When people ask me about my hobby, I always have a dilemma. Do I tell them about bridge, and get the classic "isn't that an old person game?" response or answer something more normal like tennis? However, I can't blame them because most kids are unaware of what bridge truly is. I used to be in their shoes and not know what bridge was. Thinking back to elementary school, before I got into bridge and invested the next 6 years of my life into this card game, I never would have guessed that my bridge passion would have turned out how it has.
During the summer of 4th grade, my parents signed my brother, who is two years older than me, and I up for a week-long camp at our local Ocee library for something called bridge. At that time, I had no idea what bridge was. I don't think anyone who attended the camp knew. One of my closest bridge friends thought bridge literally meant building a bridge using cards. At this camp, I learned that bridge was a complex card game that involved both bidding and card play. It requires 4 people, or 2 pairs. After this weeklong 10 hour camp I was hooked. After a casual first year of weekly classes on Mondays at Ocee library under Ms. Karen, who hosted the camp, Ms. Karen recommended me to Ms. Eckert. Ms. Eckert taught advanced kids, while Ms. Karen specialized with beginners.
The last student that Ms. Eckert took under her wing, I was introduced to a group of students from the Alpharetta area who are mostly my brother's age. For the next 5 years, Ms. Eckert taught this group of kids every Friday for 2 hours at her house, and we practiced on Sunday's under the USBF Junior Training Program. Aside from all this practice, we needed real experience, so we constantly played in games. Due to school, we typically only played once a month, playing whenever we had a school day off. The two clubs that we played the most at were in Alpharetta and Roswell, due to their rather close distance. Each game lasted around 3 hours, and costs kids around $7 and adults $15. It was at these games that I was able to see the local bridge scene, as outside of those clubs, and my fellow students, no one played the game, or even really knew what it was. Matches at these local clubs were mostly against adults, as the junior scene in Atlanta was below par. However, the first few years I played there were junior games a few times a year. Two of my best games ever were at juniors games where my pair got a score of 70%, which is outstanding considering anything over 60% is really good.
As our desire to compete grew, we decided to travel further to play. Over longer breaks, we drove further to participate in larger events, such as regionals and sectionals. For example, we played at Crown Plaza, Conyers, Gainesville, and even spent a week in Charleston! At Crown Plaza I arguably had my best game ever in a team of 4 with my Alpharetta friends, placing first out of 45 teams. Charleston was my favorite bridge experience, as 8 of my bridge friends travelled to Charleston in South Carolina for a whole week with the sole purpose of playing bridge, with two adults. The whole week was dedicated to playing bridge, as even if we wanted to we were unable to go travel around and visit the attractions, as we couldn't drive. Each day we had the same schedule: wake up, play bridge, eat, play bridge, eat, sleep. We played a minimum of two games, and three if we woke up early enough. I played and performed well enough to win the most masterpoints out of anyone in my category. We also got accused of cheating during this tournament. Between the rounds us kids would often get together and chat about random things, and a lady who saw us thought we were telling each other about the boards we had just played, and told our teacher; we ended up having to go apologize to the lady and not congregate between rounds.
Outside of places within driving distance, I also competed at the Youth NABC for five years, from 2012-2016. These nationals were held across the country, and I travelled to Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Washington DC, and Chicago to compete at them, and one was held here in Atlanta. It was at these Junior NABC's that I finally was able to meet the youth scene in bridge, and arguably what kept me coming back to bridge, as I made lots of friends through these events. On average around 300 kids show up for a three day event, which includes one warmup day, a pairs championship and a team championship. I never did well in the pairs championship, with my highest placing coming 9th in 2016. However, team wise, my team of six managed to place 3rd in 2015, my proudest achievement. Outside of results, Youth NABC was always a great experience to meet some of the best bridge players in the country, and even foreign players. I've made countless friends through Youth NABC, and it is a real shame that 2016 was the last year that I competed, as my Alpharetta group have now moved on in life and no longer play, and are too old anyways. While I love all of them and will always remember them, two stand out, Alec and Caleb. These two were my favorite partners. I first played with Alec for a year before switching over the Caleb and playing with him for over three years. In bridge, the pairs must have good chemistry and be able to communicate effectively, and I found a connection with Caleb that I have yet and most likely will never find again.
