I have a thing for Daffodils. Bridge is for smarts.
WSG 62 Gillian Miniter, Is bridge to smarties what catnip is to cats? Gotta have it.
Happy Passover and Easter! 🌸
… a golden trumpet announcing what is coming. A megaphone with a crenelated deep-yellow ruff, surrounded by petal-wings on a soldier straight stem. I have a thing for Daffodils.
It’s Springy here in Boston. Cold, but not too cold. The daffodils are out and I love everything about them. They are a funny little surprise each Spring. Where will they pop up? There they are! Did I plant that bulb?
The colors of daffodils are among my favorites. Egg yoke chiffon. Sun-soaked taffeta. Fresh Cream satin. A perfect cocktail dress. And the smell of a daffodil. Hard to describe. Earth. Moss. Sweetness. Fresh and new. They are strong enough to poke through snow and bloom. A visual beacon of Spring. Their form is firm. Decided. Not like a floppy summer flower.
Daffodils, a golden trumpet announcing what is coming. A megaphone with a crenelated deep-yellow ruff, surrounded by petal-wings on a soldier straight, green stem. I have a thing for Daffodils.
What about you? I posted a photos of my new favorite vases with daffodils on the insta account, if you want to see….
As with so many things, I knew little about the game of bridge. Even after reading about it and conducting Gillian Miniter’s interview, talking to numerous people, I still don’t know enough to play a hand. I have a long way to go before I understand the game of Bridge. I know my Grandmother played a lot, but I have no idea if she was any good. My mom has been learning for years and she likes it enough to play weekly, but isn’t bitten by the bug. Recently, I met a woman, Kate R., who seems to play at a more achievable level than our Maven of the Week, Gillian, but no slouch.
Here is what Kate R. had to say:
I started with beginner bridge lessons at the Women’s Atletic Club in Chicago about 5 years ago. It did not go too well- lots of family, travel, life distractions. But, I did get to know a lot more of the great women at the club, so I kept with it. When Covid hit, we went to an online class, and that was pretty great- could play in pjs, roll my eyes when my partner screwed up, etc.
When we moved down to Florida during the pandemic, we played social bridge outside, and it was actually fun. I started to realize that it’s much more fun to play in person, so when I’m Chicago now, I join games with more great gals. I generally play 2 times a week, but confess to playing a round 10-15 hands online each day.
I really enjoy being able to play an age old game with folks of all age ranges. Playing with people who don’t play with the modern conventions is a gas- you never know how it’s going to go. Playing with really good players is cool, but I sometimes feel like I need to bring an extra shirt, as that can make you sweaty. I also love that in some groups, there are a lot of men who play- they bring a totally different dynamic.
For now, I’m mostly play the social bridge, but I have dabbled into the dark side, and it wasn’t too too scary. At the place in Florida, you need to pony up $3 for the duplicate, and it’s a bit steep for me, well, actually I just never have cash around. I would absolutely encourage folks to give it a go. It takes a while, but once the switch flips, it’s very addicting!!!
And then there is Gillian…
Maven of the Week! Gillian Miniter!
Lately, I hear more about bridge, which makes sense (I am aging). Some of the people I know have more time these days and the game of bridge takes time to learn and to play. When I saw that a long ago friend, Gillian Miniter, had won a Silver Medal in the World Championship of Bridge in Poland, I wanted to find out more about the game and what the attraction is for so many. News Flash: Gillian is now a Platinum Life Master with over 10,000 points .
I met Gillian through friends in New York, right out of college. Eventually, I left for Boston and we kept in touch through Holiday cards, then lost contact. Here is where Instagram is fun and not evil! Eventually, the algorithms figured out I probably know Gillian and put her in my path. I clicked “follow” and here we are!
I spoke to her several times for this piece and I truly love this part about interviewing people. We caught up on about twenty years of blank space in not too long. Family, friends, career, and now “this time of life.” She is a wife and mom of two who have recently semi-flown (college), living in Manhattan. Over the years she has dedicated herself to raising funds and running events for the Central Park Conservancy (CPC) (and is now a trustee) and being president of the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy. She has taken and been taken to lunch may times because that is where the serious friend and fund raising is done.
