Fordyce Maxwell: 'I used to be a shark at Snap! - when playing with anyone under six'

AFTER flirting with the idea for years, we started a beginners' class in bridge last September.

As someone who prides himself on sticking at a job once started - making allowances for the fine dividing line between perseverance and stupidity - it pains me to say I only lasted two lessons before heeding the advice of WC Fields: "If at first you don't succeed, quit. No point being a damn fool about it."

With hindsight, that invaluable quality, my mistake was to think bridge bore any resemblance to card games I had played in the past. Snap!, Happy Families and Donkey were not, as it turned out, good training. I used to be a bit of a shark at Snap!, especially when playing with anyone under six, but there's not much demand for fast-reaction slamming and a loud voice when North is pondering what to tell the dummy.

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Or West is about to play hoping her partner East will draw the necessary conclusions. Or deciding between trumps and no trumps. We were well drilled in the basics in the lessons we went to, but my knowledge of bridge can still be written on a postcard. Not only did it not resemble Snap! or Donkey, it didn't resemble Newmarket or Uno, and was not at all like brag, pontoon, or pontoon's fancy casino cousin, blackjack.

Not, again, that I have much experience of these games. I played Newmarket once, and brag and pontoon were limited to a few nights at college when a five shilling pot was big money and during bus trips to away football matches.

In fact, the only card game at which I approached anything like expertise was knockout whist at the back of the school bus, a bastard version of the proper whist played in earnest with malice aforethought in our village hall. I tried that full version only once, drafted in an emergency by a regular, but refused ever to do so again after being castigated in terms perilously close to child cruelty for playing a wrong card.

Knock-out whist - we lived dangerously on that bus - began with seven cards each, dropping round by round to a nail-biting one each to the two survivors. Frightening eyeball to eyeball stuff that might have stood me in good stead recently if I hadn't decided after two bridge lessons that life was too short to master its intricacies, compass directions and worrying about being that dummy.

But not too short for Pictionary, a fine festive game combining the intellectual qualities of Snap! with the drawing skills of Etch-a-Sketch and the not-at-all competitive urges of Happy Families. Players have one minute to convey to their team-mates with a drawing an idea, place, object or indeed almost anything, as specified on a card. Not easy and hilariously noisy, especially during a flurry of wild guesses about what turned out to be the leaning tower of Pisa. I can't see the Scottish Bridge Union standing for that sort of behaviour.