42. Bridge: Audrey Grant & bridge nostalgia in the 80s

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In the 80s, the Goren era of bridge was long over, except for us bridge and lunch ladies who still played Goren or thought we did.  I found out much later, in 1987 researching this book, the 80s were a turning point in the establishment bridge world. No more Goren–American Standard was it. And amazingly (to me at least) the Official Standard text of the ACBL had been written by a Canadian woman.

A perfectly logical choice, I was to find later, and one that made sense in terms of  internationalism and feminism.  American in this instance means North America (including Canada, Mexico–plus Bermuda for the ACBL). As to choosing a woman — why not? Woman bridge players have always far outnumbered men. As to choosing a Canadian? I have the impression that bridge by the early 80s had not taken the dive in Canada that it had in the States. Were there more Canadians playing bridge in the 80s than Americans?

I was to find as my years of dabbling in bridge history went on thru the 90s and early 2000s that this chasm between the two worlds of bridge — sociable majority and serious establishment minority — was still in place. That we didn’t learn, except accidentally, that playing Goren no longer existed was not surprising.

But contract bridge hadn’t started out that way. Ely Culbertson had been a celebrity amongst all kinds of players in his day, and we all knew the friendly face of Charlie Goren. By the 80s, the day of the universally- known bridge guru was over.

I like to wonder what if . . .  what if instead of insisting on “American Standard” as its designation, the ACBL marketing department had promoted the Grant-written manual as Grant’s System? Or even Audrey’s Bridge Bible??  At least to the millions of women still playing rubber bridge.

What if women’s magazines had featured a few articles by Audrey Grant telling of her new bridge bible — as Goren and Culbertson had done? d done. Celebrated that a woman had replaced Goren as the bridge guru in media that reached the general public and women’s magazine audience?  Just might have re-ignited bridge amongst boomer daughters in the 80s after the decline in dorms and sororities of the 70s.

Audrey Grant did go her separate way later and today is known as a dynamic teacher at seminars, on lovely cruises, and publisher of her own series of  Better Bridge Teaching Manuals.

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Would you trade today for life in the 50s?
With the 80s,came first glimmers of an emerging nostalgia for those despised 50s. There was an article by David Schoenbrun in 1987 in Parade magazine–“Would you trade today for life in the 50s?” –warning readers of the “rosy prism of nostalgia” causing people to look back with longing to the 50s.

The 80s are far better said Schoenrbrun and he warned against taking up some aspects of the 50s like riding around in golf carts and women playing bridge. We know better, said Schoebrun, than to pursue sedentary sports, eat charcoal-broiled steaks, drink martinis, play bridge as they did in the 50s.

A second article, this time by Tom Buckley in the New York Times was clearly nostalgic for the tournament bridge world of the past.  But he’s going back to the 30s, when great bridge players were celebrities. Today, he says, the most famous bridge player in the world, and second most famous (both Texans) might just as well pitch horshoes.

Buckley blames it on the 80s and the bridge establishment — too many conventions! He concludes “we may need a depression like the 30s” to bring back bridge.

Note to the ACBL: We’ve just had a depression, may still be in it since 2008. I’ve yet to see a story in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times lifestyle sections, generated by the ACBL marketing department, and what bridge did back then to make that depression more bearable. Such a missed opportunity!







6 Responses to 42. Bridge: Audrey Grant & bridge nostalgia in the 80s

  1. P.S. I inherited my grandmother’s china tea set … she participated in one of those classic ladies’ bridge luncheon groups for decades while living in a small SE Massachusetts’ town. When I had the opp to live in that area as an adult, I was able to add to the tea cups/saucers quite easily by shopping in the “antique-y” shops that abound there.

    My current bridge circle includes a number of men, so I haven’t bothered to break out the tea cups … not yet, anyway! But I’m feeling the tug to serve tea, butter Spritz cookies from my Nana’s recipe, on her beautiful china with gorgeous little tea napkins on the side!

  2. I stumbled upon you, Maggy, while looking through internet sites that might help me in my quest to firmly establish what I’ve termed “social bridge” in my community. YOU ROCK!!!

    I am 58.5, and after a year of hit-&-miss attempts, finally have a solid group of folks showing up every Monday afternoon at our community center — who jumped at the chance to add bridge as a “senior social” event … at the grand price of $1.40! I wanted to list it specifically for “never-evers” and “rusty-dusties”, since I planned to provide instruction in the basics as well as a FRIENDLY, casual, forgiving atmosphere in which to play.

    Because my own prior attempts to play “party” or social bridge had not gone well. Duplicate, oh, certainly … many opportunities weekly throughout the area, and I live about 30-35 miles from one of the best-regarded duplicate clubs anywhere (Vero Beach Bridge Center) — where in desperation to play bridge, any kind of bridge, I once took classes.

    I’m not much more than a novice-level myself, but training is in my blood … I have a knack for breaking down complex material into bite-size bits, along with an outgoing personality. Within a few meetings (publicized in the newspaper calendar, the city’s Parks & Rec quarterly schedule, and as a Meetup group), we filled 4 tables with people playing bridge for fun!

    We’ve attracted a number of people who last played bridge 30+ years ago … and we’re now about equal parts newbies, rusty (sometimes real rusty!), and those who’ve played fairly steadily for years. The challenge now, as you can imagine easily, is that in working from the most recent resources as I teach/coach, hoping to have us all playing from the same page, literally, some folks’ old Goren habits are hanging on.

    Some newcomers love learning anything and everything, but most seem content to know just the basics and wing it from there. So, what do you suggest that might help me bring everyone together? We’ve recently encountered the stubborn strong-two bias, along with the “convenient/best minor” faction … which befuddles the truly casual and newer players.

