- Associated Press - Saturday, June 21, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - From prominent billionaires to young children, Michael Hughes has observed a traditional card game bridge social gaps between many people.

“People enjoy meeting and interacting with people,” Hughes said.

As the manager of the Mid-Missouri Bridge Club, Hughes oversees numerous games of bridge at various venues in Central Missouri on a weekly basis.

The Mid-Missouri Bridge Club exists as a sub-unit of the American Contract Bridge League, which coordinates regional and national tournaments.

Hughes enjoys the “challenge of keeping it organized and running and the benefit of continuously meeting other people,” he said.

In his volunteer role, Hughes organizes the weekly games of duplicate bridge and uses a dealing machine to deal each hand of bridge, he said.

Duplicate bridge differs from party bridge in that players participating in duplicate bridge receive points for winning that increase their individual rank on a national scale with the ACBL.

Duplicate bridge players often aim to achieve the ranking of Life Master, which requires an accumulation of 500 points.

According to Hughes, bridge competitors number about 12-32 at each game and come from all over Mid-Missouri to play.

“They all enjoy playing bridge. They love the opportunity to get together to play,” he said.

With players of ages ranging from early 20s to mid-90s, Hughes touted the games as “one place where you meet people in all walks of life. It’s youth ranging from pre-teens to people 100 years old playing a common game with or against each other,” he said.

Though Hughes acknowledged finding new players can prove tough, he believes bridge benefits its players both mentally and socially, he said.

“It’s a challenging mental experience that is lost on the younger players.It’s good for your social skills, math and logic,” he said.

Hughes’ passion for bridge blossomed at a young age when he played as an occasional substitute for his father in family games of bridge.

“It was something the adults did so I got to feel like an adult,” he said.

Hughes revitalized his fascination for the game while on two separate tours with the Navy in the mid-‘70s and mid-‘80s.

In countries such as the Philippines, Singapore, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Hughes and other soldiers would play bridge in local duplicate bridge clubs.

Hughes began accumulating Life Master points on his first tour with the navy and ultimately earned the rank of Life Master over the course of capturing first place at the Presidential Cup North American Pairs Flight C Championship in 2011.

After partnering with a friend from Overland Park, Kansas, Hughes journeyed through several regional tournaments before arriving at the qualifying round of the national championship in Louisville, Kentucky, he said.

After several harrowing hands of bridge, a few low-scoring hands of the front-runners “catapulted us into the lead. I can remember almost all of the hands,” Hughes said.

Hughes described the experience as “very exhilarating” and said he “screamed out a big loud yes’” after learning of his victory.

With his partner, Hughes also regularly attend the Nebraska Regional Tournament in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he has played bridge with Warren Buffet and near Bill Gates, competitors and supporters of the tournament.

“It’s a neat feeling to know you’re playing the same card game with the richest couple of men in the country,” Hughes said of the tournament.

A major tournament in St. Louis inspired Steven Erickson to rekindle his love of bridge that had been dormant since college, he said.

After watching the 1986 tournament, Erickson began participating in games once or twice a week and eventually started teaching the nuances of the game both to beginners and more advanced players on a volunteer basis.

Erickson lauded the games of the Mid-Missouri Bridge Club as “hospitable environments.”

“The people are friendly. They all appreciate playing and know that sometimes you don’t always win. Everyone knows everyone, and there’s opportunity for socializing,” he said.

Over the past few years, Erickson has endeavored to spread his passion for the game that he characterized as “slowing in population.”

“The people who first made it popular have died, moved to Florida or are too old to play. It’s a continuing challenge to get young players who find an intellectually stimulating game something they’d like to do,” he said.

In an effort to allay the decline in the popularity of bridge, Erickson has taught classes on the game of bridge at Nichols Career Center.

“It takes word-of-mouth marketing. The game has to attract new players,” Erickson said.

Lasting about 2-3 hours per week, Erickson would first teach the essentials of the game then eventually facilitate actual games and invite students to join the Mid-Missouri Bridge Club, some of whom did.

Erickson, with the ranking of silver Life Master, has garnered ample experience in 23 years of playing and spoke to the possible longevity of the game in a person’s life.

“It’s a recreational activity you can do for years and years. The time invested when you’re young you can always use down the road. It’s a super game,” he said.


Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, https://www.newstribune.com

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