Sally Sparrow

Bridge on the stage

Hands held tight through thin and thick.

It takes thirteen tricks to make a hand,

And thirteen hands to do the trick.

On Tuesday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Thirteen Hands, a play written by late Canadian author Carol Shields. It was directed by Claren Grosz and presented by the Alumnae Theatre Company in Toronto, impressively in their 100th year. This is a play about women, a play about memory, about connection – to ones friends and family throughout generations – and yes, you guessed it, a play about bridge.

When I say it’s a play about bridge, well, it doesn’t actually mention the word ‘bridge’ once. But from the very first lines of the play, when four women dressed in black and red introduce themselves as “east”, “north”, “south” and “west”, those of us in the audience who play the game felt our skin start to tingle. The opening scene is lively with the described action of a bridge game as the characters move around the stage. I immediately thought of all my bridge partners, my mother, and others I’ve shared a game with – I must tell them to come and see this play too!

The thirteen acts are a trip into the minds of several generations of women who meet weekly over a bridge game. The group is initially formed among company wives who feel they have nothing in common, but they quickly find connection, becoming support for each other throughout their lives. As daughters and finally granddaughters join the group, sometimes forced to fill in for missing or departed members, memories from the group are shared with new members. Main character Clara states, when questioned as to what the group discussed: “We talked about our mothers.”

Actors come and go, but always four players remain at the table, interchanging as the conversation flows. The actors do a wonderful job of representing shifting time periods, from the Twenties right up until this play was written in 1993. Costume changes and set design enhance the experience of the shifting time periods. The nine-women cast is brilliant, each of them playing their younger and older selves. Actress Sandi Globerman is compelling as Clara, who recollects her friends as she takes stock of her life: “You know, sitting there, the four of us, we were as close together as people can get.”

As Carol Shields states in her Playwright’s Note, “for many years I’ve been interested in the lives of women, particularly those lives that have gone unrecorded.” For me, this play was a homage to those women, but also to a game that brings people together to share memories and find connection. As a young person playing the game, so often I find a bridge to generations past, to those ‘lives unrecorded’, and that’s one of the best parts of the game for me.

“It was as if our brains were so busy, counting points, planning the next move, trying to guess what was in our partner’s head, and you know, we got so we could do just that, it was like a kind of enchantment — Oh, it was a strange thing, those cards slipping out of one hand into another.”

Thirteen Hands runs through Nov. 4, 2017 in Toronto. Tickets at www.alumnaetheatre.com.

Announcing the 2017 ABTA Book of the Year Award

The ABTA convention Awards banquet is a wrap for another year. It was a particularly exciting one for me, as a Master Point Press book won this year’s ABTA Book of the Year award for best Beginner/intermediate book. 

First, check out the amazing decorations for the night, all planned and executed by Barbara Seagram. Her team transformed the pub at the Strathcona Hotel into a bridge-themed fancy dining room. The food was amazing and the staff incredible. Here are some photos of the decor:

By far the best part of the evening for me was when we were able to surprise author Bill Treble with the news that he’d won this year’s ABTA Book of the Year award for his book, Defending at Bridge: A first course. He had driven to Toronto from Winnipeg, just arriving this afternoon, to play in the NABC. With some help from his wife Sue, we had convinced him to come a day early and to attend the banquet and meet some of the teachers. He and Sue are teachers themselves. His friend Michael Leighton, also a bridge teacher, had driven up with him, and Sue had to stay behind in Winnipeg to run the games Bill was missing.

When the award was announced, the look on Bill’s face was priceless. I was sitting right beside him, so of course I took a photo.

 

He was happy to accept his plaque and though mostly speechless, he thanked the committee, Sue and Mike.

The event was followed by great food and a wonderful panel of teachers and experts, moderated by John Rayner, and including Haig Tchamitch, Andy Stark, Barbara Seagram and Bob Morris. A wonderful end to a special night. 

Here’s the cover of the winning book, look for it in bookstores!

ABTA Master Point Press Teacher of the Year award 2017

This year’s American Bridge Teachers’ Association Convention is happening right now in Toronto, Ontario,  my home town. Over 100 teachers (I think the actual number is 107) are here, the largest turnout in a few years! It was a very hot day yesterday, not usual for us, but today has brought cooler weather, thank goodness!

I had the pleasure this morning of attending the presentation of the 2017 ABTA Teacher of the Year award, sponsored by Master Point Press. Here’s my photo gallery of the events as they unfolded.

