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The prospect of entering the three-day bridge...

The prospect of entering the three-day bridge tournament at the Venice Japanese Community Center beginning Saturday would have left Mrs. Lutnikoff dry-washing her hands in anticipation of making good on the overtricks.

We watched her operate over the years. She even once took on the joyless task of trying to turn us into a bona fide bridge player, but at the end we still didn’t know the difference between a no-trump and a revoke.

“Kid, bridge is just not your suit,” she once told us, laughing at her own play on words.

Mrs. Lutnikoff was the building eccentric. She had no interest in cooking (her solution was keeping the cupboard stocked with boxes of Saltine crackers, which she augmented with everything from peanut butter to anchovy paste), and approached her wardrobe in the same casual way. On Sunday she would put on seven outfits, then peel one off a day as the week progressed.

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Tissues were used as doilies everywhere--under knickknacks, beneath the phone, as a resting place for her dentures beside her bed. Crumpled up, they poured out of her pockets, leaving a paper trail everywhere she went.

Her husband, she said, was an expert who taught her the game. He was long dead. A grown son was said to live in Madagascar. In Rome. In India. In Alaska. He never visited.

Whatever private sorrow Mrs. Lutnikoff toiled under, her one passion in life was playing bridge.

And at the Union Street Democratic and Social Club every Friday night, Mrs. Lutnikoff held court with her steady partner, Mrs. Rickman. They won often.

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Bridge jargon dominated their conversations. The arrival of a Social Security check, a sale at the local department store, the next installment of “Divorce Court” on TV were called a premium score.

Mrs. Lutnikoff has said that she and her husband in their heyday traveled the world playing in tournaments, winning “thousands.”

Her one desire was to play against “the handsome actor Omar Sharif,” himself a champion bridge player.

“He calls here all the time,” Mrs. Lutnikoff used to say.

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The tournament will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Sept. 2 at 12448 Braddock Drive, Los Angeles. Admission is $6. For information call (213) 939-6190.


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