Cam French

Barry and Me

It was a long time ago and I was young and green, in bridge and in life. I found myself at my first out of country regional, at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Our group was comprised of seasoned club players with at least 2,500 masterpoints between us, with one member holding 2,000 of those. We were youthful, stupid and arrogant. (In that regard I speak only for myself and my very dear friend David Cravioto; OK, maybe just for him.)

The scoring for the Sunday Swiss was victory points, something I had never even heard of. Mind you I was not an ACBL member as I was one year away from graduating from university with a degree in French and Political Science. My team mates were David, Sharon Cleary (now Jabbour), John Cleary and Caroline Pascoe.

We sailed through the event, mixing partnerships and miraculously winning five matches and tying two to see ourselves on the leader board! That was a lifetime first, and what a thrill. Team French sat in sixth place going into the final match. Barry was just ahead of us by a few victory points. David chanted “Give us Barry, Give us Barry!” Then when we drew Barry he cursed aloud "Shit! We got Barry! Shit we got Barry! We’re gonna get killed!"

It looked like this was the end of the road. I arrived at the table and was shocked to learn of my new-found the celebrity status. I had to squeeze my way through the horde of kibitzers. I had never had (even a girlfriend) kibitz me before, and here we were, like Christians in the Coliseum being thrown to the lions. I suspected some kibitzers might have been there to see our opponents, only David dreamt otherwise. I sat down to find Barry Crane on my left and Mike Smolen on my right. For some reason, I surmise it was purely geography; we were not socially acquainted. There were no pleasantries, no words, just my sweaty palms and an air of disbelief. My heart stopped, if only for a moment when I realized how far over our heads we really were. The kibitzers were three and four deep. I recall that there were 25 or so encircling the table like vultures awaiting the inevitable carcasses of the slaughtered. Hell I believed it, why shouldn’t they? I asked a teenager adjacent to me if he was old enough to buy alcohol. He said yes. I handed him $10.00 and asked him to bring me back two beers. In Ontario you can’t drink during a bridge event, but in the Motor City, well, it was an all new card game.

I played with John; Sharon sat out while David and Caroline (the holder of the 2,000 MPs) faced Tom and Carol Saunders at the other table. The first hand at my table had them bid briskly to slam. Partner led a heart. Dummy had the ace. I had the king of hearts and another ace. Barry played low from the dummy. I grabbed my king, cashed my ace and basked in the glow of a plus. The kibitzers murmured. Maybe it was just the frantic beating of my heart. Barry and Smolen said nothing.

Board two was déjà vu all over again. They bid quickly to 6NT. I led something and Smolen turned to me and said, “If you have 4 diamonds and 4 spades you will be squeezed and I will make seven”. I said “I don’t” and we all put our cards back in the board. Two hands at warp speed and the kid was not yet back with my beers.

Board three saw Barry step out.

I held ATXXX AKXXX AJX –

None vulnerable. After two passes I opened a forcing one club. Barry (on my left) bid 2 clubs, pass, pass back to me. If partner had a penalty double, I had to re-open with double and so I did. All passed, partner led a spade and an ashen-faced Smolen tabled:

QXXX XXX XXX XXX

The carnage was swift and merciless and soon we were appending 1100 (old scoring) to our side of the ledger. I was delirious. A huge digit, a slam down, we had to be well up. I thought it a good time to pray for 1NT all pass for all the remaining boards.

They double my partner in 3S and I am almost apoplectic as they play a a forcing game and they win one trump trick after another taking the AKQ of spades and two side tricks to pip him one, for minus 200. I had feared the dreaded toll-free (800) number so I was relieved. No matchpoints but this is imps. I figures a small loss. This time I pray John has seen the score sheet and decides to lie low.

Finally, the damn kid gets back with my refreshments. I was tempted to hand one to my partner, and against my better judgment I did so. The kid asked if he could see my convention card. I handed it to him. That was rude. I didn’t know better.

The kibitzers are stirring and I have finished a beer in world record chugging time. Does it help calm my nerves? No. American beer! If there is one thing our American friends could learn from us, the Germans, the Dutch or the Irish is how to make a decent beer. Again, I look to the heavens and promise to go to church regularly should we have some boring part score hands. My prayers are answered as the remaining deals are uneventful. I lied about the going to church part; I just wanted my prayers answered. And they were.

Crane and Smolen get up and leave the table. They don’t see the need to verify the score and the thought never crosses my mind. Our swarm of kibitzers diminishes to a few curious bystanders. I tell my partner I am going to go fetch another round. I am so nervous, I feel like a teenager out on his first date and his girlfriend says “kiss me”. I am awaiting a cold slap to awaken me from my dream-like state. I grab my bounty (a lot faster than that kid) and return to the table. David and Caroline are not yet back. Our throng of kibitzers has been decimated to a solo random voyeur.

