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The Sounds of Concentration

  by Itabari Njeri

Miami Herald — November 25, 1983

“I love the challenge, the competitiveness.” -Mabel Pavlicek

They do it for the glory. They do it for the challenge. They do it for the sheer pleasure of winning. And for the very best of them, there is even an Olympiad.

Imagine quickened heartbeats fed by the flow of adrenalin. Sense the total concentration of the performer. Could they be runners, lonely over the long distance, going for the gold? No. Your bid. They’re championship bridge players, and the best of them meet in Bal Harbour today for the last major bridge event of the year.

“Bridge is a game where you must use logic, common sense and concentration,” says Mabel Pavlicek. She will be one of the players in the 1983 Fall North American Bridge Championships at the Sheraton Bal Harbour Hotel, sponsored by the American Contract Bridge League. Some of the winners of this tournament will be eligible for the 1984 World Bridge Olympiad.

During tournaments that run for several days in a row, with each session lasting over three hours, “you are under tremendous tension,” Mabel explains. “You have to watch every hand. Every card can cost you.”

In most competitions, contenders play 26 hands, she says. “You can’t be distracted. You’ve got to remember every bid and play, and interpret what your partner is trying to tell you with his bids and plays. I love the challenge of the mind. I love the competitiveness,” she says.

The last three days of competition in Bal Harbour for the Reisinger Trophy will be the most grueling, says Mabel. “They play more hands, and unlike other events where you often find average players, the Reisinger has only the best, the elite, the toughest players in North America.”

Her husband, Richard Pavlicek, and his partner Bill Root are the current holders of the Reisinger Trophy.

“Players want to drop dead when they see him coming to the table,” says Richard Pavlicek Jr. of his father. “He’s ethical. He’s courteous. He knows everything there is to know about bridge,” says the 13-year-old, who will be the youngest player in the championship games.

Richard Jr. also happens to be the youngest Life Master in the nation. The number of masterpoints players win determines their ranking; Life Master status is achieved at 300 points, some of which must be won in regional and national competition. His mother has about 2,800 points, and his father almost 8,000.

Rich’s father, who was unavailable for an interview, is a noted authority on the game. He and Bill Root are co-authors of a best-selling book called Modern Bridge Conventions (Crown Publishers, $15.95). The team also won the prestigious Vanderbilt Trophy of the American Contract Bridge League last spring in Honolulu.

The bridge whiz kid, who plans to be a computer engineer, says he plays the game “for the challenge of competing with other players and the glory of winning.”

When he plays, “my mind goes into a different mode,” says the teenager, who began playing when he was 10 years old. “I forget everything else. If something has been going wrong, I can’t remember it when I’m playing bridge. I really concentrate.”

“I knew he would become a bridge player when he could remember hands,” says his mother. “You’ve got four people with 13 cards each. When you can remember the cards you had, what your partner had, what the opponents had, the sequence of play, and can discuss it intelligently afterward, you really have a mind for bridge. Rich could do this when he was 12. That’s when I knew he would become a good player.”

Apparently, there are lots of good players in South Florida. The American Contract Bridge League speculates that Dade County may have the greatest density of bridge players in the world. If that’s true, it can be attributed to the area’s large, elderly, bridge-playing population.

Mabel Pavlicek, who teachers 300 to 400 students a week, says the game is especially popular with the country club set. “In the Palm Beach and Broward areas, if you live in a nice condominium or country club development and don’t play bridge, you’re a nobody.”

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© 1983 Itabari Njeri