Highly skilled Greater Victoria players have helped the city craft quite a reputation over the years as a hotbed for bridge in Canada.
Three local individuals: Duncan Smith, Doug Fraser and Rhonda Foster, have achieved the lofty standing of Canadian Grand Life Master, a pinnacle reached by only 10 players in the country. Numerous others on the Capital Region bridge scene, based on their competitive results, are ranked among the leaders in Canada’s men’s and women’s categories.
So it should come as little surprise that longtime international bridge professional, teacher and author Michael Lawrence was convinced to lead a two-day skills workshop this week at the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa.
“Victoria is unique in having the highest level per capita in Canada of duplicate bridge players by ranking, or recent results in international competitive play,” said Highlands resident Bob Flitton, one of a group of high-level, Victoria-area players who worked to bring the Tennessee-based bridge giant to town.
Having read dozens of books on the subject, Flitton appreciates the way Lawrence the author explains salient points of the game in an easy-to-understand way. That approach came through loud and clear in person during Sunday’s first day of the workshop.
As Lawrence stood talking strategy with more than 80 avid players, gathered in fours around tables in the Westin ballroom, Flitton whispered to a visitor, “This has been really successful. People are blown away with what they’re hearing.”
Listening to the bridge legend describe common scenarios and offer up a list of best practices and playing options available, participants followed along on a printout of notes Lawrence uses in his presentations and gives to participants to take away and study.
In an earlier interview, he joked that his bridge career began in the 1940s, when he helped his mom play while sitting on her lap at the table. He actually took up the game in earnest while at the University of California.
After graduation he became so skilled that he was recruited in 1968 by businessman and bridge aficionado Ira Corn to a professional bridge team known as the Dallas Aces. The team was created by Corn in an attempt to break the Italians’ stranglehold as world bridge leaders. Part of Lawrence’s role as a paid member of the team was to write about bridge and start teaching its finer points, as a way to increase the number of high-level players in the U.S.
He’s been doing that consistently ever since, noted Flitton, and along the way has won three world championship titles and 18 North American crowns.
“When you’ve got a person who can explain something simply and make it easy to understand, and a knowledge backed by more than 50 years of research and experience at the highest level … the story is when Mike Lawrence says ‘this is how you should do it,’ you listen to Mike Lawrence.”
Now in his mid-70s but looking much younger, Lawrence has travelled the world teaching and playing bridge, including a couple of times at the Empress Hotel – the last time he competed there was 40 years ago, he reckons.
Explaining detailed strategy in a way even intermediate level players can understand has become his calling card. “The things I teach, these things will come up at the table,” he said. “You will have available to you the information which you didn’t have before on what to do now.”
For the sake of the writer, whose bridge experience is severely limited, Lawrence used a golf analogy. “There’s not too many ways to hit a ball when you’re six feet from the hole. But with bridge, it’s very expansive.”
Flitton said the purpose of bringing in Lawrence was to motivate local bridge players to take their game to the next level.
“There are a lot of people that are interested in the game and having an event like this will help improve the organization of it,” Flitton said. “(It’s so) more of them have better opportunities and more frequent opportunities to play … and they’ll be able to play at a little better level. Once you start learning these conventions and whatnot, it makes the game a lot more interesting.”
To learn more about Lawrence visit michaelslawrence.com. To find a bridge club near you, Google search ‘bridge playing in Victoria B.C.’