Some of the world’s top bridge players — and likely a few celebrities, too — are expected in Kansas City starting this week for brain-challenging card games at both Crown Center hotels.
Beginners, intermediate players and just-for-fun veterans also will participate in the 2017 Spring North American Bridge Championships, which open Wednesday and run for 11 days. Organizers expect 4,000 to 5,000 players, many of whom will play multiple days or even every day.
There are entry fees, but no prize money.
Even the big guns come mostly for pride — and the chance to add to their “master points” rankings in a game that’s a little bit spades, a little bit pinochle and a lot of socializing, especially among those who come for fun.
“There will be a lot of laughing and story-telling,” said Linda Eakes of Leawood, who has overseen 60 to 70 local volunteers working on the event, which last took place in Kansas City 16 years ago. “I can’t wait to see my friends from all over the country this week.”
Some celebrity players usually participate, though event organizers won’t give hints of who is expected. Past tournaments have drawn Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.
Events will be segregated by skill level, with the most serious and seasoned players vying for about a dozen national championship titles.
“Those will attract the best players in the world,” said Paul Linxwiler, editor of the national Bridge Bulletin magazine with the Mississippi-based American Contract Bridge League, the event host.
Perhaps fitting for this March Madness period, one team event even eliminates entrants much like a NCAA tournament bracket, with about 90 teams playing their way into the 64-team field.
Other events feature pairs, often people who have played together for a long time but sometimes new partners just learning each other’s strategies.
“Most of time when you are coming to a national, you bring you own partner,” said Overland Park resident Christie Thomas Collier, a bridge teacher who will play with some of her students. “It’s like a marriage. You know what your bridge partner is going to do before he does it.”
The top pairs event, the Norman Kay Platinum Pairs, is restricted to pairs that did well in other national events, Linxwiler said. That competition involves duplicate bridge, meaning every pair plays the same hands with pre-dealt cards. That eliminates luck of the draw.
“You and your partner, you play a couple hands against two other people,” Linxwiler said. “After a couple hands, one pair moves, a new pair comes. Everybody moves around the room.”
Each session of games lasts about 3 1/2 hours, with events staggered throughout each day. The full schedule is available on the American Contract Bridge League website.
Free lessons for beginners will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday. Other beginners’ events also are planned, including a class that starts at 1 p.m. Sunday. Preregistration is required for it.
Spectators are welcome at most of the events, said tournament director Wendy Sullivan, a Tennessee resident who touts bridge not only for the social aspect but also for its brain value.
“The one thing about bridge, it’s known and proven … that it improves your brain function, which helps ward off Alzheimer’s,” she said. “You have to use strategy and think about what you are doing.”