ACBL tournaments now draw 1,000 competitors a week in Washington, D.C., 1.000 in Houston, 1,200 in Milwaukee, 800 in San Francisco and as many as 7,000 in Los Angeles, where a bridge extravaganza last June at the Ambassador Hotel was deluged with 30,000 entries in various events.
A sport that was once confined to such proper, staid and revered bridge clubs as New York's Cavendish Club, Detroit's Knickerbocker Bridge Club and the Contract Club of Kansas City is now being played in hotels, dance halls, shopping centers, YMCAs, church basements and fire houses. Private homes also are used; more than once crowded conditions have necessitated that tables be set up in bathrooms. The rear sections of bars sometimes are commandeered, and if Dietrich were again to ask what the boys in the back room would have, she probably would find them asking for aces—using the Gerber and Blackwood conventions, of course.
In Sarnia, Ont., which is near Detroit, a major sectional event was held in an old airplane hangar; Washington tournaments have been conducted in the cafeteria of the House Office Building and the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall, and an industrial league in Los Angeles plays weekly in tool rooms, at drafting boards and on factory front lawns. Even Leavenworth penitentiary is the site of weekly tournaments, though players there are understandably barred from playing in out-of-town events.
Among devotees to be found at these duplicate affairs are more than a few entertainers, politicians, sports figures and celebrities who understand that fame may be fleeting but that a master point won is a master point held forever.
Indianapolis "500" winner Rodger Ward has one point, and Giant Pitcher Stu Miller 15. Among musicians, Les Brown has 2, Paul Weston 12 and his wife Jo Stafford one. Author Laura Z. Hobson (3), Dr. Karl Menninger (1½), Artist Dong Kingman (11½) and Actor Stephen Chase (287) also play in tournaments.
Many others, forced to choose between careers and master points (it is hard to pursue both successfully), have given up the game. George Docking was considered a comer in Kansas bridge circles, winning 16 points his first year. Then the citizens inconsiderately elected him governor for two terms, and he has hardly had time to win a point since.
The single-mindedness of duplicate players, whether famous or unknown, has led to rare moments that, if they do nothing else, demonstrate to what extent the master-point neurosis grips them all.
When the Wisconsin Hotel in Milwaukee caught fire during a tournament a player went to the window, verified the firemen were on hand and announced, "The fire is here, but I'm sure they'll call us if it gets too bad." Play continued.
In another Milwaukee tournament a man slumped in his seat, fatally stricken with a heart attack. He was removed by ambulance. A substitute immediately filled his chair and picked up the victim's cards as play resumed. The deceased undoubtedly would have approved.
On the day of a sectional tournament in Kansas City last year a blizzard forced schools, businesses and industrial plants to close. But 104 of the expected 112 bridge players showed up, including a man who flew from Chicago, got rerouted to Denver and had to take a train back to Kansas City. Six master points could be won there.