4/26/11

Marty Bergen has won 10 national championships, popularized the LAW of Total Tricks with Larry Cohen, and invented several bidding conventions like DONT and Bergen Raises. He has also written 22 bridge books. Visit his website and mention BRIDGEBUM to get 2 free softcover books when you buy 1 hardcover.


Jeff Tang: I read that you used to live in White Plains, New York. Did you grow up there?

Marty Bergen: I actually grew up in the Bronx, and moved at age 9 to Spring Valley, which is a suburb of Rockland County.

JT: So you were a Yankees fan growing up?

MB: I've been a Yankees fan forever. I remember being in my parents' car in 1955 when [Dodgers outfielder Sandy] Amoros robbed Yogi Berra [in the World Series], and I remember running home to watch Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956.

JT: How did you get into bridge?

MB: I learned bridge at the age of 14. I got married fairly early, taught school for a short while, and made the decision to play bridge full time in 1976, which was not a real common career at the time. We had two kids too. We moved to White Plains, and Steve Becker got me a job at the Y teaching a bridge class. It's been downhill ever since.

JT: Well, you had an amazing stretch in the '80s. Even the second-place finishes [e.g. 1982 Vanderbilt] were impressive.

MB: I had a lot of good success with Larry Cohen. I won 10 national championships and lived in a number of places during that time, including Long Island. Then Larry encouraged me to move to Florida. Teaching bridge and watching sports in Florida appealed to me, so I moved in 1998 and will stay here forever. I miss playing somewhat, but when Larry is travelling to play bridge and calls me to say he's stuck at an airport when I'm at home watching sports on satellite TV....

I watch most sports. I'm very much into tennis, basketball. During March Madness, I lock myself in a room and watch almost every game.

JT: You played competitive tennis in high school and college. Were there any similarities between playing tennis and bridge?

MB: No, nothing at all. When I played tennis, I had some success and wanted to play aggressively, but didn't necessarily have the strokes to play that way. But in bridge I realized that I can be very aggressive, and play a preemptive style by just opening my big mouth.

JT: Bergen raises - how have they changed since you initially invented them?

MB: I still teach them the way that I originally created them. I know some players have created Reverse Bergen raises and Modified Bergen raises, which I think is great. Not everyone can just go out and invent something new. So I think if someone invents a modification, that's terrific.

JT: You've been teaching over 30 years now. How did you come up with teaching group lessons on Bridge Base Online (BBO)?

MB: What I've been doing a long time is phone lessons. I've also worked with top partnerships like Bobby Levin / Steve Weinstein, and Doug Simson / Walter Johnson. Howard Schutzman and I started a couple years ago on BBO. We became friendly while editing my "Slam" books. Howard is both a computer expert and bridge expert.

JT: What are the benefits of group lessons on BBO?

MB: Picture a [face-to-face] seminar. You get the lesson on paper, you take notes, and the key would be listening with your ears. But with the online lessons, some participants are older and the key is reading, not listening. So people can join the private chat room and read the streaming lesson. They can also ask questions. Afterward, we send a transcript of the lesson for them to go over. They're not dependent on taking their own notes. Here, they have every word. Howard can check records and send lessons to them if they missed one.

For people whose timing doesn't work for the live lessons, they can just purchase the lesson material, save a few bucks, and ask questions by email afterward. All the topics I choose are ones that I think would be interesting to everyone. Teachers also participate so they can share the lessons in their own classes.

My first dream was to be a sports statistician. But I've been fantastically fortunate in my career. I don't know what else I'd be doing otherwise.

"In bridge I realized that I can be very aggressive, and play a preemptive style by just opening my big mouth."