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Regional bridge tournament returns to Rochester for 1st time in decades

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Genny Rice, 91, of Rochester, right, plays with Greg Caucutt, left, of Rochester, Barry Purrington, top of the table, of Eagan, and Mike Cassel, bottom of the table, of Roseville, during the Rochester Med City Regional bridge tournament Tuesday at the Rochester International Event Center. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
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Genny Rice of Rochester is known in bridge-playing circles as a card player with a killer instinct. A person who goes for the jugular. Crafty and fearless, Rice, 91, has what is known as "card sense" — a feel for the game.

Opponents are often beguiled by Rice's smile.

"When you're 91 and they look at you, they think that old lady is bluffing. And then they'll say, 'No, she's too old.' You just smile at them, and it works," Rice said. 

Rice and hundreds of other bridge players from the Midwest gathered at the International Event Center on Tuesday for the six-day Rochester Med City Regional tournament. It's the first time in three decades that Rochester has hosted a regional tournament, and organizers are predicting it could draw as many as 600 card players from the region and beyond. 

Rochester is home to more than 170 bridge players, a factor in its selection as a tournament host. Tournament chairs, Bar Wijdicks and Layne Vinje, are the organizers. 

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Considered the card equivalent of chess, bridge is a game that rewards players with a good memory, problem-solving skills and an analytical mind. And, above all, the aforementioned card sense. 

"I tell people: If I were to go back and get a Ph.D, I would try to figure out what card sense is," said Greg Caucutt, a Rochester bridge player.

The bridge tournament is drawing players with a range of abilities, from beginners to experts. Games are organized according to ability. Most of the players are amateurs, but the tournament could attract a sprinkling of pros. These are players so good at bridge that they make money playing it because people are willing to pay them to be their partner.

There's no money involved in the playing of bridge. Instead, players earn points, whether playing in a local game or a national tournament, and those points are recorded in a central storehouse The more points the greater the status. Beginners strive to be Life Master bridge players, a title conferred when a player wins 500 points. 

There are four bridge players in Rochester, including Caucutt, who are Diamond Life Master bridge players, meaning they have earned at least 5,000 points. 

Bridge is not as popular as it once was, when couples hosted games at home and spread out card tables in the living room. Bridge players attribute the game's decline to the prevalence of video games and technology. The fact that no money is wagered in bridge, unlike Texas Holdem, which has been popularized on TV, may be another contributing factor. 

Billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two avid bridge players, have donated millions to promote bridge-playing in schools, so convinced are they of its academic value. 

"To be honest, it's a hard sell," said Caucutt. "I know a few colleges and universities have offered bridge as a course since it does have some academic basis to it."

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Rice said cards were a big part of her life growing up. When she was younger, she played bridge, as well as Black Jack and 500, with her four older brothers. She developed an aggressive style from those games.

"I had to get better, because they'd draw as to who would get me for a partner because I was the youngest," Rice said. 

Rice developed a love for the game — as well as card sense. 

"I'm not sure whether that can be learned," Rice said. "Technically, you can become excellent, but you're not going to win as much as somebody who has card sense."

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