We talked about her life as a Manhattan mover and shaker, looking and dressing the part and her current life as a serious bridge player. She said she loves both worlds but the allure of the never-ending challenge of bridge may win out eventually. I am sure she is the best dressed player at the tournaments. She notes that there are some true characters and quirky people in the world of duplicate bridge, some of whom don’t count bathing high on their list of priorities. I wonder if they use smelliness as a distraction. They might as well go ahead and bathe because I do not think a stinky opponent will phase Gillian. She’s a formidable competitor.
In the beginning…
She came to the game of bridge by suggestion. Her Grandparents played frequently at their country club. She says they didn’t teach her as a kid, but then she said didn’t ask to be taught. Her parents didn’t play. She did, however, play other card games with them like Gin Rummy. It is true that social clubs are where Bridge is found, but that is not the type of bridge that Gillian plays now. She plays duplicate bridge and teams which is a totally different animal than social bridge
At around the age of 40, Gillian and some friends started getting together with a teacher in someone’s living room once a week. The teacher taught them, then would supervise their play. This type of bridge is when 4 people, 2 sets of partners, sit at a card table and play, socially. But as I have heard from several people, if the bridge bug bites you, you become mono focussed pretty quickly. Seeking games, playing online, it’s an itch that needs to be scratched.
I wondered how Gillian started playing with professionals in the world of tournaments or “duplicate” bridge. It wasn’t part of any plan. A friend had a standing date with a pro and she also was playing with another pro. Gillian was good enough and hungry enough to learn, to fill in for her friend. Eventually she took over the spot and the rest is history.
I know her husband can play bridge. Did they play together? Was he into tournament play as well? Nope. In general not many spouses play together. And, honestly, she is a whole different level of player. She says he wasn’t totally keen on her going to the tournaments and he doesn’t completely understand it. How can a woman who went from going to the Met Ball and the like want to hang out with a bunch of people who walk the spectrum line and are frumpy. The locations of the tournaments aren’t always so glamorous, either. Poughkeepsie, NY. for instance. Her husband has made peace with her decision to play obsessively.
I am not sure what I can compare the bridge passion to, maybe golf. In talking to Gillian about the obsession of bridge she said the more she learns the more she knows she doesn’t know. This coming from a Platinum Life Master. So there are days when a golfer plays beautifully and there are days when the same player wants to kill themselves from their awful play. It sounds like bridge is quite similar. The one gorgeous shot from a golfer erases the crap that happened on the last hole. Same with bridge from hand to hand. I think.
In preparing for our interview I came across some web sites that describe who is/was playing bridge. I felt like I walked into a room that I wasn’t supposed to enter. OK, I didn’t even know the room was there. The names of players passionate about bridge include Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who have played together, Winston Churchill, Maria Navratolova, Ghandi, Omar Sharif, and the bands RadioHead and Blur.
Reading about the game of bridge makes me want to learn, but also makes me worry I am not clever enough. Because as the web site says: “Bridge is a sport based on skill, not luck”. Yeek.
Questions for Gillian…
Please describe what you love about the game of bridge in a few words. Always challenging. Always fun. But not fun when playing poorly. That can be the worst. But playing well puts you on top of the world. It’s like golf in that way.
Why Bridge? Why not another social game that takes smarts and time? Bridge is somewhat social, but not a social game. Or the bridge that Gillian plays is not. The people she plays with tend to be sometimes anti-social, quirky and super smart, a bit on the spectrum, computer and wall street types. As reported above, Gillian plays bridge at a tournament level. She began in her early 40s playing in friend’s living rooms but was so taken with the game that she kept upping her level until where she is now, playing with a pro. Pros are paid but also decide whether or not to play with a client. She plays with a few different pros and travels the world playing tournaments.
Tell me about the psychology of bridge. Is there a “poker face” in playing bridge? Like most games there is a lot of psychology in bridge. The goal is to find out what cards your opponents have (and your partner) by counting cards, the trick taking. There is a “poker face” but I’m not sure bridge players call it that. A player needs to hide their true emotion. One way players cheat and is a big no no, is by hesitating before a card is played. It is called cheating because the pause intentionally misleads the other players.
I imagine the psychology differs in country club bridge and tournament bridge. Is it different or just more refined? Social bridge can be full of drinks, snacks and chat. Gillian assures me these are not adctivities enjoyed during tournement bridge. I thought about how high strung and intense some players must get in both situations. There are always players in any game who take things a little too seriously. In tournement bridge, Gillian says people can absolutely lose it. They get angry at their partners or opponents, basically the normal reactions at human error.
