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Face-to-face bridge competition resumes

Photo by Jim Flint Bob Pantel, left, and Jerry Kenefick unload tables at the Masonic Center in Medford in anticipation of face-to-face duplicate bridge games resuming at the center. The men are board members of Unit 484, part of the national organization, the American Contract Bridge League.

Eighteen months after players were forced home and online by COVID-19, face-to-face duplicate bridge competition will resume July 13 in the Rogue Valley.

On a five-day-a-week schedule at the Phoenix Bridge Center before the shutdown, F2F play will be held Tuesdays at the Masonic Center, 975 N. Phoenix Road, in Medford. Game time is 1 p.m.

“Early arrivals at noon or after are welcome to help set up the tables,” said Unit 484 Board President Doug McKenzie.

Two simultaneous games will be offered — an open game with no limit on masterpoints, and a newcomer/intermediate game, depending on availability of players.

All players must show proof of vaccination when registering to play. Masks will not be required unless state guidelines change. All tables will be supplied with hand sanitizer. Cheryl Cullen, board vice president, will serve as safety coordinator.

No food will be served. Players are welcome to bring their own beverages, and the unit will have bottled water available at no charge.

The games are open to the public. A fee of $5 per player will be charged to help defray expenses.

“But for the first two weeks, there will be no charge for anyone bringing one or more perishable food items, which will be donated to a local food project, McKenzie said.

Unit 484 in Southern Oregon is one of more than 300 units within the American Contract Bridge League that supervise and promote duplicate bridge in the United States. The units reside within 25 districts, and each district has a representative on the ACBL board of directors.

Club games are conducted within units. Regional and national tournaments are sponsored by districts and ACBL, respectively. Players from all over the world compete in the nationals.

It’s described as “duplicate” bridge because in all competitions, hands are duplicated so that players in a section of tables have their results compared with other pairs playing with the same cards.

It’s how well players do with the cards they have been dealt that determines the winners, not whether they have good cards. Players’ scores are compared with the scores of their competitors, sitting the same direction.

Top-finishing players can earn rating points called masterpoints. As players accumulate points, they can advance their rank in the ACBL.

Duplicate bridge has a long history in Jackson County. Most clubs are operated by individuals, and are always open to the public. From the revenue earned, owners pay a fee per table to ACBL, buy and replace cards and equipment, pay rent, utilities and other expenses — and sometimes even make a profit.

The club that’s opening July 13 for F2F play at the Masonic Center will be operated by the unit. Jerry Kenefick and Michael Pavlik will take turns conducting the games. Both are members of the board and certified directors.

The Phoenix Bridge Center, where clubs operated Monday through Friday before the pandemic, burned to the ground in the Almeda fire. Tables, chairs and other equipment had been stored off site prior to the fire. The center was closed in mid-March because of COVID.

Leah McKechnie and Bob Fox, who ran clubs at the center before it was closed, moved their games online when ACBL contracted with Bridge Base Online to offer virtual club games. The arrangement helped preserve the small clubs and provided people a place to play. Both McKechnie and Fox intend to continue their online games. BBO has offered free casual play and ACBL-sanctioned games for a fee since the 1990s, but the virtual club game is a new concept, likely to stay.

However, not everyone is comfortable playing on a computer. Kenefick says a recent survey indicates about 20% of the players in Unit 484 are not playing online.

“We want to give these people an opportunity to join in a fun game,” Kenefick said. “And, of course, we want BBO players to be able to play face-to-face at least one day a week.

In the near future, thanks to a donation from the estate of former player Carol Kato, beginning classes may be offered for players of all ages.

“ACBL is offering classes for youths, which we plan to support,” Kenefick said. “And we may offer a short class before the Tuesday games that will be of interest to all players, regardless of their skill level.”

McKenzie said that people interested in trying their hand at duplicate bridge are welcome to come to the Tuesday game, with or without a partner.

“If you are willing to be paired up with someone, please join us,” he said. “We will have a partner for you.”

Besides McKenzie, Cullen, Kenefick and Pavlik, other board members are Sheryll Moffat, Bob Pantel and Bob Valine.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.