Hilton Head bridge tournament to attract thousands of card players

dburley@islandpacket.comFebruary 2, 2014 

Hilton Head Island Bridge Club member Roni Keisler plays at the club Jan. 26, 2012. On the wall behind her is a reproduction of a Norman Rockwell painting of four people playing bridge.

JAY KARR — Staff photo

  • If you go:

    The Hilton Head Island Bridge Club Lowcountry Classic Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference regional tournament is Feb. 3-9 at the Marriott Resort & Spa Hotel, 1 Hotel Circle, Hilton Head Island. 843-686-8400

    Cost: $11 per session. Newcomers play for free all day Tuesday.

It's time to shuffle and deal.

The Hilton Head Island Bridge Club's weeklong regional tournament starts Monday at the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa. More than 3,500 players are expected to fill the hotel's ballroom during the week, the majority on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when some of the top-ranked players in the world will compete.

Sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League, the tournament -- dubbed the Lowcountry Classic -- is the second-largest regional competition in the country, behind an annual event in Gatlinburg, Tenn., according to tournament director Lowry Miller.

Bridge, a card game that combines memory, teamwork and deception, is played in pairs or in teams of four or more.

Unlike poker, where card players vie for money, sanctioned bridge tournaments offer competitors a less lucrative but, in their eyes, equally prestigious prize: masterpoints.

"This is the joke: Everybody asks, 'How much money do you make?'" Miller said. "You don't make a cent playing bridge. You get masterpoints -- elusive and ever-loving masterpoints."

Players earn masterpoints by winning or finishing near the leaderboard in tournaments.

These points define the bridge world. Players are ranked by the number they have accumulated, and after they earn a certain amount, they receive the esteemed title of "life master."

"Those stinking points are the end-all," said Miller, a life master herself.

Players from around the globe have descended upon the island. The Marriott is booked throughout the week, with teams hailing from as far away as Las Vegas, Canada and Poland.

When you add the out-of-towners to the locals, the bridge club estimates the tournament and its players bring about $1 million to the island each year.

The tournament has been held since 1992, and attendance has increased in recent years, according to club member Kathie Walsh, who also teaches bridge on the island.

Part of her aim is to champion bridge, traditionally associated with an older demographic, to a younger crowd.

To that end, the club is holding a children's tournament on Saturday. There are also instructional workshops throughout the week for amateur players.

When asked how to market the game to a younger audience, Miller said there's still time -- she didn't start playing competitively until later in life.

"I couldn't do it when I was raising the kids," said Miller, who is in her 70s.

Walsh said that when attracting youthful faces to the game, it's best to forget about masterpoints and competition.

"It sounds competitive, but it's a fun game, a social game," she said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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