Reference > Emily Post > Etiquette
Emily Post (1873–1960).  Etiquette.  1922.

Chapter XXXI.
Games and Sports
THE POPULARITY of bridge whist began a quarter of a century ago with the older people and has increased slowly but steadily until it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that those who do not play bridge, which means “auction,” are seldom asked out. And the epidemic is just as widespread among girls and boys as among older people. Bridge is always taken seriously; a bumble puppy game won’t do at all, even among the youngest players, and other qualifications of character and of etiquette must be observed by every one who would be sought after to “make up a four.”   1

  That no one likes a poor partner—or even a poor opponent—goes without saying.
  The ideal partner is one who never criticises or even seems to be aware of your mistakes, but on the contrary recognizes a good maneuver on your part, and gives you credit for it whether you win the hand or lose; whereas the inferior player is apt to judge you merely by what you win, and blame your “make” if you “go down,” though your play may have been exceptionally good and the loss even occasioned by wrong information which he himself gave you. Also, to be continually found fault with makes you play your worst; whereas appreciation of good judgment on your part acts as a tonic and you play seemingly “better than you know how.”   3

  There is nothing which more quickly reveals the veneered gentleman than the card table, and his veneer melts equally with success or failure. Being carried away by the game, he forgets to keep on his company polish, and if he wins, he becomes grasping or overbearing, because of his “skill”; if he loses he sneers at the “luck” of others and seeks to justify himself for the same fault that he criticised a moment before in another.
  A trick that is annoying to moderately skilled players, is to have an over-confident opponent throw down his hand saying: “The rest of the tricks are mine!” and often succeed in “putting it over,” when it is quite possible that they might not be his if the hand were played out. Knowing themselves to be poorer players, the others are apt not to question it, but they feel none the less that their “rights” have been taken from them.   5
  A rather trying partner is the nervous player, who has no confidence in his own judgment and will invariably pass a good hand in favor of his partner’s bid. If, for instance, he has six perfectly good diamonds, he doesn’t mention them because, his partner having declared a heart, he thinks to himself “Her hearts must be better than my diamonds.” But a much more serious failing—and one that is far more universal—is the habit of overbidding.   6

  In poker you play alone and can therefore play as carefully or as foolishly as you please, but in bridge your partner has to suffer with you, and you therefore are in honor bound to play the best you know how—and the best you know how is as far as can possibly be from overbidding.
  Remember that your partner, if he is a good player, counts on you for certain definite cards that you announce by your bid to be in your hand, and raises you accordingly. If you have not these cards you not only lose that particular hand, but destroy his confidence in you, and the next time when he has a legitimate raise for you, he will fail to give it. He disregards you entirely because he is afraid of you! You must study the rules for makes and never under any circumstances give your partner misinformation; this is the most vital rule there is, and any one who disregards it is detested at the bridge table. No matter how great the temptation to make a gambler’s bid, you are in honor bound to refrain.   8
  The next essential, if you would be thought “charming,” is never to take your partner to task no matter how stupidly he may have “thrown the hand.”   9

  Don’t hold a “post-mortem” on anybody’s delinquencies (unless you are actually teaching).
  If luck is against you, it will avail nothing to sulk or complain about the “awful” cards you are holding. Your partner is suffering just as much in finding you a “poison vine” as you are in being one—and you can scarcely expect your opponents to be sympathetic. You must learn to look perfectly tranquil and cheerful even though you hold nothing but yarboroughs for days on end, and you must on no account try to defend your own bad play—ever. When you have made a play of poor judgment, the best thing you can say is, “I’m very sorry, partner,” and let it go at that.  11
  Always pay close attention to the game. When you are dummy you have certain duties to your partner, and so do not wander around the room until the hand is over. If you don’t know what your duties are, read the rules until you know them by heart and then—begin all over again! It is impossible to play any game without a thorough knowledge of the laws that govern it, and you are at fault in making the attempt.  12
  Don’t be offended if your partner takes you out of a bid, and don’t take him out for the glory of playing the hand. He is quite as anxious to win the rubber as you are. It is unbelievable how many people regard their partner as a third opponent.  13

