A Tribute to Tim Hays
May 30, 2023
This column is two months overdue, but I genuinely needed some time to reflect for this one. I knew it would be a difficult task and I needed to be in the right frame of mind before writing it.
On April 4, 2023, the Kansas City bridge community lost one of its icons. Tim Hays, one of the most important people in my own bridge career and a good friend, lost his battle with cancer. A great bridge player and a great guy, Tim was just 69 years old.
I have a rather uncommon background for a duplicate bridge player in that I am self-taught. Nobody in my family plays bridge. Even though I teach bridge classes weekly, I never took an “official” bridge class, myself. My bridge education largely came from reading books and discussing the game with my original partner, Dave Harty, and the crew of veteran bridge players in Kansas City. Front and center among that group was Tim Hays, who taught me more about the game of bridge at post-session bar meetups than I learned anywhere else. There were no dealing machines, nor were there hand records; all we had were our personal score cards from the session and a surprisingly accurate memory of the hands we played.
I could provide a laundry list of players from the KC area who dispensed outstanding advice to me during those early years, but none contributed more to my personal growth in the game than Tim. He was the closest thing I had to a mentor in the game of bridge, but our social gatherings were about so much more than cards. Tim was one of the funniest people I have ever known. Sure, much of the humor was bridge humor that would be lost on people who do not play the game, but his stories were pee-your-pants funny. When I stole Tim’s stories and told them to other bridge players in his absence, people laughed… but it was just not the same. For the full experience, the story had to be delivered by Tim, himself.
While he was compensated for directing games and teaching bridge, Tim gave back far more to the game than should have ever been expected. He always had time for questions from new players, even if they barely knew how to follow suit. He played occasional games with people like me when I was rather green and should have been paying for the privilege. Each of us who got that opportunity learned plenty from the experience, but we also had fun. Tim could mouth-off to an experienced player who was out of line, but I never once heard him utter a cross word to a newer player.
Quite simply, Tim got it. He knew what the bridge community needed. He understood the importance of keeping duplicate bridge going and thriving.
For as long as I play the game, I know that I will continue to deploy lines at the table that Tim was known to use. Whether giving partner the proverbial “penalty raise” or telling an opponent who got doubled for penalty, “You done put yo’ ass in a hornet’s nest,” I will always have Tim in the back of my mind. His passing leaves an enormous hole in the bridge community of Kansas City – and beyond.
Timmy, bridge will never be the same without you. Wherever you are now, I hope that you have a rum and Diet Coke in hand. Rest in peace.
Why should you hire a bridge teacher?
As we pursue recreational endeavors, we strive to be as good as we can be at the activities about which we are most passionate. Whether our sentiment is casual or competitive, doing something well and improving at a craft is fulfilling and provides a coveted sense of accomplishment. If we golf, we might take lessons from a pro to improve our swing. If we play violin, we can enlist a professional musician to help us maximize our skills to play with sound technique and greater proficiency.
Why, then, do so few follow the same approach with bridge?
Bridge is challenging and stimulating. No card game rises to the level of bridge when it comes to sophistication, especially regarding the bidding component of the game. Many of the top players in the world still humbly claim that they have not mastered the game, even after winning multiple national and world championships. While competitive activities are frequently solo endeavors, bridge is distinctive in its status as a partnership game. Because you cannot play without a partner, bridge presents a unique opportunity for mentoring. There is no better way to improve your skill at bridge than by having an experienced teacher as your partner.
Yet, for reasons that defy rationale, bridge players often scoff at those who hire a professional partner, especially in duplicate play. The gossip abounds:
“Did you see that guy Mary is playing with today? Isn’t he a Flight A player?”
“Oh yes, he’s a professional. She is paying him to be her partner.”
“Is she trying to win the masterpoint race in her rank category this year? Does she not think she can get enough points playing with her regular partners?”
“I guess so. I mean, anyone can buy their way to becoming a Life Master, right?”
The stigma attached to hiring a bridge pro is preposterous and unwarranted. While the ACBL has, indeed, created something of a monster with its antiquated ranking system, not every bridge player is consumed strictly with masterpoints. Moreover, we must recognize how truly meaningless masterpoints are. The late, great Paul Soloway referred to points as an “attendance” award, a stunningly accurate description of a system that makes collecting points easy if you have the financial means to travel to one tournament after another.
Masterpoints almost never accurately reflect a player’s ability. I’ve had students who were reluctant to graduate from their limited games to play in open fields, yet I have assured them that much of the opposition they will face is only marginally better (if that) than what they normally experience. I have known dozens upon dozens of players with thousands of points who do not understand some of the most fundamental criteria of bidding nor the most common technical elements of declarer play. I have asked (in my mind, anyhow) how a player who has consumed enough duplicate bridge to amass 5,000 points still cannot discern the minimum requirements for a reverse, jump-shift, or vulnerable overcall at the two level or higher.
Equally mind-numbing as the disparaging comments made about students playing with professionals are the discussions that I routinely hear at the table between two partners having a disagreement, or choices that people make regarding matters of bidding or play because one of their peers (who is unqualified to speak on the subject) told them to do so. If I told you that your car would run better if you filled the fuel tank with orange juice, you would look at me with wide eyes and tell me I was nuts. Yet, I routinely hear the bridge equivalent of this absurdity go unquestioned.
If improving your game is a priority to you, consider working with a reputable instructor. Whether you take classes, arrange private solo or small group lessons, or play competitively with a professional as your partner, you have a greater opportunity to bolster your skills. While you can learn from books and resources on the Internet, there is no substitute for what an experienced professional can offer you. We can all elevate our abilities in a variety of areas by tapping into the knowledge of an experienced professional, and bridge is no exception.