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Teenager Plays His Cards Right

  by Darrell Eiland

Miami Herald — May 16, 1987

Emerges as National Bridge King

The 1987 King of Bridge is a weight-lifter, a racquetball enthusiast, an occasional white-water rafter, a ping-pong player, and a senior at St. Thomas Acquinas High School.

“And I go out with girls,” said Richard Pavlicek Jr. of Fort Lauderdale. He was awarded the crown — designating the best high-school bridge player in the country — this week by the American Contract Bridge League and the International Palace of Sports.

In his name, the IPS has donated a scholarship to his high school.

“I think it’s great,” said Pavlicek, who at 17 is the youngest Life Master bridge player in the game today, according to the ACBL. He achieved that honor when he was 13.

He now has about 850 masterpoints, the most ever for a 17-year-old, according to officials at the bridge league’s headquarters in Memphis, Tenn. Masterpoints are awarded under a complex system, based on how many wins have been scored at various tournament levels.

Pavlicek has been playing since he was 10. Before that he was a “bridge caddy” at a few bridge tournaments, carrying scorecards to contestants and bringing results back to the judges.

He once spotted an electric plug lying on the floor at a Palm Beach tournament, plugged it into the wall and destroyed the public address system. “The man in charge of the tournament would no longer allow him to caddy,” said Pavlicek’s mother, Mabel. “So he came to me and asked me to teach him how to play.”

The senior Pavliceks are professional bridge teachers, so Mabel (over 3500 masterpoints) gave him one of the textbooks written by his father (nearly 10,000 masterpoints). And so he started to learn the game.

Within months, he began playing in tournaments. “I was brave, awfully brave,” he said.

“I have seen him sitting with tears running down his cheeks when he realized he had made a wrong bid,” his mother said. “I never scolded him about bidding wrong or losing, only about bad manners or rudeness. Bridge is a social game and being polite is essential.”

His bridge playing (“I must have played a hundred thousand hands”) and other activities (he holds two part-time jobs, one as a bridge tutor and one as a computer operator for a stock firm) haven’t interfered too much with his schoolwork. He plans to attend Florida Atlantic University, where he wants to study journalism, business, and “some form of physics.”

His mother said she realized after his earliest tournaments that he could remember all the hands that each of the four players held during a session (typically 26 deals).

Pavlicek said he is hungry for more education, more challenge. “If I could, I would have a Ph.D. in every subject that has ever been taught anywhere,” he said.

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© 1987 Darrell Eiland