Bridge Boom Town

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By Joan Schepps

I know the game of bridge really has little to do with the mission of 52+Joker Club which is primarily concerned with the collection of antique decks of cards and card memorabilia.  However, many of our members do play bridge and many others are  card players.  Bridge has come back into vogue and has had an amazing resurgence, particularly in Boca Raton, Florida, the area Elihu and I have retired to.  There are many gated communities in this area and we live in Boca West, a very large community of 3200 families.
Bridge and collecting of course, have been my passion for a good part of my life and here is a little insight into this amazing game.

Bridge In Boca Raton

To live in Boca and be a bridge player is nothing short of Paradise.  Somehow Boca Raton became a Mecca for bridge activities.  One can play duplicate bridge 14 times a week and there are more commercial and private bridge clubs here than possibly any other environ in the United States.  One might ask - How come?  How did this come to be? Possibly it’s the attraction to the mild weather or possibly it's a generation thing.
The age group that now plays bridge probably watched their parents play during the depression years. Bridge was an inexpensive form of entertainment at the time and a very popular pastime.  They played bridge around the clock while in college and are still playing and enjoying it in their retirement years.  These players have moved to Florida, California and Arizona in large numbers and joined the bridge clubs.  Many bridge "Pros" are also here. Some of the bridge pros and bridge greats gravitated here, bought homes, settled in, and the rest of the elite bridge community followed.  
But for whatever reason, there are many bridge personalities, bridge stars and players who have represented or still represent the United States in International play RIGHT HERE in Boca. They are very visible and you can see them, ask them a question and play against them on any given day.  Unlike golf where you may encounter an occasional name golfer or pro on the next hole, here you see many well-known players every day.  You may look up and there's the author of the bridge book you read last week sitting at the next table waiting to play against you. It's all a very heady experience.

The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) is the umbrella organization that represents all contract bridge, duplicate and social bridge activity in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda.  In 1937 someone came up with a brilliant gimmick and devised "masterpoints", a method which would rank players (as they do in the game of chess) by  the number of masterpoints won.  The ACBL awards and records all masterpoints won by its members, which number 175,000.  A player is ranked by the number of masterpoints won in local, regional, national and international play.  The more masterpoints you have earned, the higher the rank. And, strange as it sounds, or hard to believe, many bridge players prefer to win masterpoints than cash rewards at a casino!  And one can never accumulate enough masterpoints, just "dangle" a masterpoint in front of a hard core duplicate player and see what happens!
So that competition will be fair, a method of duplicate bridge has been established where the element of luck and getting good cards is removed from the equation by a process of duplicating the boards. Everyone plays the same hands.  It's a  level playing field.
There are two kinds of bridge clubs, both sponsored by the ACBL.  One is an Open Club which may sponsor daily games, there are many such clubs in the Boca area.  Open clubs are open to the public and anyone can play there.  Just walk in, you will be welcomed, pay your entry fee, and often enjoy a buffet lunch.  An Invitational club is a private club for its members only and on certain occasions members may bring guests.  As there are many gated communities located in the Boca Raton area, there are also many Invitational Clubs.

Bridge At Boca West

Boca West is an Invitational Club which has an intensive bridge program that can rival any commercial bridge club in the area.  We boast over 600 duplicate players.  We sponsor games every Tuesday and Thursday evening, a weekly Wednesday afternoon game, and a Sunday game once a month.  Guests are permitted at Wednesday and Sunday games. There are advantages to playing at your own club: one does not have to travel to get to a game or drive a distance at night.  The surroundings are lovely and comfortable, the refreshments delicious, and you know most of the other players.  Everything is here, right on “campus” for you.
Our players are respected in the greater bridge community and are strong players who win in local clubs and at tournaments.  The Boca West Women's Bridge Team usually brings home the trophy. This is because over the years Boca West has had an intensive teaching program for all levels of players. 
We have had the best teachers in the area and most are well known nationally.  Some of the bridge stars who have taught here are Larry Cohen, author, player and recent cover story in the ACBL Bulletin.  David Berkowitz, inductee to the Bridge Hall of Fame who also represented the United States in International play.  Sharon Jabbour, noted bridge pro will be teaching this season at Boca West.  Our lessons are geared for players of all levels: the Novice, the Beginner, the Intermediate and the Advanced player, and all take place on the premises at our club.  In addition, we have games that are suitable for all levels of bridge skill.  There should not be a bridge player at Boca West who can't find a bridge game at their comfort level.
Boca West welcomes all BW bridge players to join them at their bridge games.  In season BW may hold three sections of 10 to 12 tables on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  A new event, The 299er's Game, will be restricted to those players with 1 to 299 masterpoints so they can compete against players of their own level.  We also have a Newplicate/Novice game for those starting the journey into the wonderful world of bridge.

Boca West has entered the electronic age and has recently purchased a sophisticated dealing machine.  We have the latest generation of electronic score boxes which instantly record your score, show you the percentage you achieved on the board and display the contract and result of everyone else who played that board.  Best of all, the results of your game will be on the Internet by the time you return home, with diagrammed hand records of every hand you played.  Of course we have bidding boxes to aid in the bidding, so an auction will not be heard at the next table and to help the hearing impaired.

Bridge is the secret weapon of Boca West.  People actually buy homes here because of the bridge program and then they stay here because of the bridge program.  They will ask their real estate agents about the bridge program when they are looking at property.  Boca West has the reputation as the #1 Invitational bridge club in the area.  
Who are the bridge players?  They are the golfers who play golf and those who no longer play golf.  They are the tennis players who play tennis and those who no longer play tennis.  They are card players of all card games.  They are the physically frail who are able to play this game as we can easily accommodate anyone with a disability by providing a stationary North/South position.
Remember - if you don't play bridge - you flunk retirement.  This is the game to keep Alzheimer's at bay!
Editor’s Note; Joan is the Chairman of Bridge Activities at Boca West and is possibly the most passionate bridge player we know (and we do know a lot of them!)
Thanks Joan, this article should encourage all the snowbirds who spend their winter months in Florida to visit and feel welcomed at the local bridge club. It is a wonderful way to meet and make new friends.