Gambling News

Using Card and Board Games to Keep Minds Sharp

While many older people are attracted to mind challenges and computer games, others like Mr. Wieder embrace competition in tried-and-true games like bridge, poker and chess.

“Computer games don’t offer the same opportunity for social engagement,” said Cynthia R. Green, founder and president of Memory Arts, a company in Montclair, N.J., that provides memory fitness and brain training to organizations.

Research released in 2014 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that “participants who engaged in cognitive activities like card games have higher brain volume, in specific regions, compared to peers who played fewer or no games,” said Ozioma C. Okonkwo, an assistant professor of medicine at the university and the study’s senior author.

Calculating how many older people play these games seriously is difficult. Many play recreationally with friends at home or in community and senior centers. But there is evidence from associations devoted to tournament play that senior interest in competition as a way to sharpen their skills is growing as well.

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Peggy Kaplan holds the designation of Grand Life Master, the highest level of achievement in bridge. Credit Matt Nager for The New York Times

The American Contract Bridge League, based in Horn Lake, Miss., estimates that 95 percent of its more than 167,000 members are over 55. About 12,000 new members join annually.

The United States Chess Federation, based in Crossville, Tenn., says its membership has grown to 85,000, from 75,000, in the last five years, and the number of those over 55 increased to 16,300 from 14,500. Membership rates range from $40 to $122.

And participation in the main World Series of Poker event in Las Vegas by those 50 and older increased to 4,193 players in 2015, from 2,707 players in 2009. Buy-ins to the various World Series of Poker competitions vary, from as little as $75 at satellite tournaments to as much as $10,000 for some competitions. Typically, the top 10 percent take home some winnings.

While tournament poker is limited to states where gambling is legal, like Nevada and New Jersey, an avid bridge player can play at some 3,300 local clubs or travel to three-day sectionals and seven-day regional events, all under the auspices of the American Contract Bridge League.

The group also conducts three 10-day annual tournaments called the North American Bridge Championships, each held in a different city. This year 5,000 participants descended on New Orleans in the spring and 6,500 signed up for a summer event in Chicago. The fall competition is wrapping up this weekend in Denver. The tournaments offer group rates for lodging and sightseeing. Players compete for master points, not cash.

Peg Kaplan, 64, a real estate agent who lives in Minnetonka, Minn., registered for all three bridge tournaments this year. She holds the designation of Grand Life Master, the highest level of achievement, having earned 10,000 master points.

“You never stop learning,” she said. “There are all sorts of people I would have never met or known, if not for bridge.”

Ms. Kaplan said she usually stayed at a tournament hotel for convenience, at times socializing past midnight, but she forgoes tourist attractions. She goes to the tournaments “to compete and see friends,” she said.

Margaret Mitchell, 66, who recently retired from a financial service company, has about 2,400 master points and takes a more restrained approach to competition. For the Chicago tournament Ms. Mitchell, of Minneapolis, stayed at a friend’s condominium in nearby Evanston, Ill., and played for four days.

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A sheet with table assignments at the North American Bridge Championships at the Sheraton Hotel in Denver. Credit Matt Nager for The New York Times

At regional events, she enjoys meeting with people she has competed against before. But it’s the constant challenge of the game that excites her most. “You’re building a language for use at the table, a combination of positive and negative inference, determining a line of play and how well you interpret the language of bidding,” she said.

Denise C. Park, research director at the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas, says competition allows participants to engage with opponents and respond to strategy. “There is value in being matched with an opponent at the appropriate skill level,” she said.

Stephen Zolotow, 70, considers himself a professional games player, but the Las Vegas resident notes that there are drawbacks to the organized competitions. In duplicate bridge tournaments, “the games are very regimented,” he said. “You play on their schedule.” (In bridge he has amassed about 2,500 master points.)

For those who want to avoid the confines of organized competitions, online play is an attractive alternative.

