On a recent Wednesday at the Rochester Athletic Club, the club's multipurpose room became increasingly crowded as people of all ages and walks of life filed in for one common purpose: to play duplicate bridge. And they're pretty serious about it.
"Party bridge is more casual," says Rochester Duplicate Bridge Club manager Sue Greenberg. "What we play here is more competitive in that we're trying to earn masterpoints from the American Contract Bridge League, which is our parent organization."
Formed in January 2011 by the merging of Rochester's three existing bridge clubs, the Rochester Duplicate Bridge Club plays five games per week. Each game lasts about three and a half hours.
"Our Thursday night games are for novice players who aren't as experienced," Greenberg says.
On this particular day, there are 15 1/2 tables in play, which Greenberg says is actually a bit light for this group.
"Normally, we have about 20 tables going at each of our games," she says.
High-tech game play
Called duplicate bridge because the same deal is played at each table, the games are surprisingly high-tech and begin with cards that are shuffled and then dealt by machine.
"We use an automatic dealer with an optical reader to read and shuffle the cards," Greenberg says. "There's a program that generates the hand. We just plug in a flash drive and off it goes."
Once dealt, the cards are put onto bridge boards — simple, four-way card holders — and then passed from table to table so that everyone gets a chance to play the same hand.
"And whoever does the best with that hand comes out on top," Greenberg says.
The bidding is also done in a unique, controlled fashion.
"Bidding is done by our red bidding boxes," Greenberg says. "The boxes are filled with cards that designate every possible call, and we do this to eliminate the possibility of giving your partner information by using nuances of the voice."
After each hand is played, scores are entered into a computer at each table and then sent to the American Contract Bridge League. Those players who place in the top 40 percent of each game are awarded "masterpoints," which Greenberg says are the pinnacle of the duplicate bridge world.
"I'm considered a Life Master myself because I've earned 300 recorded masterpoints," she says. "There are also Silver Life Masters (1,000 points) and Gold Life Masters (2,500 points). We even have one Diamond Life Master here who has earned more than 5,000 points."
Open to all
You don't need to be a Life Master to join this group.
"Anybody can come here and play during the week," Greenberg says. "We get quite a few guests who are here for Mayo Clinic. A lot of times when their spouse is at appointments, they'll want to come and play bridge, so we'll try to arrange for a partner for them."
One of the club's newest members is Gene Diel, a 50-year bridge-playing veteran from Plainview who says he's found the weekly games to not only be fun, but also good for the mind.
"It's wonderful," he says. "There's a good group of people here, and I really enjoy it. It makes you think and keeps everybody young."