How seriously do you take your bridge? Not at all? Too much? For most players, bridge is a social pastime. Tournament bridge has always been an intensely competitive world, but the face of tournaments has changed. To give its members what they want and prosper financially, the American Contract Bridge League offers a deluge of events that lets players achieve without ever facing strong opposition.

The effect has been to remove the incentive to get better, and the standard of play in a typical game has sunk. The winners merely receive the most "gifts" - benefitting from poor play by others - whether it's Christmas or not. Unless the ACBL provides meaningful competition, the day will come when "Life Master" ranking will mean nothing.

Study and practice are necessary to improve. How many aspiring players would handle today's slam? After South ruffs the first spade, he might cash the A-K of trumps. If trumps broke 2-2, he would be safe. As it is, he takes only 11 tricks.

For an extra chance, South leads a low diamond at Trick Two. If West wins and errs by leading another spade, South can "reverse the dummy." He ruffs and gets to dummy with the ten and queen of clubs to ruff two more spades.

South can then cash the ace of trumps and overtake his queen to draw trumps with the king and ten. He wins the last three tricks with the A-K of clubs and ace of diamonds.