In chess, one of the largest sites is the Internet Chess Club, with 30,000 users. It offers chat rooms, message centers and paid instruction with teachers. It also live-streams most top events.

“If they are a chess addict, this is chess heaven,” said Martin Grund, vice president for online operations for the Internet Chess Club, which is based in Pittsburgh. “They won’t miss any major tournaments.”

The website bridgebase.com draws 100,000 daily users. The flexibility is appealing to players like Ms. Kaplan.

“You can get online, play at any hour of the day and night, anywhere in the world,” she said. “Everything you do in real life.” She estimates she plays from 45 minutes to three hours, four to five evenings a week.

Wendeen H. Eolis, 71, founder of Eolis International Group in New York City, a legal recruiting and legal management consulting firm, was the first woman to finish in the money at the main event World Series of Poker, in 1986, and is considered a pioneer in bringing more women into the game. She has stepped away from the intensity of competing at the highest levels but is confident that the benefits endure. “Negotiation is a way of life,” she said.

As for Mr. Wieder, he looks forward to playing chess as long as he can. “Age plays almost no part in chess,” he said. At a recent tournament he was paired against an 11-year-old opponent. The game was a draw.

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Bridge Deals Online to Learn From and Discuss

The Internet has had a profound effect on our lives, primarily for the better.

In bridge, there are websites and blogs everywhere. Exchanging interesting deals is easy. You can pose questions and await replies from players of all levels. You can discuss issues at, for example, bridgewinners.com. And Facebook contains a lot of bridge.

Information about the diagramed deal was distributed via Facebook by Vincenzo Serino of Italy. He found it in Hugh Kelsey’s book “Test Your Communications” (Cassell) and posted a YouTube video.

How should South plan the play in one no-trump after West leads the heart king, and East signals with the jack? Be careful; the key play is easy to miss.

South must hope to win these seven tricks: two spades, one heart and four clubs. However, he risks losing three hearts, one club and three or more diamonds. (To make this contract problematic, West must have the ace-queen-jack of diamonds.)

So, since South has to make sure that East gets on lead only once, declarer ducks the first trick. West continues with the heart queen and leads a third heart to South’s ace. What should declarer do then?

It looks natural to play a club to dummy’s ten, but when East wins and cashes his last heart, South has to discard his low spade. (If he throws a club, he gets only two spades, one heart and three clubs.) Then, though, after East plays a diamond to West’s jack, West can lead his second club to destroy declarer’s communications. If South takes the trick in his hand to unblock the spade king, he gets only two spades, one heart and two clubs.

Or, if declarer wins with dummy’s spade ace, squashing his own king, he takes just one spade, one heart and four clubs.

Instead, South must cash his spade king at Trick 4, before playing a club to dummy’s ten. East wins, cashes his last heart (South and North pitch spades) and shifts to a diamond. If West wins with his jack and leads back his remaining club, declarer takes the trick with dummy’s ace, cashes the spade ace and runs the clubs to collect seven tricks.

Before watching the video, though, work out what declarer must do if West, after winning the second trick with the heart queen, shifts to his diamond queen. I’ve run out of column inches.

Monaco Triumphs at Reisinger Board-a-Match Teams

The Reisinger Board-a-Match Teams, the premier event at the Fall North American Championships last month in Phoenix, was won by the defending champions, Team Monaco: Pierre Zimmermann, Franck Multon, Fulvio Fantoni, Claudio Nunes, Geir Helgemo and Tor Helness. They finished just over two boards ahead of Norberto Bocchi and Agustin Madala from Italy, Krzysztof Buras and Grzegorz Narkiewicz from Poland, and Aleksander Dubinin and Andrei Gromov from Russia. Third were Martin Fleisher, Chris Willenken and Zia Mahmood of New York City; Michael Kamil of Holmdel, N.J.; Michael Rosenberg of Cupertino, Calif.; and Chip Martel of Davis, Calif.

