There is one card game that towers above all others as the most intelligent, intricate, and psychologically absorbing ever to be invented. It has a rich history. It's played and loved by some of the world's most famous and influential people. And it's not the one that's currently on television twenty-four hours a day.
In 1925 Harold Stirling Vanderbilt invented modern bridge, and a national craze was born. In the 1930s, bridge was even bigger than baseball. Its devotees would eventually include the Marx Brothers, George Burns, Wilt Chamberlain, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who played to unwind before the Normandy invasion. Today bridge players number about twenty-five million in the U.S. alone; current celebrity addicts include Warren Buffett (who goes by the online handle "T-Bone"), Bill Gates, Hugh Hefner, Sting, a sitting Supreme Court justice, and the guys from Radiohead.
In this spirited homage, Edward McPherson recounts the history of the game while attempting to master its deep mysteries in time to compete at the North American Bridge Championships in Chicago. Barely able to shuffle cards let alone play bridge, he sets out to discover why the game became and remains such a popular pastime, stopping in Dallas, Kansas City, Gatlinburg, Gettysburg, Las Vegas, and London. He focuses on a handful of professionals and eager but fumbling amateurs, and the characters he meets convince him that in a game that pits mind against mind, close attention to the cards often reveals much about those sitting at the table. He attempts to learn from bridge's devoted fans—from white-haired grannies and international playboys to teenage pros and billionaires—how its legacy can be preserved for future generations. And along the way, he picks up a playing partner of his own: Tina, a New York octogenarian with sharp card skills and energy to burn.
Insightful, funny, and steeped in respect for bridge, The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats is an affectionate view of a grand game by an outsider trying to make his way into the inner circle.