‘It doesn’t matter your education’; card club caters to bridge players of every skill level

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Jerry Sloan, from left, Grant Sutton, Joane Nagel and Catherine Blumenfeld play Duplicate Contract Bridge on May 29, 2019, at the Kaw Valley Bridge Club.

At the Kaw Valley Bridge Club, depending on the day, you’ll see competitive bridge players keeping a running tally of their masterpoints and beginners who are just learning the ropes of the classic card game.

On a recent Friday afternoon at the club, 1025 N. Third St., Suite 120, the room was full of people playing Duplicate Contract Bridge, so called because the same cards are played at each table and scoring is based on relative performance. It was quiet except for the murmur of players placing bids or the occasional slap of cards on the table.

The Kaw Valley Bridge Club is registered with the American Contract Bridge League, which sets the rules for the game and keeps computerized records of the players.

Joane Nagel, current chair of the anthropology department at KU, was taking advantage of her summer schedule to get in some bridge.

Nagel learned to play bridge in college. Then in graduate school, at Stanford, she played with faculty and students.

“Back then we had time to play,” Nagel said. She stopped playing for several decades, then picked it up again when she came to Lawrence. When she first got back into the game, she appreciated the Friday night mentor games offered at the club.

“It’s a good way to learn,” she said. Over the years she didn’t forget the basics of bridge, but some of the rules had changed, such as the bidding and playing of tricks.

“That’s where the mentor games on Friday nights are handy,” she said. Those games are not sanctioned and the players get tips from experienced players.

The game of bridge can be traced back hundreds of years to the British game of whist. According to the American Contract Bridge League, the game may be named for the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, which British soldiers crossed during the Crimean War to reach a coffeehouse where they played cards. Today’s contract bridge began in the 1920s by a man named Harold Vanderbilt, who came up with the early scoring system.

At the recent Duplicate Contract Bridge game at the Lawrence club, Grant Sutton, the 38-year-old club manager, sat across from his partner, Catherine Blumenfeld, as he bid in what sounded like a coded language to describe his hand to her.

The game, according to Sutton, is about getting your story out with a positive spin so your partner can respond favorably in the bidding process known as the auction.

For the competitive players, it’s all about the masterpoints.

“Masterpoints are important to everyone who plays, except a novice like me,” said Carla Mumma, who has been a member of the club for a year and a half.

“It’s very much a competitive level and very much a disciplined approach to bridge; you don’t just throw in a bid because you’re tired of sitting there,” Mumma said. “Every bid means something between you and your partner.”

Nagel and her bridge partner, Marc Elster, a retired attorney, go to bridge tournaments around the region on weekends.

Like Nagel, Elster played back in college and then picked up the game 35 years later.

“He’s the best partner and is nice when you mess up,” Nagel said.

Elster, who has hundreds of masterpoints under his belt, said he thought anybody could learn bridge but not everyone could be competitive.

“It challenges you, tests you and keeps you sharp,” Elster said.

Sutton, who began playing bridge in junior high in the suburbs of Chicago, improved his game through the mentoring of Virginia Seaver, known by many as the grand dame of bridge in Lawrence.

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Grant Sutton, the manager of the Kaw Valley Bridge Club, sits by a photograph of his mentor, Virginia Seaver, known by many as the grand dame of bridge in Lawrence. She was essential in opening the Kaw Valley Bridge Club in 2005. She was club manager until the age of 92.

Seaver was essential in opening the Kaw Valley Bridge Club in 2005. She was club manager until the age of 92. She died in 2017 and appears to be watching over the club from a large photograph on the center’s wall.

As the manager, Sutton is responsible for running six games a week, plus mentoring newbies.

When it comes to bridge partners, Sutton said life partners didn’t always make a good team. Sutton referenced the infamous bridge partners Myrtle and John Bennett. Back in 1929, the Kansas City, Mo., couple got into an argument over John’s poor bid. When she taunted his playing he slapped her. She, in turn, got a pistol and shot and killed him, while the other couple playing with them watched in horror.

The true story was chronicled in a book by Gary Pomerantz, “The Devil’s Tickets: A Vengeful Wife, a Fatal Hand, and a New American Age.”

Things remained relatively calm among bridge partners at the Lawrence club’s recent game, though — so calm it was hard to know who was winning or losing.

“People are made to feel welcome,” Mumma said. “The lessons at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and the social bridge at 6:30 p.m. on Friday are ways they encourage people to play and get better.”

Sutton said he had come to appreciate what he described as the “equality” of the game, in a university community filled with brilliant scholars.

“It doesn’t matter your education; it matters how you play cards and think,” he said.


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