   

Joyce Penn introduced each of the nine finalists for this year’s award: 

Robert Barrington, New York, NY
Joann Glasson, Pennington, NJ
Bruce Greenspan, Bonita Springs, FL
Josee Hammill, Toronto, Canada
Henry Meguid, Durham, NC
Jim Ricker, Knoxville, TN
Kathy Rolfe, Lake Winnebago, MO
Enid Roitman, Toronto, Canada
Grant Robinson, Dublin, CA

Each nominee had provided a short video clip, so we got to see their teaching in action! Then… the big announcement. This year’s winner is Enid Roitman from Toronto! We’re so happy to see a Canadian teacher recognized this year, and one from Toronto at that!

Enid Roitman wins the 2017 ABTA Master Point Press Teacher of the Year Award!

Enid was overjoyed and happily thanked her fellow nominees, the committee and sponsors, particularly Barbara Seagram, Josee Hammill and other local Toronto bridge teachers.

Congratulations to Enid and all this year’s nominees.

Now I’m off to the Awards Banquet, so more to come from Toronto later.

 

So long, Chicago

I’m back in Toronto this morning and that means back to work. But I have one post left of my Chicago adventures. So here goes…

The last morning in Chicago my Mum, her friend Ollie (both bridge teachers) and I visited the Art Institute of Chicago. We only had a few hours and there was so much to look at. The Institute has one of the largest permanent collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, so we focussed our efforts there. Walking in, the first painting we saw was A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, very cool to see in person, particularly to observe the pointillist technique up close.

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There was also a room dedicated to Degas and his ballerinas, as part of a special exhibit. More than half of Degas’ paintings are dedicated to this subject. I didn’t know that a lot of his other work depicted horses and racing, many of which were also on display. My favourite Degas was his sculpture Little Dancer of Fourteen Years.

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If I’d stayed longer I would have visited the American art wing as there are many famous paintings I’d like to see there. But two hours is about my limit in an art gallery, my feet especially were protesting! And I had a plane to catch home. Next time.

One last visit to Millenium Park and some better photos of me in front of the cloud gate. It was not as sunny a day so it was easier to photograph a giant mirror-like structure, ha!

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Then, (okay, after ONE last trip to Target) I made my way back to the hotel, packed up, checked out and got in a taxi to the airport. A rather interesting ride, as the driver showed me how to get there fast without letting other cars get in your way. I was surprised at how forgiving Chicago drivers seemed in comparison to Toronto drivers… we were only honked at once! A new technique I learned: if there’s too long a line-up of cars in the left-hand turning lane, and you need to turn left, just drive up the straight-on lane and turn left in front of them all. Easy!

Then, in the air to say au revoir Chicago…

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And hello Toronto!

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It’s nice to be home, but it was an awesome trip. I feel some good connections were made, and I hope some of the people I met will contact me. If you are one of them, please leave me a comment!

Let the games begin!

Was too tired last night to blog! But I’ve had a great week in Chicago. And as I prepare to leave today, the NABC is off to a roaring start. I got to play yesterday in a 0-5 game, it was free all day for novice players. I was ready to put my name in at the partnership desk, when my Mum ran into a young man in the elevator. His name was Shawn and he was looking for a partner. He’d only started playing bridge in April, so had no points yet. He was here with his 10-year-old daughter, Ella, who was playing in the junior division. She did very well and was playing with people up to 19 years old. He showed me this photo of her playing:

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She placed second against people twice her size! She had started playing in school, and he started playing because of her. What a great story! I should have taken a picture of Shawn and I. Sorry.

I won’t go into too many details about the game itself because there were no real standout hands. Let me just say that I was pretty nervous about playing with someone I didn’t know. But once it all started I felt right at home. Our first opponents were young people too! (Well, by young, I mean turning 40 like us…) We all remarked how nice it was to play with people our age. I was able to show them a few things, like how to use the machines and how to keep their score on the scorecard. No one had even played in a club before. Next time I’ll challenge myself more and play in a higher division, but this was a good start.

