Cam French

Dreams I’ll Never See

Molly Hatchet – Dreams I’ll Never See

(Click on the above link for musical accompaniment)

Larry Cohen wrote (TBW 12/99) “By this point in the match, there were perhaps 100 IMPs in swings to ######## that could have just as easily swung the other way with small modifications to history having nothing to do with the quality of the bridge.; it’s a shame that important matches are sometimes decided by factors other than skill.“

I can’t quarrel with Larry’s assessment of the random factors that determined the result of said match.  But I do quarrel with this: “it’s a shame that important matches are sometimes decided by factors other than skill.”

That is the perspective of a world-class expert; a rank and sentiment I for one – do not share.

I think it is wonderful that luck (if it is not skill – what would you call it?) plays a role. And when you think about it, the calibre of players who are Spingold finalists don’t want luck to be part of the equation. Why would they? Hamman. Zia, Martel, Meckwell, Rosenberg, Gitelman, Weinstein, Soloway (and the list goes on – forgive the numerous omissions) play at a superior level than 99% of the rest of us. Lady Luck they don’t need, but most of us do.

Bridge, like every other sport or competitive endeavour is a pyramid. At the top – there are precious few. The rest are not scattered but ranked in descending order. There are certainly many times more novices and modest players than there are world-class experts. And I don’t mean the ones that call themselves World Class online. I mean those with the pedigree, like Larry, TBW staff, and the elite of our game.

The Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers need the Royals, Pirates, Reds and Nationals to have a little cannon fodder on their way to the podium. They can’t play themselves. And so it is with our game. I tell my non-bridge friends that in bridge the equivalent of Tiger, Vijay and Phil have to play through me before they can advance to play each other in the final pairing on Sunday. It is the only game in the world where amateurs and professionals compete head to head. And over the last twenty five or so years a new dynamic evolved, hiring bridge professionals to carry the mantle of the playing or non-playing sponsor. So the elite and the rest of the flock are forced, by the nature of the game to compete and intermingle. I don’t have an issue with that – I think it is one of the many things that make this game so great.

Larry – I have a confession.

In order for me to beat you and your formidable team of Berkowitz/Garner/Weinstein or Fred and Brad, or Bob and Zia, or Chip and Lew, I will be counting upon Brigidda the card Goddess to help me. I am not going to beat the superstar players because of my skill. Their skill is vastly superior. I need to be a wildcard, to insert the random factor into the match because head to head – mine will be handed to me on a silver platter.

Now you know and I know that weaker players by definition step out, take foolish chances, daring balances, and risky doubles and will not bid, declare nor defend as well as you and your peers. I know that too. You will often (and so would I were the ranks reversed) simply wait for our mistakes, capitalize, play down the middle and expect us to beat ourselves. Like golf (taking that up in your retirement?) it is not a matter of scoring a hole-in-one on the par threes. It is about staying out of the hazards, hitting the greens in regulation and no three-putts. In short – make mistakes and the golf course or the expert bridge player will exploit them.

So when you sit down facing me or my peers at round one (and only round one) of the Spingold, we both understand that I am but a rung in the ladder. That said – you need me. You don’t want a ladder with a couple rungs; you want a full extension fireman’s ladder where the talent level, drama, risks and rewards grow with every step. That is the nature of the ascension to success.

The trouble with this statement “By this point in the match, there were perhaps 100 IMPs in swings to Nickell that could have just as easily swung the other way with small modifications to history having nothing to do with the quality of the bridge…” is that Nickell (at that point in time) only happens to be the most successful team in the world. As Larry notes “Nickell had captured the Spingold trophy for the sixth time in seven years. Over that span, Dick Freeman, Bob Hamman, Jeff Meckstroth, Eric Rodwell, with either Paul Soloway of Bobby Wolff have won approximately 40 Spingold matches and lost just once, an amazing Spingold record. In addition to their immense talent, they’ve needed some good luck as well and that was clearly present in this year’s final.”

I submit, (and I know you would agree) that with the talent level of Nickell, they don’t “need” good luck and like all top players, sometimes make their own. If the companion team (Beatty, Onstott, Eisenberg, Hayden) had enjoyed the lion’s share of “factors other than skill“; then perhaps some might be celebrating versus bemoaning the fact. I know most of us need Lady Luck dancing at our side in order to have any hope against the game’s top performers.

My only personal claim to beating champions came 30 years ago at Cobo Hall in Detroit. We faced Barry Crane and Mike Smolen paired with Tom and Carol Saunders (see Barry & Me: for details) in the final match for a shot at the overalls. I was young, green and not even an ACBL member. It was not our superior skill that prevailed; it was a paucity of skill and an abundance of luck. Perhaps that is why I can only claim one such David – Goliath such moment. Expertise typically prevails.

We all perceive life through our own shade of lens. The expert enjoys a lofty and well-earned status, but too often forgets from whence he came. We were all novices once. Our ascent and its pace varied, often according to how much talented help we received. Hell, I earned mine at the old school of hard knocks, as did most of my peers. I tell the novice students that bridge is like a library. You can walk and browse the first floor, and once satiated you might advance to the second. There, a whole new dynamic is revealed, and with experience, performance and sometimes luck, you rise again in rank and perspective. And so it goes. If I recall Paul Soloway helped some pre-teen to Life Master rank in less than a year. Heck – maybe a few of us might have matched that with such a mentor.

So should you perceive Brigidda at my side, acknowledge her and submit to her will. After all, she gives me hope and you get to travel back in time, and remember, once upon a time – she was your best hope too. You may not need nor want her, but I need her very much when I play my only Spingold match. How about you?


I did send this to Jeff Rubens at TBW but he dismissed my thesis noting even I didn’t want luck determining “important” matches. That is true I suppose. But my first round Spingold match or the last match of a Sunday Swiss with a shot at the overall is important – to me.

Larry was more empathetic.

Interesting — I understand your point.



ross taylorJanuary 28th, 2010 at 7:42 pm

I’m surprised no one commented here Cam – it’s clear you put a lot of thought into this interesting article – did you write it years ago or recently?

Cam FrenchJanuary 31st, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Hi Ross,

I started on it about a month ago, sent it to Jeff and he was, shall we say – of a different mindset.

Jeff has rather stringent criteria as his clientele is the expert domain. Of course Mollo, Kantar and others have explored the wider audiences – who can forget Walter the Walrus or the Rueful Rabbit?

I recall Eddie Kantar in Gamesman’s Bridge showing a hand to a player who had to make 5NT in order to get into heaven.

If he failed to make it he would go to “Bridge Hell” where all players

: counted points

: Led aces

: played second hand high…..

He shuddered and eventually made the hand against less than perfect defence.

Great book, and to my mind humour and the occasional straying into the non-expert realm offer something that is part and parcel of our game.

Warm Regards,


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