“How was your set?” I demand of David.

“Nothing unusual” he replies with nonchalance.

“How was yours?” He is suspicious, and I don’t blame him. I decline to assign it an adjective.

“Board 1 we are plus fifty” as I try to conceal my delight.

“Win 11 as we are +460. Did they bid that slam?”

“Yes.”

I sensed there and then, especially with David’s disclaimer, that we had won. Time seemed to slow down. I was enthralled at this moment. A once in a lifetime experience. If you are a golfer, unless you are a big-ticket politician or PGA tour member, you will never in your life play against Jack, Arnie or Tiger. Here I was, a player with zero Masterpoints playing the number one ranked player in the world. I asked Caroline to pinch me – she did. Then I asked her to kiss me.

She smiled and quipped “only if we win”.

“Minus 1430”.

“Push.”

“Plus 1100…..” David nearly jumped out of his jockey shorts. “What happened?”

“What is your score?”

“Minus 450.”

“Win twelve.”

I think there and then I may have passed out. I do know I was in a state of euphoria that no one could deny. I wanted the match to end there; no further results will be accepted. David asked something, I didn’t hear it. I handed him my convention card and drifted off into my own little world. He scrutinized it, without comment, then at the end looking very grim he solemnly announced “win by 21.”

“Who?”

“We win by 21!” He chortles, smiles and then shouts out – "We beat Barry!"

Caroline just about tackles me as she smothers me in feigned affection.

“We win?” Sharon asked as no one could believe it.

Sharon and John embrace. David is jumping up and down like he just won the SuperBowl with a last minute Montana pass. Caroline releases me under my false protests and demands to have a recount and scrutinize every result. David and I are quaffing my refreshments, ignoring Caroline’s inquiries and instead laughing, backslapping, and shaking hands like victorious congressmen before their flock. I hand her our convention card and pay no attention to her requests. These moments are rare. Defeating the number one ranked player in the world! It had never happened before to any of us and I dare say few of us had a moment of comparable joy since.  A lottery winner.

Friends wander over to congratulate us, probably drawn by the noise level of David’s delight. David had slain Goliath. The thrill would linger, as I am still able to revel in that moment’s history almost 30 years ago. Did we win the event? No. We finished fourth if I recall correctly. But we beat Mr. Bridge. That ecstasy was way beyond a few masterpoints. It was history in the making. I think we won about 6.5 gold points. (Awards were less back then, you didn’t win 35 gold points for winning the Flight B – there was no bloody Flight B.) I resolved to sign up and obtain my ACBL membership. Naturally I applied to have my gold points applied retroactively. And so it was. I accrued gold points as my first Masterpoints points on my ACBL record.

Our team drifted apart. I have not seen or heard from John or Caroline in 30 or so years. Sharon I still chat via email. After all, she had the courtesy to set me up with her gorgeous sister – Lu. David and I remain close, even if we hardly play together anymore except socially. Once in a while we share a frosty refreshment, chat about our sons/lives/wives and if we are really lucky – dip our lines in the water. But we share a memory that no one can erase. Nowadays we are not so young or so green and I trust neither so arrogant nor stupid. This time I speak exclusively about myself, not for my close friend David.


4 Comments

Fred LernerFebruary 18th, 2008 at 8:47 pm

A great story. We’ve all had one of these experiences and everytime we remember them the smile crosses our face and we know that at that particular time we were unbeatable. Ah, if only we could play like that all the time. Maybe that’s why we keep coming back 🙂

David CraviotoFebruary 20th, 2008 at 4:48 pm

I was an unhappy social misfit in the days my dear friend Cameron describes. The real story here for me, was the ability for ANYONE of ANY level or social standing to have their day and decades later to revel in the JOY of past glory!!!

lindaFebruary 21st, 2008 at 12:03 am

You tell this story so well. It brings back some of the really great times of my bridge youth.

Bob IliffAugust 18th, 2008 at 5:02 pm

It’s kind of surreal to find your story. I have a similar one to tell. My bridge drinking buddies kidnapped me from school to play in the Sacramento Sectional in the early 80s. We played Swiss Teams (for the first time), and ended up playing againt Barry Crane’s team. And we beat them! The key hand was played by me against a the pair that did not include Barry. We were playing Precision Club as best we could, and I had just hastily added the Landy convention, explaining it (wrongly) to my partner the day before! So I overcalled a 1NT opening, and ended up in 3Hs doubled, making 4. After losing the match with us by a 1/2 IMP or something like that, Barry & Company were livid, and I was subjected to a “jury” process to decide if we had done something improper. They ruled 6 to 1 that I was just not using Landy properly (I only had one major suit). I thought Landy was just Stayman (either major) as an overcall. Barry’s team withdrew from the tournament immediately, putting our team is that same momentary, exalted status. I actually felt very bad, but knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Leave a comment

Your comment