    Above all else, my mission is for everyone to have fun … maybe we can find a way to meet in the middle with semi-serious party bridge? Anyone got some guidelines for what might make sense in this regard? How far do we go in learning conventions, for example … I’m thinking Texas Transfers make sense, because newbies are so loath to bid above the two level …

    Any and all thoughts welcome. Maggy, I tried to subscribe to your blog, but I don’t think it “took.” Please enroll me manually if possible … and if you are still in Cape Canaveral area, perhaps I’ll do a “field trip” and a few of my “bridg-a-deers” will come visit!

    Many thanks, Kacie in Port St. Lucie, FL

  3. I really appreciate your long and informative comment about the 80s and transition from Goren to Grant. I too think they were trying hard and Grant was a wonderful choice from what I’ve seen. Your view from a teaching perspective is so interesting — and no, in my social bridge playing world everyone does NOT play the weak two. And those that do will usually cave to the more opinionated those that don’t when they come across a resistant partner. And of course we play party bridge and change partners constantly. Only way I want to play — I don’t even want to do marathons where one sticks with same partner all day for just one day (except as an occasional sub) — not fun.

    What’s wrong with weak twos? They happen too often whereas a pre-empt (to which it is often likened) requiring 7 or 8 of a suit is intriguing because it happens less! Never know what the heck will happen–I love to get a pre-empt hand.

    Your thoughts on ACBL membership are also interesting and should be paid attention to by the hierarchy. Can’t they come up with some kind of auxiliary membership for those who love bridge but not duplicate?? Perhaps just as a way of FINDING others who play? Some way of connecting? That’s why I emphasized in #41 that that documentary film pay a visit to Beantown Bridge Meet-Up as a way to go for the future.

    As to Mr. Gaynor’s comments on smoking in the “good old days” — I’m very realistic about the negatives back then but absence of smoking during sociable bridge/dinner parties is not one of them. I never did smoke — or at least never learned to inhale so I quit because my efforts elicited amusement from my children — and don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful I never mastered it. BUT my memory of smoking was people (not all) having a cigarette after a good dinner, sitting around sipping Drambuie and chatting and I even remember the fragrance with some nostalgia. Especially if there was a pipe-smoking man in the party. Does anybody sip Drambuie these days after a dinner party??
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  4. I was there in the 80’s test marketing the ACBL materials and watching bridge teachers trained by Audrey. I was hired as Area Manager of one of the test market cities for the program. I am still with the program as a teacher trainer and also teach hundreds of students a year – mostly adults in the boomer generation or older. Even though I progress slowly I can see the struggle for them to grasp all the concepts we have to present to provide today’s bidding system – even with only minimal conventions like Stayman and Blackwood. Then, when they feel confident enough to play with their friends, they find they don’t bid the same way. Our teaching is too modern for many social players yet the experts are pushing teachers to modernize even more – to teach the 2/1 system of bidding to beginners, claiming it’s like the weak 2, which “everyone plays today.” Do they Maggy? I still see some strong 2 openers. How has sociable bridge evolved since the 50’s?

    ACBL did put a lot of effort into publicizing bridge. The question is why didn’t that many people notice it? The hectic pace of the times? There were local newspaper articles about Audrey – the “expert in simplicity” in teaching bridge. She traveled the county dressed as the queen of hearts and appeared on numerous local television shows. I was with her on a show in my area back in the 80’s. The idea of the new program was to prevent the attrition rate that many bridge classes were seeing and also an attempt to standardize what bridge teachers taught. I think it succeeded based on ACBL’s membership numbers, which still include only a fragment of people who play bridge somewhere. I believe ACBL membership would be a lot lower without the education program.

    Even before Goren, bridge was evolving with Culbertson’s ideas, the change to contract, etc. It is going to continue to evolve and unfortunately, get more complicated. ACBL is geared toward tournament players and the experts who gave input into the system taught were tournament players who are very different from social players in their desire for a complex system that might move toward perfecting communication as well as the amount of time and energy they are able or willing to put into learning a bidding system. Audrey did her best to follow the mandates of ACBL and keep things simple and the classes I oversaw in our program didn’t lose students so the program was an improvement. But the target was growth in ACBL membership. Do sociable players have a need to belong to ACBL? Or do they want to learn enough quickly to play with their friends? And what should bridge teachers teach so they can do that?

    I Often wish that the ACBL bridge education program had made an attempt to revive auction bridge. When bridge was in its heyday, there was a large contingent of auction players who were anxious and ready to add a bit more complexity to the game since they had mastered the trick taking part, declarer play and some defense. Now we try to take seniors who may never have played a trick taking game and prepare them to function in a bridge game in 8 to 12 lessons.

    Ideally, we should get people started playing younger, but the reality is that parents and working adults have much less free time today and many more activities competing for their attention – even in a recession. ACBL is trying to get bridge into the elementary and secondary schools. Even if those kids have to stop playing to deal with life, they’ve been introduced to a fun and challenging game and will remember the game when their lives slow down and they have more time. We’re starting to see the boomers turn to bridge. Their grandchildren will see it and the hope is that bridge will live on.

    I’ve seen countless friendships develop in my bridge classes – a perfect example is the group of 8 ladies I met with recently after classes had ended for the year. They all met in class – two lived 5 doors away from each other but had to come to bridge lessons to meet. Listening to them and the loving way they tease each other, you’d swear they’d been friends since their youth. They’ve and lots of lessons and their bridge isn’t the best, but they are having fun and have enriched their lives with new relationships. To me that’s what makes being a bridge teacher worthwhile. As long as bridge provides that, our game will continue.

  5. Check out the movie ‘Midnight In Paris’ for a commentary about living in the ‘good old days’.

    It does appeal to be at an old time tournament facing the likes of Goren/Sobel; the Schenkens; etc., but you would be doing that choking from all the smoke in the air.

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