Ray Lee

Elementary, my dear Watson

Yes, okay, I know the great Holmes never actually uttered the phrase I’ve used as a title — but it seems as though he should have.

I have various (bridge-related) thoughts in the aftermath of Tom Watson’s heart-breaking loss in the British Open yesterday.

1)  Linda happened to watch the last couple of holes with me.  She is a dedicated non-golfer, but nevertheless got caught up in the drama, and we were still talking about it today.  It was so simple to follow the drama — you didn’t have to know anything about golf, let alone be a half-decent golfer, to understand the issues.  Sink the putt on 18, and make history; miss it, and become a footnote…  Can bridge ever be made that simple?  Can we cultivate the personalities, the way poker broadcasts do, and present edited highlights that focus on the big-money decisions, the way poker broadcasts do?  I’d love to see someone try that with the Cavendish, where there is for once some serious money on the bridge table.

2) Watson made headlines because, at 59, he’s well past the age that most people can dream of playing anything at that level.  Not so bridge.  First of all, Watson is younger than the average ACBL member, by some distance.  Second, take a look at the ages of some of the folks who will be playing the Bermuda Bowl in a few weeks — one Robert Hamman, for example.    Third, look at some of the names of the participants in the upcoming Senior Bowl, and watch some of the BBO coverage of that event from Brazil.  Trust me, these guys can still play.  So we should pushing bridge as a true ‘sport for a lifetime’, one which has been demonstrated, moreover, to help you retain mental alertness as the ageing process sets in.

3) We all cringed at that final, oh-so-tentative putt, and the (it seemed inevitable) collapse in the playoff.  The pressure of the moment, and even maybe physical fatigue, took their toll.  I was reminded of the lady who assailed me with messages a few weeks ago when I was doing BBO commentary on the final of the Women’s US Trials.  She told me in no uncertain terms that she was tired of hearing pressure and fatigue given as reasons for plain bad play.  After all, she said, they’re on a 6-man team, staying in a 5-star hotel — how could they possibly be tired?  I’ve never played a true world championship, but I’ve watched Linda do it several times, and others I know almost as well.  Trust me, there’s constant pressure.   Linda doesn’t sleep much, and eats very little, for the whole two weeks.  Inevitably, she gets sick, and that doesn’t help either.  I’ve watched two members of my family do ludicrous things their first time on VuGraph — pure stage fright.  There was a great quote from Watson in today’s paper: “A lot of guys who have never choked have never been in a position to do so.”  (He actually said that some years ago.)  That kind of pressure is part of any sport at top levels.  The great Yogi Berra said, ‘Baseball is 90% mental — the other half is physical.’  Seems to me that applies to bridge too, although numbers may not be the same.

So next month, when you’re watching the final of the Bermuda Bowl, spare a thought for the fact that the players will have been in action for more than 2 weeks, day in day out, making good plays, making bad plays, all leading up to that declarer play decision that everyone knows will decide a world championship.  Guess what?  However good they are, some of them are going to get it wrong.

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