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Newcomer's Lament

by John Brown, Palo Alto, California, USA


My topic this month is bridge bullies. About nine months ago I wrote an article about these odious folk in our local Palo Alto newsletter. I got a lot of "amens" from newcomers but I irritated a lot of self-appointed police who get their jollies from pushing new folk around.

In our unit, we have an active, energetic board of directors that go all out to promote and underwrite new bridge classes for beginners, and we have first rate teachers. On top of all that, we have a steady stream of new retirees like myself returning to the game. So with all this influx of new players, why the decline in membership? I quickly concluded that the problem was bridge bullies. Bridge bullies chase away all but the most dogged newcomers. And they do it faster that we can bring new players in. I distinctly remember my own experiences with these clowns. In the early days of my bridge player return, I went home angry and irritated a lot more often than being happy after three hours of entertainment. Newcomers, though they don't intend to, incite bullies and bully-like people. Newcomers are easy to spot: they are nervous, ill at ease, clearly worried about doing the wrong thing. They eye bidding boxes warily and spill things. They are mortified when they make what they think is a stupid mistake. They are even more crushed when somebody points out an error.

The drool starts forming in the corners of a bridge bully's mouth when a newcomer sits down. Bridge bullies use all kinds of upsetting tactics but the most flagrant one is the sudden loud call, "Director!", without any preliminary conversation of any kind. The newcomer sits there, mortified that everybody in the room knows they've committed some grievous crime. "Oh, my God, what did I do? What are going to do to me? Oh s---, everybody is watching me."

The director arrives and the bully begins the slitty-eyed tight-lipped litany, "The bidding went ... and then this gentleman (cheat) hesitated a VERY long time before bidding and ..." The director patiently responds that the accused player, "had values and has a right to take extra time." The bully can't take the chance that the newcomer doesn't realize he's had his character assassinated so they unctuously say, "Well, it was an awfully long time and he could have been conveying information to his partner so I though you ought to know." How nice.

I cannot remember how many times I've sat through this scene and I've hate to see a slow bidder penalized. And how often do you see the call made against a regular? If there is one thing newcomers are noted for its conveying the wrong information to their partners no matter how long they take, so what is this director-calling jerk's purpose? It's to upset the newcomer, that's what.

Since the rules allow this action, directors and regulars alike sit back and allow bullies to practice this stupid ritual on newcomers. Some even depend on it. It's irrelevant what real or imagined crime this practice is intended to police, what occurs is the newcomer is humiliated and feels they've been publicly labeled a cheat. That's what driver newcomers away. Nice going, dummies; you are keeping those intruding newcomers away - and shrinking our ranks in the process.

And by the way, just to be ornery, I occasionally deliberately delay calling when I have absolutely nothing to ponder. However, I'm noted for being irascible, loud and surly when provoked so I get away with it. Is it safe to infer that unpleasant people are excused from delay calls but polite, tentative newcomers aren't?

The list of tactics bullies use is long. When a newcomer asks to review a trick after it's been turned, a bully will hiss, "You can't do that." Never, "Well it's against the rules, but you're new, so go ahead." Then there's the accusatory, pressing inquisition during an obviously awkward auction for newcomers: "What does your partner's 3 club bid mean." The, "I'm not sure," response won't end it. "How many points does he/she have? What king of distribution does he/she have?" The newcomer get more and more rattled and frets over giving the wrong answer instead of trying to decipher what partner's strange bid might mean. Leave them alone; newcomers have enough communications problems without responding to badgering questions.

Then there's the imperious, "You can't do that!" command when a newcomer starts running their fingers up and down the cards in the bidding boxes. "You have to bid what you selected." The newcomer get rattled. They didn't know they selected anything. Let them alone if they want to fondle the cards. I'm kind of a pervert and do it all the time and nobody bothers me. But I react viciously when people interrupt my pleasures. So vicious perverts are exempt from police actions but polite newcomers aren't. Nice going, deputies; you are really doing a good job molding the duplicate bridge crowd mix.

So what do we do about the problem? And don't cop out with the, "It's the club director's problem." Club directors usually don't even know about these incidents (except the director call, and that's legal). Newcomers aren't going to complain about bullies. They fell like an intruder already. So if you want to purge your ranks of bullies, you, as a regular player, have to report them. After a pair has been verbally mugged by one of these jerks, they'll usually say something at the next table or when the new pair arrives. If you're a member of the next pair, I suggest you quietly report the incident to the director. All you need say is, "I don't know what happened but that new pair was really upset after they played against pair X so something happened." You can bet the director will take note and when they receive enough complaints to know there's a problem, they'll act. They won't allow unpleasant people to chase away new customers if they know about it.

What else can we do? Well, if one of my partners bullies newcomers, I tell them I disapprove and if they insist on being self-appointed "deputies", they'll have to find a new partner.

That's my recipe for controlling bridge bullies. Hope it helps.

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