PLAINS TWP. — Over the course of the past week, a tournament has been quietly unfolding at The Woodlands Inn.
Tucked away in a conference room at the resort complex, bridge players have been taking part in the American Contract Bridge League District 4 Regional Tournament. Since the first match was played on Monday, over 340 players came out to participate.
“It’s a phenomenal turnout,” said tournament chairman Walter Mitchell, 72. “It’s a relatively small region, so if we get about 400 people, it’s a good week.”
Mitchell, who is also the mayor of Bear Creek Village, explained that the tournament was sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League, or ACBL, and focused on a style of the card game known as “duplicate bridge.” According to Mitchell, duplicate bridge features a pair of players who stay with each other throughout the tournament, facing other players.
Officials from the ACBL were on hand to facilitate running the tournament, which is held every other year at The Woodlands Inn. Candy Kuschner, one of those officials, explained that ACBL events are very popular with hotels.
“The ACBL is the largest renter of hotel space in the United States,” said Kuschner, who hails from the Washngton, D.C., area. “And the hotels love us, because, as you can see, they’re always really quiet events.”
Kuschner was not wrong about this. Besides the occasional murmur of conversation over the sound of cards, most of the players were so focused on the game they love that the conference room sounded like it was barely occupied.
Bridge players had more to look forward to besides playing the game at the tournament. In addition to the games, speakers throughout the week explained new strategies to improve players’ strategies. Jay Apfelbaum, 65, of Philadelphia, was one such speaker.
“Everybody has something that they do better than something else,” Apfelbaum said. “Bridge appeals to me because I work well with numbers and logic.”
Apfelbaum, who’s been playing bridge for 50 years, said that The Woodlands Inn was a “beautiful place,” and that the tournament is well-run. Despite his experience, Apfelbaum’s games weren’t going his way Saturday.
“I’m doing lousy, but that doesn’t matter,” Apfelbaum said. “Any day you get to play bridge is a good day.”
Helen Tanski, 82, of Hanover Township, has only been playing bridge for about nine years, but Mitchell said that she is one of the most enthusiastic players at the tournament, being one of the few players to sit through multiple three-and-a-half-hour matches per day.
“She should start BPL — Bridge Players Anonymous,” Mitchell joked.
Tanski, who first grew interested in bridge after reading columns published in the Times Leader by actor-turned-bridge-player Omar Sharif, said that there was more to the game that appealed to her than just gambling.
“It’s competitive,” Tanski said. “And you’re competing against yourself; the goal is to train yourself to become a life-master.”
The weeklong event attracted players from around the area, and even as far as Poland and Israel. According to Kuschner, this could be due to the game’s increased popularity in Europe.
“It’s more popular in Europe, probably because people teach their kids to play it,” Kuschner said. “The U.S. used to be heavier into it, but there’s no instant gratification.”