How far would you travel to play a game of cards?
For many of the estimated 5,000 contract bridge fanatics journeying to New Orleans next week, the answer is thousands of miles.
From March 12 to 22, New Orleans will host the world’s largest bridge tournament — the 2015 Spring North American Bridge Championships.
The NABC is presented by the American Contract Bridge League, the sanctioning body for the game, which Marketing Director Darbi Padbury says boasts over 167,000 members worldwide.
“We sanction games in about 3,200 clubs around the world and host about 1,100 tournaments each year, along with three national events — our spring, summer and fall NABCs,” Padbury said.
Padbury says bridge is quickly gaining popularity among a new, young demographic.
“In Europe, we’re seeing a majority of players in their late 20s or early 30s, and the same in South America, where bridge has a large presence,” she said. “While the average local bridge player in the U.S. may be in their 60s or 70s, our typical tournament players, like you’ll see coming to New Orleans, are in their 40s or 50s.”
Efforts are even being made to recruit children.
“We’ve got about 5,000 kids every year learning to play bridge,” she said. “Since bridge is played in teams of four, it’s become a really popular thing for families to do together.”
Sherrie Goodman, club manager for the Louisiana Bridge Association in Metairie, says her club is very active.
“We have about 1,300 members and host games seven days a week and two nights a week that draw players from out in Slidell and on the Northshore,” she said. “There are also big clubs out in Lake Charles and Shreveport.”
Louisiana last hosted the North American Bridge Championships in the summer of 2010. Goodman said she’s excited to get another chance to show off her city to players from around the world.
According to Padbury, the championship is an economic win for the city.
“This event is different from maybe your typical convention or tournament, in that a large amount of the people that come for the championships stay for the whole 11 days,” she said.
The ACBL estimates the economic impact on New Orleans to be about $8.5 million.
Among the local members of the LBA looking forward to competing at the NABC is former professional basketball standout Bob Pettit, a New Orleans resident.
From 1954 to 1965, Pettit played for the Milwaukee/St.Louis Hawks, where he became the first recipient of the MVP award in the NBA. Pettit eventually was named an All-Star MVP four times, an accomplishment he shares only with Kobe Bryant.
“I’m definitely not the best player, but I truly enjoy it,” he says. “It’s a new challenge every day. I play a couple of times a week. My wife loves to play, too. We play together.”
For bridge players of all levels, it is all about the love of the game.
In contrast to the World Series of Poker, where the 2014 winner walked home with a gold bracelet and $10 million in prize money, the bridge players are not competing for a grand trophy or prize money, but for master points, with the goal of achieving the highest status of Grand Life Master — 10,000 points.
“We have one of those in our club, he’s got 25,000 points,” Pettit says, noting that he plays in a group with players that have 299 master points or less. “Points are hard to come by. You could play really well one day and get half a point.”
Pettit says bridge is a way to keep his competitive spirit alive.
“I’ve been a competitor all my life,” he says, “and this really keeps my mind going. I love it.”