Only the truly skilled, determined and competitive can even aspire to one day be called lifemaster.
This is checkmate in a power game that players equate in skill to chess.
Yes, this is the Super Bowl of cards known as bridge.
“It’s more complicated than any card game I’ve ever played,” said Jack Lewis of Luling, who along with wife, Cindy, are both serious players, but not yet lifemasters. It shouldn’t be long, though, because they also unabashedly say they’re addicted to this card playing of which Lewis added, “It’s a challenging game that you never see the same hand in the same situation ever.”
Jack Lewis, nuclear emergency preparedness senior project manager at Entergy, has played the game on and off since 1985.
It started simply at first. A few card games with friends and then they suggested the game, “Trivial Pursuit,” the rage at the time, and then came the hard stuff. Their friends suggested bridge, taught them the game and the couple was hooked.
“If you have competitive juices in you and you play the game then you’re hooked,” Jack said. This game “requires more skill than luck,” he said, adding, it was a great fit for his competitive spirit at 60 years old who retired from Entergy. For Cindy, a retired teacher who taught in St. Charles Parish, the game helped her make new friends and it even brought her and her husband closer.
“It’s a very cerebral game,” Cindy said, which particularly fit her continual thirst for knowledge. “It’s a thinker’s game.”
Jack said this is the card version of chess and it has drawn many people he knows are chess players.
Until March 22, New Orleans will be the holy land for bridge players with the 2015 Spring North American Bridge Championships at the New Orleans Marriott and Sheraton New Orleans. This is one of three national or international games held every year.
Have no doubt Jack and Cindy Lewis will be there, along with more than 5,000 bridge players from 15 countries. New Orleans is expected to get an $8.5 million economic boost from the tournament.
Players will come from all over the world to the tournament, said Sherrie Goodman, local spokeswoman for the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL). They have included celebrities like actor Omar Sharif, and businessmen Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who Goodman described as a “bigtime player,” as well as people who want the double pleasure of bridge and enjoying New Orleans.
They will come in the 90’s for some gaming and socialing, as well as younger plays at least 15 years old because the game’s strategic challenges appeal to younger gamers, too.According to media reports, the best bridge players in the U.S. are also typically Wall Street investors because the strategic game fits their analytic instincts. Buffett declared that he wouldn’t mind going to jail if his three cellmates also played bridge.
“I won’t have much sleep, but I’ll have game,” Goodman said of playing her first New Orleans tournament, who then apologized for taking a moment to make her move in an online game with someone in Saudi Arabia. She prefers face-to-face playing, but online bridge will do in a pinch. The tournament appeals to everyone from the newbies to pros. “Some of these big people play behind screens so you can’t see their facial expressions.”
With more than 300 years in play, the game of bridge goes back to the late 19th century when it was called “whist” in Europe. It evolved into “bridge whist” then briefly became “auction bridge” and, ultimately, morphed into contract bridge, which it is commonly known today. Some variations of the game are four deal bridge with only four deals, rubber bridge played for money, duplicate bridge played by different sets of players and by at least eight players, and honeymoon bridge with only two players. Depending on the game, the cards are either the standard 52-card deck or bridge cards, which are slightly narrower than poker cards to allow holding more cards.
Today’s game has also crossed the digital divide with many players challenging each other worldwide on the Internet.It’s a worldwide game, which especially appeals to Lewis who likes being able to play with anyone anywhere.
Calling themselves, “brick and mortar players” who prefer face-to-face playing, the couple are already muscling up for the “nationals.” A game lasts about 3-1/2 hours and some will play three to four games a day.
A regional tournament winner, Jack anticipates his day will involve two games, which means he’ll likely play seven hours a day or 70 hours for the tournament. He’ll also squeeze in a little time to watch the legendary lifemasters playing on television screens, this is how they get to up the game.
Cindy is eagerly anticipating all the different people she will meet in New Orleans. But she’s polishing her skills, too. Although she considers herself a “minnow” in a shark’s game, she’s going for the gold – literally. The more points earned in the game, the higher the level of players or whom she calls the “black belts” in their path toward earning the coveted title of lifemaster.
“It’s absolutely fascinating to meet all these people,” she said. “I’m thrilled to death.”
Goodman, as well as Cindy Lewis, say this challenging card game has even been acknowledged as a way to slow or fend off Alzheimer’s. ACBL has partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association, holding its “Longest Day” game event in June as a fundraiser for the organization.
They both recalled their mothers and grandmothers playing bridge, but it wasn’t until later in life that they came to appreciate why it was so appealing. They meet people of all ages from all over the world, as well as love the game itself.
“It’s like you can’t quit,” Cindy said. “It’s like an addiction, but it’s one I can live with. It’s good for your brain.”