The concept of emotional complexity is vital to theorising emotions in late modernity. Building from decades of ‘emotion management’ research, it captures how emotions are increasingly an object for individual self-management and reflection. Using Goffman’s dramaturgy as a framing for emotions research in sport and leisure, this article contributes to understanding emotional complexity in practice using the dyadic pursuit of the mind-sport bridge as a case study. The elite social world of bridge is an emotionally charged setting, where top players use emotion management to improve performance over many decades. Through in-depth qualitative interviewing with 52 elite players from the US and Europe, the article outlines contextually specific experiences and performances of emotion. Players engage in processes of reflexive and instrumental self-other relations, which change over time as part of the experience of emotional complexity. Successful emotion management can foster positive relationships between bridge partners, but simultaneously players also regularly fail to manage their own emotions. This suggests that emotions are only ever partially instrumentalised, especially in emotionally complex contexts.