  Mannerisms must be avoided like the plague. If there is one thing worse than the horrible “post-mortem,” it is the incessant repetition of some jarring habit by one particular player. The most usual and most offensive is that of snapping down a card as played, or bending a “trick” one has taken into a letter “U,” or picking it up and trotting it up and down on the table.
  Other pet offenses are drumming on the table with one’s fingers, making various clicking, whistling, or humming sounds, massaging one’s face, scratching one’s chin with the cards, or waving the card one is going to play aloft in the air in Smart Alec fashion as though shouting, “I know what you are going to lead! And my card is ready!” All mannerisms that attract attention are in the long run equally unpleasant—even unendurable to one’s companions.  15
  Many people whose game is otherwise admirable are rarely asked to play because they have allowed some such silly and annoying habit to take its hold upon them.  16

  The good loser makes it an invariable rule never to play for stakes that it will be inconvenient to lose. The neglect of this rule has been responsible for more “bad losers” than anything else, and needless to say a bad loser is about as welcome at a card table as rain at a picnic.
  Of course there are people who can take losses beyond their means with perfect cheerfulness and composure. Some few are so imbued with the gambler’s instinct that a heavy turn of luck, in either direction, is the salt of life. But the average person is equally embarrassed in winning or losing a stake “that matters” and the only answer is to play for one that doesn’t.  18

  Golf is a particularly severe strain upon the amiability of the average person’s temper, and in no other game, except bridge, is serenity of disposition so essential. No one easily “ruffled” can keep a clear eye on the ball, and exasperation at “lost balls” seemingly bewitches successive ones into disappearing with the completeness and finality of puffs of smoke. In a race or other test of endurance a flare of anger might even help, but in golf it is safe to say that he who loses his temper is pretty sure to lose the game.
  Golf players of course know the rules and observe them, but it quite often happens that idlers, having nothing better to do, walk out over a course and “watch the players.” If they know the players well, that is one thing, but they have no right to follow strangers. A player who is nervous is easily put off his game, especially if those watching him are so ill-bred as to make audible remarks. Those playing matches of course expect an audience, and erratic and nervous players ought not to go into tournaments—or at least not in two-ball foursomes where they are likely to handicap a partner.  20
  In following a match, onlookers must be careful to stand well within bounds and neither talk nor laugh nor do anything that can possibly distract the attention of the players.  21
  The rule that you should not appoint yourself mentor holds good in golf as well as in bridge and every other game. Unless your advice is asked for, you should not instruct others how to hold their clubs or which ones to use, or how they ought to make the shot.  22
  A young woman must on no account expect the man she happens to be playing with to make her presents of golf-balls, or to caddy for her, nor must she allow him to provide her with a caddy. If she can’t afford to hire one of her own, she must either carry her own clubs or not play golf.  23

  There are fixed rules for the playing of every game—and for proper conduct in every sport. The details of these rules must be studied in the “books of the game,” learned from instructors, or acquired by experience. A small boy perhaps learns to fish or swim by himself, but he is taught by his father or a guide—at all events, some one—how and how not to hold a gun, cast a fly, or ride a horse. But apart from the technique of each sport, or the rules of each game, the etiquette or more correctly, the basic principles of good sportsmanship, are the same.
  In no sport or game can any favoritism or evasion of rules be allowed. Sport is based upon impersonal and indiscriminating fairness to every one alike, or it is not “sport.”  25
  And to be a good sportsman, one must be a stoic and never show rancor in defeat, or triumph in victory, or irritation, no matter what annoyance is encountered. One who can not help sulking, or explaining, or protesting when the loser, or exulting when the winner, has no right to take part in games and contests.  26

  If you would be thought to play the game, meaning if you aspire to be a true sportsman, you must follow the rules of sportsmanship the world over:
  Never lose your temper.  28
  Play for the sake of playing rather than to win.  29
  Never stop in the middle of a tennis or golf match and complain of a lame ankle, especially if you are losing. Unless it is literally impossible for you to go on, you must stick it out.  30
  If you are a novice, don’t ask an expert to play with you, especially as your partner. If he should ask you in spite of your shortcomings, maintain the humility proper to a beginner.  31
  If you are a woman, don’t ape the ways and clothing of men. If you are a man, don’t take advantage of your superior strength to set a pace beyond the endurance of a woman opponent.  32
  And always give the opponent the benefit of the doubt! Nothing is more important to your standing as a sportsman, though it costs you the particular point in question.  33
  A true sportsman is always a cheerful loser, a quiet winner, with a very frank appreciation of the admirable traits in others, which he seeks to emulate, and his own shortcomings, which he tries to improve.  34

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