In 2013, by coincidence the 3rd World Youth Open Bridge Championships was held in Atlanta right after nationals, and to 11 year old me with nothing to do at home, I had nothing to lose, so I entered with Caleb to get a taste of international bridge. This was my first experience playing with screens and no talking, so I was honestly quite intimidated. We performed as expected, starting off average and ending around in the bottom third of the pairs. However, due to a miscommunication between our opponents, we actually were ranked in the top 10 for a brief period of time! This experience allowed to meet many of the world's best players and get first hand experience of the special rules that are used in international bridge. While the competition is open to anyone who meets the age requirements, the USA typically sponsors one or two teams per event and pays for all their expenses. Therefore, in 2015 and 2017, I tried out for the U21 team as trials were held in Atlanta. In 2015, I tried out with my usual group of friends. We ended up doing worse than expected, placing 6th out of the 7 teams present. When 2017 rolled around, the majority of my friends had already moved on from bridge and entered college, so I competed with a team that I had never met before. Similarly to before, I ended up placing 6th out of the 6 teams present.
After the 2017 USBF trials, I began taking a break from bridge. I was unable to commit the hours necessary to improve to the next level and decided that the best choice for me was to take a break for a few years. The results from trials really showed how far I was in terms of quality from the best players in the country.
Ms. Eckert sacrificed her hard work and time for our group of kids free of charge. She drove us to all the games, taught us everything we know, and was a constant light in my life. Ms. Eckert was responsible for the best 5 years of my life. Always positive, she was always there for my bridge group throughout our journey, through the ups and downs. In 2016, when I was a high school freshman, Ms. Eckert suffered a stroke, and was forced to stop playing and teaching bridge. She soon moved an hour away to be near her kids, and I was never able to see her again. Towards the end of 2018, I was notified out of the blue of her death by my brother. This news shocked me, and I have never truly gotten over it, and I still think of her all the time, missing her positive personality, and never haven gotten the opportunity to fully show my appreciation to her. She was there for my team after we were destroyed in trials for the United States Junior Bridge team, and she was there when we placed third place at youth nationals in Chicago. I was only able to achieve everything I have in bridge thanks to her seeing potential in me and taking me in. Ms. Eckert was and will always be an inspiration to me and I strive to be like her in the future. Everytime I play I think of her and her dedication and continue to improve. I also have to give credit to Ms. Karen for introducing me to Ms. Eckert because on my own I never would have known her. Despite having stopped playing bridge, it is merely a hiatus and I promise myself that I will not quit and that I will get back into this hobby of mine, no matter how old I will be then. I have made some of my favorite memories ever playing bridge with kids and adults alike, and I would not replace these memories with anything else. If you ever read this, Alec and Caleb, thank you for everything that you have done for me. To the others who know who they are, thank you as well.
There are a few boards and matches that I will never forget. Once at Crown Plaza, our team blitzed the first three rounds, which means that we obtained the maximum number of points possible in those rounds, which being able to do in one round is already an achievement. Another board was at World's in 2013. Playing one of the best pairs in the nation, we lucked out on a miscommunication and they ended up making a disastrous accident, which allowed Caleb and I to luck out and be top 10 in the world for just a few minutes. Miscommunications happen all the time to everyone including myself, and one that I will never forget was at a midnight knockout match with a friend who I've never played with before. Due to a lack of experience, our bidding went astray quickly as I thought he promised both spades and either clubs or diamonds when he reality he only had spades. This ended up negating insanely good play from our teammates as we got doubled and went down around 5. This list of memorable boards will only grow as I continue to play in the future.
Throughout 2018 I mentioned to my friends about hosting a bridge camp, but no concrete progress was made, and after Ms. Eckert's death late in 2018, I felt even more compelled to host this camp as a way to pay my final respects to her. After positive encouragement from my closest friends, I reached out to Ms. Tucker, a longtime bridge teacher who heads the Atlanta Junior Bridge program. After pitching my idea of hosting a camp, she was eager to help me put this idea into reality. We initially met at Ocee library, but when we inquired about hosting this camp, we were unfortunately told that the library was closed for renovation over the summer. Refusing to let this hinder my plans, I reached out to countless other libraries and public places, such as churches. After about 5 rejections, the manager of the Gwinnett County Public Library Suwanee branch showed interest and after a period of long discussion, Mr. Freeman offered me a spot to host my bridge camp during the week of July 22 to 26.
As we approached the week of camp, I inquired and was told that 16 kids had signed up. And as promised, 16 kids showed up on Monday. With almost all of them returning Tuesday, I began to have hope, but after teaching bidding, half of the kids decided it was too difficult and left. Throughout the week, the attendance steadily declined, and on Friday only 4 kids showed up. While I was disappointed, many kids had notified me that they were to be absent on Friday, so I never was that optimistic. Although the attendance was not up to my expectations, this was a great learning experience for my time teaching a bridge class.
