May 27, 2011

National Bridge player visits U of C enthusiasts

Cards might not be cutting-edge, but the U of C Bridge Club has joined dozens of other organizations around the country in freshening up the game’s image—and at least one national organization has taken notice.

They recently held their first international exhibition match against the London School of Economics, which third-year and incoming Bridge Club president Jake Neuthaler hopes will become an annual event. The club’s national presence is growing, and U of C players are headed to the six-team playoffs of the School Bridge Championship.

American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) President Craig Robinson visited the U of C Bridge Club Wednesday to recognize the RSO’s efforts to keep the game young and relevant.

Robinson is personally visiting 100 bridge clubs, some student-run, others community-based, across the nation as part of a gesture of gratitude for bringing in new players.

“New members are our lifeblood, and clubs bring in new members,” Robinson said. ACBL members are an average of 68 years old, he explained, so college clubs are vital in recruiting the younger generation.

The U of C’s club has about 20 members, a mixture of graduate students, undergrads, alumni, and a few members of the local community.

Neuthaler has been playing bridge for nine years now.

Like many of the players, he learned the game from his parents. “What I love about bridge is that you can play against anyone while also building upon an existing bond between you and your partner,” he said. “It’s a very social game.”

To legitimize the club, current co-presidents third year Dennis Kriventsov, third-year Sandi Li applied for official sanction from the ACBL. The sanction gives players the opportunity to earn “masterpoints” with every victory, which establish each player’s national ranking. Ranked titled range from Rookie to Grand Life Master, and Neuthaler hopes that the titles’ prestige will attract new players.

Nick Carter and Katie Lettie, both first-years and current bridge partners, discovered the game by chance.

“Nick and I were walking around the RSO Fair, and we saw there was a bridge club,” Lettie said, shrugging. “We just decided to join, to try something new.” Neither knew anything about bridge beforehand. “I’ve stuck with it all year,” she said.

Championship or not, however, the U of C bridge club remain a nondescript bunch on campus. Despite the club’s emergence onto the intercollegiate stage, Neuthaler admits, “most students don’t even know we exist.”