Card tourney organizers hope to bridge generation gap

When most people think of bridge, they probably do not think of an exciting game that lets contestants of all ages travel the world.

But bridge is not just the game your grandparents play on weekends to “stay active” — it is played by people of all ages, and some of the best players travel the world to play in different tournaments, sometimes making enough to make a living in the process. The Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign hosted a bridge tournament last week, which drew about 450 players. The bridge community has a very active tournament circuit, with the American Contract Bridge League hosting 1,100 tournaments a year.

“It’s the greatest strategy game ever developed,” tournament director Richard Beye said. “Every hand is a different kind of problem to solve.”

Although the strategies behind bridge are complex, the rules are relatively simple, though complicated by specialized vocabulary. Bridge is a trick-based game, like Hearts or pinochle, where the players try to win as many tricks, similar to plays or rounds, as possible. To win a trick, a player must play the highest card in the correct suit. There are four players who play in pairs who start the game with a bidding round. The bids resemble the names of cards, but they are more like a code that tells the other players what cards are in his or her hand. A player may make an initial bid of two of spades, for example, which would reveal that the player has a lot of high spades. During the bidding stage, players can either make a bid or pass. After three passes, the bidding stops, and the final bid made becomes the “contract.” The contract tells the winner of the bid, or the declarer, how many tricks he and his partner is supposed to win. To determine how many tricks the declaring side must win, add six to the value of the contract. A contract of two of spades, for example, would mean the declaring side has to win eight tricks, while the defending side is trying to stop them.

After the bidding stage, the player to the left of the declarer plays a card from his or her hand. Play continues clockwise until everyone has played a card. Each player must play a card in the same suit as the first play unless they do not have a card in that suit, in which case they can play whatever card they want. The player who plays the highest card in the same suit as the first card wins the trick, unless someone has played a card in the trump suit. In that case, whoever played the highest trump card wins the trick. Points are earned or lost based on whether the declaring side was able to fulfill the contract and win as many tricks as they were supposed to.

Karen Walker, tournament chairman, runs a bridge club in Champaign, called Bridge at Ginger Creek.

“It’s just a game you can’t master,” she said. “You can keep playing and still have things to learn.”

In addition to running the local bridge club, Walker has won two national championships.

Milt Epstein played at the bridge tournament with his 12-year-old son, Devin, both Urbana residents. By the end of the afternoon tournament Sunday, the Epsteins placed first in their flight, or division, for North-South partnerships. Devin Epstein started expressing interest in his father’s bridge games about a year ago.

“(I was drawn) first of all to the strategy, second of all to the variations. And I also like the complexity of it,” Devin Epstein said.

There is, however, one thing he would like to change about the game.

“I wish more young people played bridge,” he said.