Pursuits of Happiness, 18 VTBJ, Fall 2018-#8

PositionVol. 44 3 Pg. 8


No. Vol. 44 No. 3 Pg. 8

Vermont Bar Journal

Fall, 2018

Duplicate Bridge-An Interview with Mark Oettinger

Jennifer Emens-Butler: I am here in the office of Montroll, Backus & Oettinger in a beautiful lake view conference room and I am here to interview Mark Oettinger for our Pursuits of Happiness column which you have been following since its inception, right?

Mark Oettinger: Yes, I have been following the Pursuits of Happiness and I have been reading the Bar Journal since 1980 and have written many articles.

JEB: Yes, yes you have, and thank you!

MO: Thank you for publishing them.

JEB: So this column doesn’t talk about your legal pursuits - we try to find people who have interests and passions that are outside of the practice of law that keep them sane, busy, at peace or entertained. I was not aware that you have a very strong passion for a certain card game.

MO: Yes.

JEB: Well it’s called a card game, but it’s so much more than that, right?

MO: Well, it’s probably THE greatest card game! Bridge has been around, in its current form, since the 1920s. And I play a form that is typically played at the competitive level that is called “Duplicate Bridge.”

JEB: So basic bridge, generally, is also called contract bridge, right? Because you are making a contract?

MO: Correct, in bidding you are making a contract, which you either successfully perform, or you breach, by making, or failing to make, the contracted number of tricks. If you make your contract, you are awarded points, and if you breach it, then “damages” (points against you) are awarded to the other pair.

JEB: Ah ha! It’s legal in nature, that’s why you like it! Do you find there are a number of lawyers who play?

MO: Yes, there are many, like Justice Ernest Gibson, Justice John Dooley (a reluctant bridge player, but a very accomplished Oh, Hell! player), Mike Furlong, Emily Bergquist, Rob Backus, Gene Kazlow, Jane Friedenson, Dena Monahan, Mary Cox, the late David Pendleton, and the late Alan Coulman.

JEB: Wow, do they all play in your club or you just know they play?

MO: I’ve played socially with some of them, and duplicate bridge with others. It’s a small group that play duplicate bridge as opposed to just straight contract bridge. In the 1950s, there were bridge programs on TV, and it was very popular, so bridge generally is still very popular among baby boomers.

JEB: So what makes duplicate bridge so different than regular bridge?

MO: You play with a partner, against another pair, at a given table, while there are many other tables in play at the same time. There are 24-28 computer-dealt hands, which everyone plays during the course of the roughly 3.5 hour session. The hands are generated by the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), an organization of about 160,000 members, who play duplicate bridge. The downloaded hands are fed into a card dealing machine which takes about 8 seconds to deal each hand. The dealing machine inserts the four hands into a “board.” The players play the “board” without mixing up the cards, and at the end of the hand, reinsert their hands into the appropriate pockets of the board. Depending upon the configurations of the particular tournament, you play 2, 3 or 4 hands against the same opponents, and then the opponents, and the boards, move to the next table (in different directions). At the end of the session, every player has played every hand.

JEB: There are preset hands the whole evening.

MO: Yes, so this way you are compared not in terms of how lucky you are in terms of being dealt good cards, but instead, how you did compared to other people who were dealt the exact same hands. You get a point for every pair you beat, and you get half a point for every pair you tie. At the end of the night, you get a hand record that reflects all of the hands that you played. All of the results are uploaded to the ACBL website, where you can study every detail of the tournament within 10 minutes of finishing.

JEB: Sounds very technical.

MO: Yes, bridge is becoming more online driven. As the live games get smaller live, bridge is becoming much bigger online.

JEB: So, the word “duplicate” just means you are competing with someone with the exact duplicate hand and you take all the chance and luck out of it? You see how everyone deals with the same bad hands as well as good hands.

MO: Most of it, yes. If I only have 5 high card points, but take one trick, I have done better than others who took no tricks with the same bad hand. Since each hand, no matter what it contains, is worth roughly 4% of the score. If I do better than 50% over t he course of the session, I am doing better than average. In a way, it’s like baseball: if you have a 60% season, you will probably win your division. If you have a 70% season, you might win the World Series.

JEB: Back to the computer, I’m just curious. Do the records include every card down to each card in that hand?

MO: Yes. And when one...

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