We had a side conversation about what it’s like to play with a pro. Can they be nasty? Usually not. But, absolutely some pros can be hard on their clients. Like any tight community, think polo, the pros are well known. You pay them to play with you and in some cases for you, but they can be quite tough on their clients. And then what? You’ve been beaten up mentally by your partner and then expected to perform alongside them. For some people this actually works better! Perhaps it get’s the blood flowing to be upset and angry.
How long were you playing bridge before you decided to enter tournaments? Gillian started playing for fun in 2009. She had small kids around and was very busy with the committees she was on. But, she was bitten by the bug and started playing as much as she could and by 2013 she entered her first tournament.
At what point did you decide to team up with a professional as a partner? Playing with a professional bridge player is a process. You need to do a lot of research. What type of pro, age, nationality, skill, cost. And, the pro decides if he or she will play with you. Additionally, you may find a pro who you want to play with and find they are “betrothed’ to another patron. That means you need to fit into their schedule. Perhaps you get to play on wednesdays with the pro, etc. It’s all scheduling at that point, says Gillian.
Do you ever play with friends in a living room now like when you first started? No. She says she plays once a week with each of her two partners (pros) to keep her skills up. She also plays online, two hour games, a few times a week. Gillian noted she needs to keep her level of play up and if she isn’t playing with someone her level or higher it tends to have a negative effect on her own level of play. Makes sense. We tend to play most sports and games better when our oponent is at least as good or better than we are.
She also goes to the live bridge clubs once a week or so. Covid closed down everything for a while and a lot of them are just reopening. As she said earlier, the players are old and no one wants to get sick so the online games are popular.
Bad news, good news. The bad news is that the number of bridge players has shrunken over the decades. Though many of the best players are from the United States, having fewer players may become a problem. We start learning too old in the US to compete against the players from countries like Poland where they learn as soon as they can learn. The good news is that with Covid there have been a lot of online opportunities for bridge play including apps. So there are more players lately, at least online.
Bridge players are aging. the number of players and tournements is shrinking. Aside from the graying hair in the ballroom full of tables of four, another strong hint at the age has emerged post covid. The tournements used to begin at 1PM break for dinner and start play again at 7:30 pm and go to 11pm. Then people would hit the bar to unwind. Gillian said when you play in a tournament you need time to unwind after playing all day. Going to the hotel bar was a way to unwind. Now, however, the rules have changed: play starts at 10:30 AM and breaks for lunch and resumes at 3:30 and goes to 7:30 PM. Then, she typically has a bunch of reservations and decides who she wants to invite to dinner. No bar time.
Women and bridge. There are not a lot of female tournement bridge players. She says that the world of bridge is not politically correct.
What makes a good amateur bridge player? focus, stamina, smarts
What makes a good amateur bridge player? focus, stamina, smarts. The games go as long as three hours, you’ll need some snacks and the ability to not space out. It is intimidating at first, but keep at it and you’ll be hooked. She says the more she learns, the more she realizes she doesn’t know. she find this frustrating but it is also what keeps her coming back for more, She has decades ahead of her to play. The average age of a brisge player is 71 and the peak performance is 40. She notes there are plenty of plenty of over 70 (and 80s) year old opponents she faces.
Best way to start playing:? First, search your home town for bridge clubs that are live. Next, check out the Apps and finally, check out the online games of bridge. Read. I have some good links here.
How much do you travel for bridge tournaments these days? Gillain says she travels to about one tournement a month. She heads to New Orleans for the Nationals next week.
✍️ Join me in the comments
Do you play bridge? If not, do you think you will?
Do you play something online each day? What?
Are you a bit afraid of bridge like I am? If not bridge is there some other activity that you hope to master?
Let’s meet in the comments and discuss.
The 5 stock questions for Gillian:
What did you want to be when you grew up? Still don’t know.
What are you excited about now? Springtime in New York City, my son’s college graduation, both kids moving to NYC, a trip to Buenos Aires for the South Americans (bridge tournament).
What books are on your bedside table? In The Garden of the Righteous, The Nightingale, Adventures in Card Play, Shu dog.
What do you do to relax? I love massages and going out to restaurants. In fact, I stay home about five nights a year the rest I go out to dinner.
What category/subject would you add to the Guide? How to get into playing bridge!
A Recipe You Won’t Hate! Carrot Soufflé
From the New York Junior League Cook Book
That’s all for now!
Okay, after reading this, I feel like there needs to be a “The Queen’s Gambit” for bridge!