Bob Mackinnon

The Enlightenment of Scrooge

“Bah! Humbug!”

– Ebenezer Scrooge (1843)

Charles Dickens, were he alive today, could teach us something about becoming imbued with the proper spirit in which to approach bridge. Recall how Ebenezer Scrooge became enlightened on a Christmas Eve long ago. The Old Scrooge would have been in line for the Nobel Prize for Economics, if it has existed in his time, before he disqualified himself on Boxing Day by raising Bob Cratchit’s minimum wage unnecessarily without the prerequisite upward pressure from the labor market. Until then some economies had thrived without the need for Christmas; any time was a good time to buy a girlfriend a diamond bracelet. In our more enlightened times, it is acknowledged far and wide the New Scrooge was the better man, and the better economist to boot, a pre-Keynesian, no less. As with Scrooge and Christmas so with those who say Humbug! to Bridge Probability. Yes, one may struggle on miserably without it, but how much richer our lives become when we can enjoy its benefits to the full.

Humbuggers deserve a night visitation from the three spirits of Probability: Probability Past, Probability Present, and Probability Future. The Ghost of Probability Past will speak of what cannot be changed and is forever fixed, the a priori odds with which every hand begins. One awaits a new hand with great expectations, but, alas, some times as with poor Fan, one is dealt a Yarborough. Furthermore, the Ghost will recall the numerous hands when Scrooge played against the odds and went down in a contract that was destined from the beginning to succeed. This will be his final warning, ‘don’t be a Fezziwig who couldn’t adapt to changing circumstances, use conditional probabilities.’

Probability Present will show the partners Scrooge threw away by a stubborn refusal to change his ways. At this year’s Christmas party he will see his ex-partners having a good time without him. Some are obviously happy with their new partners, others, like dear, sweet Alice, not. Her bridge seems to have improved remarkably since their breakup. The Spirit will tell him, ‘the past is ever lost, the future is beyond reach, so all you have left, Scrooge, is the present. Learn to live in it. Take heed and fare thee well.’

Lastly, Probability Future will speak of the uncertain times to come when one must speculate as to what is likely to happen, good or bad but mostly bad, if one keeps going along the same track. He will pose questions like, ‘if I play ace-king and a low club, what are the chances I can catch an unwary Fred in a ruff-and-sluff endplay?’ He will let Scrooge in on a future post mortem where the discussion of his abilities becomes pretty frank when he’s not there to defend himself. He may say to the Spirit, ‘despite what Mrs Dilber says, I’m sure I would always do what was proper at the time,’ but that just doesn’t cut it in the face of the harsh comments of the accusatory team-mates.

Hopefully, the Ebenezers of the bridge world will have a change of heart, learn the basics of probability, endeavor to be sympathetic to their partners, and live happily ever after in their new-found state of self-awareness. As Tiny Tim might say in conclusion, ‘God bless us every one, even those unfortunates who don’t play bridge.’

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