After playing my mind was full of bridge. So I didn’t do much else last night, other than stop by the book selling booth to chat to the booksellers. But because the games were on, there was no one to sell books to! I did get to run around and search for bridge experts. I got to meet Boye Brogeland to do some business for the publisher. He was very cool (and good-looking!). It was exciting for me because I’d worked on his book, Bridge at the Edge, which was full of exciting hands and stories of his experiences at top-level championships. He told me they’d not had a good result earlier that day. But when I ran into him again later on, they had done well. As we learned from Zia yesterday, it’s all about the last hand. Make it a good one and you’ll come out of it with a good feeling. Good luck to all the players!

It’s my last morning in Chicago, so we’re off to the art gallery. Then packing up and off to the airport! I’d be sad, but I know I’ll be back again. It’s a great city.

This post needs at least one more picture, so here’s my favourite so far, from the boat as we ended the tour.

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My first Nationals

This morning wrapped up the ABTA presentations. We heard from the one and only Zia Mahmood, who told many hilarious and insightful stories about his time as a world champion bridge player. He has stories from far and wide, of success and failure. Hearing him talk was a bit like reading his book, Around the World in 80 Hands. What a guy!

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This was just a quick update because I’m about to play in a 0-20 game, with a partner I haven’t met yet! I’m excited but also nervous. Of course, the best thing to do before playing in your first national event is to go out for lunch and eat THIS:

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Amazing food in a great atmosphere, the Eleventh Street City Diner. I highly recommend this place. It’s just a few blocks from the hotel (if you’re reading this while visiting for bridge) at 11th and Wabash.

Okay, off I go… wish me luck!

2015 ABTA awards

This afternoon, bridge teacher Jeff Schuett, from Riverwoods, IL, was presented with the 2015 Teacher of the Year award. Here’s a photo of Jeff with me and the trophy I got to present to him. Congratulations, Jeff!

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Tonight, after running into Jeff Meckstroth in the elevator (very exciting!) I made my way to the banquet dinner, which was followed by the presentation of the ABTA book awards. I was delighted when Julian Laderman received a special certificate and mention from the panel for his book, Bumblepuppy Days. He was pretty delighted too! 

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It’s a wonderful book about the history and development of the game, from about 1800 to 1950. Julian makes it an engaging read, even for the non-history fan. An essential item for any bridge player’s library!

Then a second nice surprise as the ABTA announced the winner of this year’s Intermediate Book of the Year… David Bird’s Winning Duplicate Tactics! This is another excellent book for club players who want to improve their skills playing duplicate. David addresses issues specific to this highly-competitive form of bridge, all presented in his usual witty prose. Since he lives in England, I got to accept the award on his behalf.

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A third book from Master Point Press was nominated this year but lost out to Larry Cohen’s newest book, Larry Teaches Opening Leads, which was chosen for the beginner/novice award. Our book is the new quizbook by Barbara Seagram and David Bird, Bidding at Bridge. I have to give it an honourable mention here because it is my favourite of the three quiz books. So many bidding topics are covered and not only do you get many quiz hands, but a mini lesson for each topic as well. I think this book helped my bidding a great deal. It really helps to practice something when you’ve just read about it! And there are certainly many practice hands in here. Two of Barbara and David’s other books in this format have been past ABTA winners, so we can’t win them all, but this one is definitely my favourite. 

All this excitement was followed by an excellent panel of experts, who were hilarious and surprisingly in agreement on many of the bidding issues posed to them. One thing that stuck: Jerry Helms’ definition of the “North Carolina game-try”: you bid game and then try to make it. They wrapped up with a question about everyone’s most embarrassing moment at the bridge table. I hope video was taken because it’s a you-had-to-be-there sort of thing.

The night was topped off by my finally meeting the tournament bookseller, Jeremy Lewis, who I have been talking to on the phone for years (when he orders books from us), and today was our first meeting. We totally hit it off! Funny, you instantly get a feel for people who are booksellers. Jeremy shares the same passion for books (bridge books!) and is quite the salesman too. If you’re at a National event or even a regional tournament, you’ll probably meet him someday. And he’ll sell you not one but two books!

As I was heading up to my room, I noticed all the bridge happening down in the basement. The NABC has finally begun! It’s a new energy here in the hotel. A great energy. All because of a game.

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More tomorrow as I try my luck selling books!

Chicago Day 3 part 1

Just a mid-day post as there’s much still to come today. We’re about to announce the Teacher of the Year award down in the ABTA room, but I snuck back to my room first to post some of the pictures I took earlier of the city. I’ve been sneaking away from the convention in the mornings to walk the city. Today I wandered up a block from the hotel to Wabash, where the L train (short for “elevated) weaves its way through downtown. I love how the rails run above the road, dwarfed by the buildings surrounding them. Just like being in a movie (filmed in Chicago)! I took many more panoramic shots.

