Main     Import 9F18 by Peter Gelzinis    

They Came To Play for Points

July 28, 1981 — Boston Herald-Examiner

A bumper sticker being sold in the mezzanine read: “Bridge Is Like Sex… even when it’s bad it’s good.”

Spread out on either side of the bumper stickers was a small library of books. Several contained a foreword by Omar Sharif. A few more were heartily endorsed by Omar Sharif. And one — “Learning How To Play Blue Team Club” — was written by, you guessed it, Omar Sharif. There was even a picture of the dashing leading man on the cover, looking resplendent in his tux.

Sharif is indeed an acknowledged master at bridge. More than his card playing ability, however, his name prominently displayed on the dust jacket adds a spicy new dimension to the game — sex appeal. His exotic stare seems to say: Rogues play bridge; scoundrels play bridge; heartbreakers play bridge; dreamboats play bridge; and spies play bridge.

But none of the men who streamed into the second floor of the Hynes Auditorium yesterday for the Sons of Liberty Pairs (part of the American Contract Bridge League’s North American Championship) looked anything like Omar Sharif.

A throng of almost 2,000 men and women took their places in a prairie of plastic tables, four to a table. They played $20 each to play duplicate bridge, a far more advanced and complicated version of the game people play in their dens over bite-sized sandwiches and cakes.

Duplicate bridge not only tests your passion for the game, it sizes you up next to all the other bridge enthusiasts in the country by means of master points. Master points are the black-and-white indicator of truth; what a batting average is to a ballplayer, or what a merit badge is to a Boy Scout. Win over 300 master points and you become a Life Master.

The opportunity for more master points is what brought over 7,000 people to Boston for a 10-day tournament.

“When you get to thinking about it, yeah, I guess it must seem a bit crazy,” said Harry Tudor, 30, who traveled up from Miami. “Especially when you figure it’s costing $350 for airfare and $60-a-day for the room for 10 days — and that’s not even counting food — just to pick up a few points.”

Harry, who set himself apart from the sea of bridge players by coming to yesterday afternoon’s competition in running shorts and sandals, has 998 master points. He also stood out because his partner in the tournament is Rich Pavlicek Jr., an 11-year-old phenom out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“If the kid is destined to be the King of Bridge,” said Harry before the start of yesterday’s action, “then he needs all the experience he can get.”

The King of Bridge is a title bestowed on the young man who reaches the completion of high school with more master points than any other bridge-playing senior in the country. Rich Pavlicek, with 40 master points to his credit, intends to lay claim to the throne.

“The kid’s got a lot of spunk,” Harry said. “He plays an aggressive game, does lots of things wrong, but his energy works in his favor. That kind of abandon is nice to have, as it forces the other guy into making mistakes.”

Chances are very good that Rich will become King of Bridge, if only for the fact that he is the offspring of genuine bridge royalty. Richard Pavlicek Sr. and his wife, Mabel, teach bridge to folks with plenty of time and money on their hands in Fort Lauderdale.

“My father’s got 6,000 master points,” Rich beamed, “and my mother’s got 2,000. We’ve got over a thousand decks of cards in our house. Sometimes they even let me teach people a few of the beginning steps, like how to declare cards and stuff like that.”

In bridge, this is where the money is. Folks eager to play — “clients” as they are called — will pay a teacher as much as $500 to play a game of duplicate bridge with them.

Rich’s abandon did work to his advantage yesterday, as he and Harry came out on top of their section. The men who played against him were not swayed by his cute mop top or his big brown eyes. They stared over their cards at him and were threatened. The kid was deadly.

The crazy thing is, he looked more like Beaver Cleaver than Omar Sharif. So much for the sex appeal in bridge.

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© 1981 Peter Gelzinis