"This reminds me of a story," said Dorothy Truscott. "There were these two bridge players, and you know what these bridge players do all the time--they sit around and talk about how bad their wives are at bridge."
Truscott, a friendly, birdlike woman known both for being a former U.S. women's bridge champ and, ironically enough, for being the wife of New York Times bridge columnist Alan Truscott, was standing in front of an audience in a very large room almost every inch of which was filled with bridge tables. Next to that room was another room, and it was filled with bridge tables as well--more than 150 of them.
Down the hall and down a flight of stairs, there was another, even bigger room. In this one--the grand ballroom of the Chicago Hilton and Towers--there were 200 or more bridge tables. Next to the grand ballroom was another room equally as big, likewise filled with bridge tables.
And underneath that room there was yet another room filled with bridge tables.
For nearly 12 hours a day for nearly two weeks, all of these rooms were filled with bridge players, four to a table, all playing in the North American Contract Bridge Tournament, one of three sponsored each year by the American Contract Bridge League.
The biggest names in bridge were there, to socialize and vie in the tournament's featured event, the Spingold teams, which for some is a stepping-stone to world championship play.
In the room where Dorothy Truscott was speaking, however, there were few champions--in fact the audience was almost exclusively novices. Truscott was speaking as part of the bridge league's effort to welcome and nurture new players. Her subject was "Bridge Tales."
"Anyway," she went on, "there were these two guys, and one of them says to the other, 'You know, my wife is the worst bridge player in the state of New York.'
"And the other one looks at him and says, 'Oh, yeah? Well, my wife is the worst bridge player in the whole United States.'
"'Listen,' the first bridge player said. 'My wife is such a bad bridge player that when she's got ace-queen in the dummy, she plays the queen to finesse against the king.'
"'Ha,' the first bridge player said. 'Against my wife, it'd work.'"
The novices hooted.
"Speaking of bad bridge players," said Dorothy Truscott, "that reminds me of a friend of mine who I'll just call Veronica. A very bad player. Now, I got a call one day to play with someone, and I'm sorry to say I suggested that Veronica play in my place.
"Well, the next day I was surprised to get a call from Veronica. 'Ooh, that Betty,' she said to me. 'I'll never play with her again.'
"At this I laughed, because how could anyone be worse than Veronica?
"'What happened?' I asked, and Veronica said, 'Well, I opened one spade, and Betty never bid! I got passed out, Betty laid down her hand, and she had five spades to the ace-king. I made six!
"'After the game I went up to her and said, "Why didn't you raise my spades?" And she says, "I didn't know I was your partner."'"
The crowd howled.
"Bridge," said Dorothy Truscott, "is a microcosm--is that the word I want?--of life. You have everything: wars, tornadoes, disasters, heart attacks. I want to tell you a story I heard from Eddie Kantar, the famous bridge teacher.
"He tells the story of Mrs. Vanderbottom, a woman who had lots of money but very little card sense. Eddie had been teaching her for ten full years, and she never got one thing right.
"Finally, he was teaching a class on opening leads, and telling the class to always play off the top of a doubleton. 'Pay attention, Mrs. Vanderbottom,' he said. 'If you have the king-queen, play the king. If you have the three-two, play the three. If you have the seven-six, play the seven.'
"The class broke up into play, and Eddie sat behind Mrs. Vanderbottom, praying that she would get it right. Finally the hand came around to her. In her hand she had the nine-eight of hearts.
"First she touched the nine, and then took her hand away. Then she reached out for the nine again, but again she pulled her hand away. Eddie Kantar is on the edge of his seat.
"Finally she reached out for the nine again, but at the last minute switched to the eight and threw it down on the table.
"'Mrs. Vanderbottom,' Eddie Kantar screamed. 'For ten years I've been teaching you! What are you doing? I told you to play off the top!'
"'But Mr. Kantar,' said Mrs. Vanderbottom. 'You've always told us, "Eight ever, nine never.'"
The crowd was on the floor.
"The great thing about bridge stories," said Dorothy Truscott, "is that only a bridge player can understand them."