Early in 2021, the first collegiate tournament rolled around, which I had been looking forward to since my first time playing with GT. The first weekend, I only played the first half, and we ended up 8th out of 15, not a bad finish for my first official competition. The next weekend, GT White placed 2nd out of 10! GT actually swept the competition, with the top three finishes. Also around then, starting in February, GT bridge started meeting in person, and I met a bunch of new people, but it was still toned down as opposed to pre-covid times. I managed to run unopposed for secretary so I became the 2021-22 secretary. The rest of the semester I continued playing some casual collegiate matches, ending with a record of 11-11-2 at the end of May.
The Grand National Teams rolled around in June, and I was excited to compete for the first time. I've qualified in the past with my friends from Alpharetta, but I've never participated in the finals, and with COVID, they waived the qualification requirements. Round 1. Nice. Round 2. Nice. Round 3. Nice. Round 4. Nice. Round 5. Nice. Round 6. Nice. Round 7. Nice. We miraculously won our first seven rounds, and despite losing our round against the GT A team, we placed first, qualifying to represent District 7 at nationals! District B finals didn't go as well, placing 17th out of 30, but with tougher competition, we came in with lower expectations.
For nationals, we had to have 2 new partnerships, out of the 4, so we knew coming in it'd be a little bumpy. After sitting out the first session, we were exactly on the qualification spot, 16th, as the top 16 out of the 38 teams would progress. However, the second session didn't go too well, as we won two and lost two rounds, and anxiously awaited the final results. What a disheartening moment as we ended up 17th. The possibility that making the one contract that went down in the last round may have brought us to 16th made it even worse.
Collegiates also occurred this year, although participation suffered significantly due to it being online. I competed in the pairs and came 10th out of 12 pairs, but it was with a new partner, so I wasn't too bothered.
The start of the sophomore year also meant the return of in person bridge, as Georgia Tech transitioned to in-person. I started off with tabling at grad expo the week before classes started, and also tabled at org fair a few weeks later. Surprisingly, we managed to hold a very steady and impressive 20+ attendance at the majority of our meetings. It was amazing to meet all the experienced returning players while also meeting newcomers. Being on leadership, I felt a responsibility to teach so I did that whenever needed.
Fall semester went well, and as spring semester rolled out so did the Collegiates. For both team tournaments, I was on the B team. The first time, we got 5th and the A team got 4th. Unfortunately for us however, only the top three schools each team tournament win a package, so we were just short on luck. The next week, in the other team tournament, we managed to beat the A team, but choked hard at the end, ending up 6th, and the fourth place school yet again. Demoralized, we headed into the pairs tournament, which rewarded six travel packages, three for strat A and three of strat B. Our top pair got 4th in strat A, narrowly missing out on a package, and by some miracle, Justin and I, who got 8th overall, managed to win a travel package, which included $500 stipend for air fare and three night hotel!
Leading up to the collegiate bridge bowl in July, I had weekly practices with my partner. I had been partners with this guy for about a year now, but ironically he was not who I won the package with. Unfortunately for me, nationals was in Providence. This proved to be annoying as I was in Seattle for the summer, so I had to fly to Boston and then make my way to Providence. Luckily my partner was in Boston for the summer, so he drove me to Providence, but the way back I wasn't so lucky because my flight was at 8AM. On the B team, we placed 7th out of the 12 teams in the qualifying day of the team event, and got knocked out in the quarterfinals on day 2. Our A team had gotten the first seed, but were upset in the quarterfinals and also lost in the quarterfinals. The pairs event went alright. We managed a decent score of 55% in the morning session, but the afternoon session we barely managed around a 47%, leading us to a disappointing finish overall. If you'd like to read about some of the fun things I did at nationals, check my summer 2022 recap. However, the one silver lining about nationals is that I found a USBF U26 trials team! Ever since I saw the news that the USBF Jr trials were happening this year, I wanted to play but had no team. Luckily, my hotel roommate, who wasn't even my bridge partner, was also interested in playing at trials, and after a couple nights of late night bridge talks, we agreed to play together at trials in December. While my partner had learned bridge significantly later than me, she had infinitely more connections and knew all the good USBF juniors. She was able to put together not only a team for us but also a couple more teams for both our event and the rona (girls) event.
2022: Collegiate Bridge Bowl Pair Package
2021: District 7 GNT Flight C Champions
2020: 10th Place Youth NABC Pairs
2017: 6th Place USBF Under 21 Trials
2016: Youth NABC 9th Place Pairs
Youth NABC 9th place Team
2015: 6th Place USBF Under 21 Trials
3rd Place Youth NABC Swiss Team
Labor Day Regionals 1st place Gold Rush Teams
2014: 1st place Most Points Won 0-100 MP Charleston MABC
Youth NABC 8th place Team