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Bridge Players Say Their Game Is a Contract Sport

In the game of bridge, a spade isn’t always a spade.

That’s because players, who compete in teams, have to communicate in a subtle, sometimes deceptive and often secretive manner to let their partners know what cards to play.

It’s what connoisseurs of the game call the “finesse” and there was a whole lot of it going on during a three-day tournament held in Ventura over the weekend.

The event, organized by the American Contract Bridge League, brought more than 600 players--from the inexperienced novice to the seasoned professional--to Ventura’s Holiday Inn for heated matches of wits and skill.

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“This isn’t some party game; it’s competitive like any other sport,” said Maurine Moore, a tournament player and organizer. “But instead of being physical, bridge is all mental.”

The bridge league organizes numerous tournaments throughout the nation each year. This weekend, there were no trophies involved. Competitors played just for points. Some of those at the Ventura tournament earned points toward the pinnacle of the game--life master status. Others, however, used it as a learning experience.

“The thing that’s great about these tournaments is that anyone can play against the top players in the world,” said 18-year-old Kent Migmocchi, who came from Los Angeles for the event. “You’re not limited to just playing against people who have the same amount of experience as you.”

Although Migmocchi was one of the youngest players at the tournament, or any bridge competition for that matter, he’s certainly no slouch at the table and after six years of playing he can hold his own against even the sharpest of players. He, like so many other bridge players, said he fell in love with the mental aspect of the game.

“Personally, I’ve always been into games where you have to use your mind and with bridge you always have to be thinking,” he said. “You constantly have to ask yourself, ‘What’s my partner doing?’ or ‘What’s my opponent doing?’ ”

There were about as many different kinds of bridge players at the Ventura tournament as there are ways to win. Many, like Moore, said they came because of the friendly social scene that accompanies the game, while others, like Migmocchi, a freshman at Occidental College, relish the vexing intellectual challenge. But there are some, like Jerry Levitz, who just love to compete.

“It’s a game that a lot of people don’t know is that competitive--but it is,” the 54-year-old Ventura resident said. “In fact, bridge is a sport that is just as competitive as any other and takes just as much skill to play.”

Levitz has spent the better part of 20 years competing in bridge tournaments and has earned enough master points to be considered one of the top players in the country.

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And while he has competed in national and world tournaments against many of the globe’s best players, Levitz said he still enjoys playing against the rookies.

“Every so often a novice player will use a really off-the-wall strategy and beat me,” he said. “Just seeing their faces after they do that makes the game worth playing.”


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