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Card Players Test Their Skills at North American Bridge Championships

By Howard Ludwig | August 20, 2015 6:21am
 Jean Catania and Nancy O'Donnell live on the same block in Beverly. The pair recently partnered to compete in the North American Bridge Championships in the Loop.
Jean Catania and Nancy O'Donnell live on the same block in Beverly. The pair recently partnered to compete in the North American Bridge Championships in the Loop.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

BEVERLY — A loyal group of bridge players meet regularly throughout Beverly to play, compete and socialize.

But small talk during play was strongly discouraged last week at the North American Bridge Championships in the Loop. That didn't stop Nancy O'Donnell and Jean Catania from participating.

The pair live on the same block in Beverly and partnered last week to play several games in the 11-day tournament held at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave. Roughly 6,000 people attended the event, according to the American Contract Bridge League.

"The game of bridge has a rich heritage in Chicago. In fact, this is the 16th time we have held the NABC in at the Chicago Hilton since 1927," said Darbi Padbury, marketing manager for the Horn Lake, Miss.-based league.

Catania and O'Donnell are relative newcomers to bridge. Both learned to play by taking lessons at the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St. in Morgan Park. They still play at the center along with about 50 others on the second Thursday of every month.

"It sharpens your memory," said O'Donnell, who was introduced to bridge in the 1970s but didn't seriously pick up the game until 2006.

Catania took lessons at the arts center in 2010 and began playing locally the following year. She and her neighbor just happened to be paired the first time Catania played in the beginner league at St. Barnabas Parish.

"Then we won and they wouldn't let me be her partner anymore," O'Donnell said on Tuesday.

Neighborhood games at the arts center, St. Barnabas and at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club are all played in a style known as rubber bridge. Whereas the championship tournament is played in a sanctioned style known as duplicate bridge.

In this formal style, card-carrying players amass points toward becoming a bridge master with the American Contract Bridge League. Some 167,000 members are part of the league, which includes 3,200 official bridge clubs.

The Beverly partners share a common goal to become a Life Master with 300 points or a Bronze Life Master with 500 points.

In this regard, the local players refer to themselves as "babies." Catania entered the Chicago tourney with 1.09 points and left with 4.9 points. O'Donnell began with 8.7 points and left with 12 points.

Still, they seemed happy with their progress and were excited to participate in the tournament. They've even considered seeking out future events and using them as an excuse to play bridge and travel.

"It wasn't intimidating. The directors were so pleasant and helpful for the new players," Catania said.

Chicago also has its own unique style of bridge in which only four deals are played and scored. This cuts down on the time it takes to play the game, Padbury said.

Besides Chicago-style bridge, the league official said the city and the suburbs are home to several top bridge players. And the league president, Suzi Subeck, lives in north suburban Glenview.

"Right now there is a lot of action in the bridge world rooted in Chicago," Padbury said.

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