Over the years, Seligman has observed the emotions of other bridge players and how positive or negative thoughts can affect one’s game. “In general, my academic research shows that men are very stony, don’t react much, and are less reactive to depression and anxiety,” he says. This seems to hold true even among championship bridge players. The “great men bridge players do not get upset, but the great women players do,” he says. As for himself, “I am pretty stony” when playing bridge, but “reactive as well” and “not as good as the really good players” because of that.

Having partners who are overly negative or critical can also affect a player, says Seligman, who has at times been on the receiving end of such “atrocious” behavior. “Soloway used to yell and scream at me all the time. So, I would play only about 90 percent of my game. I’d be covering my ass not wanting to get yelled and screamed at,” he recalls. “Rodwell would never raise his voice, but when you did something wrong, he’d say: ‘Oh, well, you made it.’” But what that really meant, Seligman continues, was, “You didn’t get the overtrick, you jackass.”

The ideal partner brings out the best in you. Murray Melton, with whom Seligman shared the number one and two positions on OKbridge for two or three years, used to yell and scream at him, Seligman says—but his behavior changed when he faced a life-threatening medical condition. “Following his cancer treatments, he’s become so much nicer, and I really do a lot better because he doesn’t yell at me anymore.”

As for his own abilities in nurturing fellow players, Seligman says, “I am a good teacher of psychology, but I don’t think I am very good at teaching the basics of bridge.” Perhaps trying to be supportive of my future bridge endeavors, he adds, “I’d rather teach bridge to someone at your level,” implying that I was not a rank beginner. (It made me feel better, anyway.)

It’s Saturday morning, October 9, 2010, the first qualifying round of the Open-Pairs event at the World Bridge Series, where Seligman and Chris Compton are competing. Hundreds of world-class players and wannabe world-class players sit around tables in a ballroom at the Philadelphia Convention Center—240 pairs to be exact, or a total of 480 players in this one event.

Seligman and Compton are seated at Table A1, which is tucked away in a corner at the far end of the room. I sit just behind Seligman’s right shoulder—my same position as when I sat watching him play online. The players use cards from a bidding box to bid their hand and then play the hand. The table and pairs of players are divided, separated by a diagonal wooden partition with a doggie-door-like opening in the middle that allows the players to slide a rectangular box through to the other side with their bids. The purpose is to prevent cheating. Seligman has told me of some of the most notorious bridge-tournament cheating scandals, so I understand the necessity of the odd contraption.

In one hand, Seligman and Compton win the bidding. Compton, the declarer, will play the hand and Seligman will be the “dummy.” They open the door before Seligman lays out his hand, lining up his cards in rows by suit from highest to lowest with the trump suit on his right, followed by the other suits. Compton will verbally indicate to Seligman which card to play from the dummy for each trick.

Just as Seligman completes laying down the cards, with no warning to me, he nonchalantly inquires of Compton and their opponents if it would be within the tournament rules for me to play the dummy’s cards while he goes to the restroom. It’s fine, they all agree, and Seligman leaves. I take his seat, feeling butterflies in my stomach.

OK, I may be the dummy, but still, a not-quite-rank beginner, I am playing in the World Bridge Series. With a touch of smugness, I silently repeat to myself, “I’m playing in the World! I’m playing in the World!” I play the cards as Compton calls for them and do so without messing up, but just as Compton makes their contract, reality returns, as does Seligman with a napkin full of rich, gooey donuts. He nods to me, takes his place, and gets ready to bid the next hand.

Seligman and Compton would go on to qualify for the semi-finals of the Open Pair event, ranking 63rd out of 240 pairs with a 52.68 percent game. In the semi-finals, they ranked 126th of 172 pairs with a 48.29 percent game—not good enough to make it to the finals. However, they then entered a Regional Open Pair event, where they came in second with “about a 62 percent game,” recalls Seligman, earning “maybe 10 MPs.”

Though to me he seemed relaxed when playing in both the qualifying round and semi-finals, Seligman claims he was more nervous than he expected. On the positive side, he got to meet Gunnar Hallberg, one of his partners on BBO, face-to-face for the first time. He said what a “genial fellow” he was, and—generous in his recognition of other players’ abilities and achievements—noted that Hallberg had won the senior teams event just a few days before.

Still, not making it to the finals was a bit of a disappointment, he admitted. “We were outgunned,” he said, when I asked him to evaluate his and Compton’s performance. “I learned that I am not good enough to win at that level. The competition was just better than ever before … just super.”

Barbra Shotel CW’64 is a lawyer and freelance writer. Having played bridge for two years, she hopes to increase her accumulated 12 Master Points this year to 20 to earn the ACBL’s rank of Club Master.


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FEATURE: Passion Play by Barbra Shotel
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