No bridge game without a partner. The union is necessary. Among the champions, there are as many stories of mythical pairs as there are of legendary antagonisms. So, should we look for a marriage of love or a marriage of convenience? To win, do you have to love your partner? What are the secrets of a lasting and fruitful union?
Is it possible to be a bridge partner without affinity?
Jeff Meckstroth and Eric Rodwell have been playing together for over forty years. The two Americans have won the biggest titles. Yet the two individuals in this pair nicknamed “Meckwell”, often presented as one of the best in the world, have nothing in common. Meckstroth was a police officer before turning pro, Rodwell is an intellectual. One plays the piano, the other has a passion for golf. “They didn’t even dine together during tournaments!” recalls three-time world champion Alain Lévy, who often played against them. Therefore, friendship cannot explain their longevity and their success. It must, however, be attributed to their very strong mutual trust and to diligent work. “They worked on their system for hours, every day and for years,” says their former opponent.
In France, Paul Chemla and Michel Perron formed an equally improbable and brilliant pair for twenty years. Four world titles and yet very few affinities. “Apart from bridge, they shared a passion for crosswords – that’s not much”, jokes José Damiani, President Emeritus of the World Federation. At the bridge table, Michel Perron shone with his ability to avoid making mistakes, Paul Chemla with “his sense of the music of the bidding.” Two different but complementary personalities who, through hard work, have managed to speak “the same language”, and share the same vision of the game. That is the important bit. “Bridge is an encrypted language. If the information sent by one partner is well received by the other, then it’s won,” analyzes Alain Lévy.
These two atypical pairs are part of the legend, but the history of bridge is also made of great friendships. For more than twenty years, Hervé Mouiel and Alain Lévy formed an amazing duo. “He was my friend, my brother,” the latter recounts with nostalgia. These two who were later inseparable met in the 1970s in the Parisian bridge clubs on the left bank of the city. Then students, Alain and Hervé
played for days and nights in order to “consolidate their skills.”
At the start of the 1980s, they were ready to dive into international competitions. The solid pair did not lose until Hervé’s death. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him,” admits his partner with emotion.
An idyllic relationship? Not always! Alain and Hervé didn’t have the same style. The first is very meticulous, the second more creative. And it was difficult for these two strong characters to hide their emotions. In Rhodes, at the 1996 World Championships, Alain got angry: “We won all the matches, but Hervé made a bid that he should not make… so I spoke to him really badly. His wife packed their bags on the spot.” It was necessary for their captain to step in to ease the tensions and they ultimately went to win the competition. “In the end, we threw ourselves into each other’s arms. It was wonderful”, remembers Alain Lévy, who analyzes the infallible desire to win which brought them to the top of the podiums: “Hervé had an iron will, the strength that he wanted to win at all costs. He instilled that strength in me and that’s what united us.”
Marriage of convenience
Sometimes friendship can be weakened by what is at stake. Thirty-something Cédric Lorenzini knows what he’s talking about: “In the past I had problems with partners because I got angry easily. Bridge can shatter friendships.” So Cédric worked on himself, particularly with a coach.