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VOL. 131 | NO. 180 | Thursday, September 8, 2016

American Contract Bridge League Committed to Teaching Youths Game

MARGOT PERA, Special to The Daily News

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Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Paul Firemen, CEO of Reebok International. All three of these men have achieved success in life few could fathom, and all are regular players of the card game bridge.

The American Contract Bridge League headquarters in Horn Lake features an interactive museum where the premier collection of bridge-related artifacts in the world is located.

(American Contract Bridge League)

“Nothing compares to bridge. The same 52 cards every deal, but rearranged in millions of patterns, and then there’s the player factor,” said Sue Munday, managing editor of the monthly magazine Bridge Bulletin. “Who’s your partner? Who are your opponents? Feeling aggressive? Feeling slow? It all makes a difference. Even if all four players at the table were to hold the same hands twice, it would feel like a completely different deal.”

Munday says there’s beauty in the logic of the game, how players weigh risk versus reward, and there is “tons of room for individual style and flair.”

Her publication, Bridge Bulletin, is a the monthly magazine of the American Bridge Contract League, the largest bridge organization in North America. Memphis was its headquarters since 1972, before it moved to nearby Horn Lake, Miss., in 2010.

Founded in 1937, the league currently claims more than 167,000 members and supports more than 3,000 bridge clubs and 1,000 tournaments a year. A new membership is $29, annual renewals cost $39.

There are no prerequisites to become a sanctioned ACBL bridge club, other than a love for the game.

“Through the ACBL, players can access technology resources designed to promote the game and meet their players’ needs, such as handbooks customized for directors and club managers, an online record of their results in various tournaments, and the ability to look up local clubs if they are traveling out of town,” said Gwynn Garthwright, marketing project supervisor for the ACBL.

Being a certified club also means ACBL will keep track of each club’s masterpoints – points used to determine the ranking of each player compared to others.

For the more autonomous homebody, the ACBL’s Online Partnership Desk makes finding a partner quick and easy. A member can log in and sign up for online games or tournaments within seconds. Members can choose from more than 10,000 active online profiles. The desk keeps track of a player’s masterpoint total, age and length of membership, allowing members to pick a partner of similar ranking if they desire.

“In addition to its comprehensiveness, one of the features that sets the ACBL desk apart is the text messaging alert feature, “ Garthwright said. “In a tournament, this makes looking for a partner for later that day doable.”

Players indicate online if they are available and a text from a member seeking a partner will be sent to their phone.

Not only is the league the lifeblood behind clubs all across the continent, it hosts three North American Bridge Championships throughout the year in spring, summer and fall. These championships attract the best players from all over the world and are an enormous undertaking for the ACBL. As far as the quality of competition, the NABCs are analogous to the NFL Playoffs of bridge.

“A lot of volunteer effort goes into these tournaments,” said Garthwright. “ACBL volunteers and organizers work hard to create a fun bridge environment with plenty of hospitality – often an endless buffet of great homemade food and door prizes.”

Masterpoints are only awarded in ACBL-sanctioned tournaments, allowing players to go up in ranking if they accumulate wins in the tournaments.

Memphis native Piper Ziebarth, 19, has participated in many ACBL tournaments since the age of 9 as part of the School Bridge Lesson Series. These bridge classes are taught after school – the league provides an instruction manual for teachers, student books, card backpacks and end-of-class trophies.

Ziebarth had been playing bridge with her grandparents and brought the idea of bridge lessons to one of her teachers at Lamplighter Montessori School. In the beginning, she and three of her other fourth-grade friends met one night a week at the school.

“It took me about six months to really feel comfortable playing, like I finally had a grasp of it,” said Ziebarth. “Bridge is a game you can’t just read about and be able to play. Our teacher was really helpful by explaining strategies and plays with charts and diagrams on the board, and working with us one-on-one.”

From this after-school club, Ziebarth found a partner, Eric Rodriguez, also 19. The two started playing in ACBL competitions by fifth grade. Her Friday nights were spent playing bridge at local ACBL clubs with people three times her age.

“My proudest moment as a dad was seeing Piper and Eric sit down to play with people in their 60s and 70s,” said David Ziebarth, her father. “At first she was a bit squeamish, but as soon as she figured out that they were eager to help her and excited to see young people interested in the game, she eventually got comfortable.”

Piper has traveled to tournaments and met people from all over the world, started a bridge club at St. Benedict High School, taught after-school classes and summer camps, and recently won the Youth Ambassador of Bridge Unit 144 Award for assisting high school and elementary school teachers in teaching bridge. Accolades aside, Piper’s dad thinks the game has fine-tuned her intuition and reasoning skills.

“I think bridge can keep you well-rounded in a variety of ways,” says Piper, now a sophomore at Christian Brothers University. “It has helped me become a better math student, and, since it is such as an analytical game, I am able to solve complicated problems much quicker.”

And the game has helped her become more confident socially, which she said surprised her.

Garthwright is passionate about young people playing bridge, and continues to develop the ACBL’s youth programs.

“Presently, there are more high school bridge groups than college groups,” Garthwright said.

An annual Youth NABC and College Bridgebowl saw a record 233 players this year. Qualifying for the College Bridgebowl occurs over the fall and spring semesters, with the top four teams playing at the summer NABC. There is a $20,000 scholarship prize for the winning team.

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