anyway.
(Louis Sachar’s novel Cardturner is totally brilliant in spite of the bridge play – or maybe even because of it. His characters are real; their voices so strong and the story is great. They’re perfect for any teenager… or mum or dad, come to that.)