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This one’s for you, Ollie!

After some shopping (too much shopping), I came across the Chicago Cultural Centre, which I was told yesterday is the old library building. So I had to go inside. Beautiful ceilings that look like embroidery, names of famous authors throughout the brickwork, and famous quotes about books, too. A great space to visit.

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Then I made another trip through Millennium Park, where I perfected my selfie in the cloud gate. You may be able to make me out in the centre with my sun hat on.

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Okay, off to discover the winner of the Teacher of the Year award, and later on the winner of the ABTA book of the year award! Stay tuned!

 

Chicago day 2

Today was a long and exhausting day but a good one! I started the morning with a long walk across a lakefront, down a river and through a city filled with amazing buildings, ending up at Millennium Park. Some awesome sculptures and many photo ops, including trying out the panoramic feature on my iPhone.

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Back to the hotel after having lunch near the Trump tower, and it was time for my presentation to the teachers. I’ve been to many publisher previews in my time as a bookseller at Indigo, and usually the biggest thing I come away with is a renewed passion for books (not to mention a million new titles I want to read). That’s due in part, I think, to the people who work for the publishers – they believe in the books they’re selling and are excited to share that with people. Well, today for the first time I got to share my excitement about what I do with people. People who actually understand what these books are all about! So that was a great thing. With so many books and little time, we really tried to choose books that teachers would find useful, that they could best recommend to their students, or that they would consider using in classes. I’ll go into more detail on these specific books in a later post (it’s been a long day!), but I just hope the teachers went away with one or two titles in mind that could help with their students and their classes.

After the presentations many of us went on an architectural boat tour… right through the centre of the city, on the river, on a boat!

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ABTA adventure!

The tour was breathtaking as I tried to take in all the details about almost every tall building surrounding us. It seems everything in Chicago has a story, and the history of the city is right there in front of you every turn you take.

I also got to try a local craft beer called Revolution golden ale, brewed right here in the city. It was very refreshing. 

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Kathie MacNab and I enjoying a pint on the boat.

After the tour, we went for dinner at a highly-recommended restaurant called Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab. The name says it all. Amazing.

Tomorrow we find out (and I get to present a trophy to) this year’s winner of the Teacher of the Year. And in the evening, the winner of this year’s ABTA Book of the Year is also announced. Whether we win or not, book awards are always a good thing.

The implementation dip

Hello, Chicago! 

Well, I made it to the ‘windy city’, which so far is not so windy, rather a nice refreshing change from the heat and smog of Toronto. And can I mention my dinner tonight?

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The world-famous Chicago deep-dish pizza

The American Bridge Teachers’ Association kicked off their annual convention today, with a newcomer’s luncheon and afternoon speakers, including two of our MPP authors, Barbara Seagram and Julian Laderman. Both excellent and engaging speakers, despite Barbara’s admission of how nervous she was, because speaking to teachers is different than teaching students. Still, she did an excellent job. I’m not a bridge teacher (yet), but I could relate to her point about students approaching her complaining that they were actually getting worse, not better, once they started taking her classes. She pointed out that this was an illustration of something she calls the “implementation dip”, that once you start to learn, you start to notice how many things you are doing wrong. A student first starting out will do 100 things wrong, but not notice any of them. Once taking classes, the same student will now do 50 things wrong, and notice perhaps 15 of them. So from the student’s perspective, there are 15 new things they are doing wrong. But really you’re improving. Makes sense. I think she’s put her finger on one of the most frustrating things as a bridge student. When will I get it all right??

Julian’s talk centred around teaching mathematics to high school students using bridge. I liked the idea that bridge teaches not only mathematic principles, but ethics. It could be a very valuable addition to the curriculum. Julian also talked about “Bumblepuppy Bridge”, a simplified version of the game that he has created. He lamented that these days, you can take a flight and have a variety of entertainment to choose from, including almost 100 different games to play. But none of these is bridge. Perhaps a simple version of the game is just what we need to attract more people in venues such as these? By the way, you can download Julian’s handout on this game for free on our ebook site:

http://ebooksbridge.com/www/ebb/index.php?main_page=ebb_product_book_info&products_id=591

Tomorrow: I get to talk to bridge teachers about our books! Using a microphone! Stay tuned…

 

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