Saturday, November 08, 2003

Peace, all. After making apple egg rolls for my family yesterday, I headed out for two of my favorite day-off activities: browsing at the public library and playing bridge. My friend Greg is a good guy and a pleasant bridge partner. We're usually in way over our heads against the top players in Kansas City, but we both relish the challenge. He'll be moving to Chicago in a few months, and I'll be missing his companionship. I've struggled occasionally with the place of games in my life. When I was in college, I was happier playing than studying. And mostly, my grades showed it. By the time I was ready for grad school, I had left behind ten years of tournament chess, and my competitive instincts had been tempered by other concerns. (But I did graduate cum laude.) Though I was always meticulous about going to Mass when I was in college, when I began singing in choirs and playing music in church, the whole timbre of my weekends changed. I haven't played tournament chess in almost twenty years. I only miss it a little bit. For some reason, out of the blue, I had an itch about seven years ago to play bridge. I went to the monthly bridge night at my Iowa parish. Though I was a few decades younger than my next-youngest competitor, the contact with older parishioners was nice. My wife actually insisted I continue the practice; she believed it was good pastoral ministry to connect with these men and women and broaden my perspective beyond liturgy. Not long after that, I had the itch to try the serious bridge games in town. Now I get one night a week to play cards and swim with the big fish. Fun. Last year, I volunteered to monitor the chess club at the parish school. The playing is mostly fun. A few kids have potential, but even fewer have the attention span to work on their game seriously. Of course, serious would be my own view. I used to buy chess books written in German because I wanted to get a leg up on my high school opposition. (Back in the 70's, you couldn't beat the Rolf Schwarz series for opening play.) But playing games comes with a caution. Sometimes my competitive instincts have overwhelmed my sense of charity. And playing games can eat up a lot of time I would be better putting to use with family, prayer, or any of my unfinished writing projects. The circle returns now to bridge and why I enjoy this game most of all these days. One aspect that tempers my over-competitive spirit: bridge is a partnership. I sink or swim with a partner. I can't do it alone. Lone rangers tend to fare very poorly at bridge. In the bridge partnership, communication and cooperation are important skills. I feel as if I'm building something when I play with Greg. Online bridge play has never appealed to me; I find it a shadow of the live game with the real human beings I sit with. I began to teach my daughter bridge a few months back. Ranking the cards is about all we got to -- ace captures king, king takes queen, etc.. She brought two of her stuffed kittens and we dealt the cards. How she cackled when our first hand was done. "Dad! My kitties beat us ten to three! Ha ha ha." No wonder she prefers mancala and Go Fish. When your stuffed toys can kick your Dad's butt at bridge, you'd better stick with learning the games he can teach you well.

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