For this article, I was assisted by Al Hollander of Phoenix, one of the Bridge Base Online commentators. He told me who was sitting where on which boards during the final session.

In board-a-match, your team gains one point if you outscore your opponents, whether by 10 points or 1,000.

The diagramed auction was by Fantoni (North) and Nunes (South). The one-spade opening bid was unlimited and forcing. West’s two-spade cue-bid showed a heart-club two-suiter. Three spades was weak with four-card support. (It is common practice in the tournament world to use a three-heart cue-bid and, sometimes, also two no-trump to show a strong raise of partner’s suit.)

Then, over East’s jump to five clubs, South had to guess whether to double or to bid five spades.

He preferred to declare, because he had that diamond suit hidden up his sleeve.

West led the heart queen, Rusinow, promising the king. Declarer had losers in hearts and clubs, so needed to pick up spades and diamonds successfully.

South, after winning with his heart ace, played a diamond to dummy’s king, ran the spade jack, played a spade to his queen, cashed the spade ace and returned to dummy with a trump. Then declarer ran the diamond ten and claimed plus 650 when it won.

At the other table, South opened one spade, and Zimmermann (West) overcalled two spades, also showing hearts and clubs. After North raised to three spades, Multon (East) competed with four clubs, which gave South the chance to show his diamond suit.

When North converted to four spades, East sacrificed in five clubs. South, having described his hand, doubled to say that he had some defensive values. Then North understandably passed.

Yes, he had all of his points in his partner’s suits, but he had no ruffing value.

The defenders took one spade, one heart and two diamonds for down two, plus 300. But Monaco won the point on the board.

The Edgar Kaplan Winter Regional will take place in the New York Hilton in Manhattan from Thursday through Dec. 30. Details are at acbl.org.

Life Master Pairs and Edgar Kaplan Blue Ribbon Winners

The winners of the two main pair events at the Fall Nationals in Phoenix this month had at least two things in common. First, the partners had not played together in a pair event before. Second, one player in each pair is an American, and the other was born and raised in one country but has represented another country internationally.

The Nail Life Master Pairs was won by Curtis Cheek of Las Vegas and Ishmael Del’Monte, who comes from New Zealand but has played for Australia. (They have been partners in team events.)

The Edgar Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs was captured by a new partnership, Steve Weinstein of Andes, N.Y., and Agustin Madala, an Argentine who represents Italy.

Cheek and Del’Monte did well in the diagramed deal from the final session of the Life Master Pairs.

Del’Monte (North) opened one club, showing 16-plus points. Cheek (South) responded one heart, promising any hand with eight or more points except one containing five-plus spades. The rest of the auction was natural. South might have raised three hearts to four, but North decided it would play better in hearts. (Many pairs failed in three no-trump.)

It is often right to lead a trump through the known long suit, and that would have been the lethal start here. However, it was hard for West, who could be confident that South had at most one heart, to realize that he had to stop a ruff in the shorter trump hand.

When West led the club four, declarer won with his king, played a club to dummy’s ace, cashed the diamond king, ruffed a club in his hand, discarded dummy’s last club on his diamond ace and ruffed a diamond in the dummy.

Cheek then made the percentage play in hearts: He cashed the ace and continued with a low heart to East’s queen. Now South lost only one spade and two hearts.

Everything would have worked when the suit was 3-3. Cashing the ace and continuing with the jack would have been successful when an opponent held nine-eight-doubleton. But that was much less likely than either East or West having king- or queen-doubleton. Note, however, that West should have dropped his eight or nine under the ace to try to deflect declarer.

Plus 420 was worth 74.5 matchpoints out of 77.

Winners Crowned at Fall North American Championships

PHOENIX — Several national titles have been gained here over the last few days at the Fall North American Championships.

On Monday, the Mitchell Open Board-a-Match Teams was won by Jim Mahaffey of Winter Park, Fla.; Tony Forrester from England; Marc Bompis and Jean-Christophe Quantin from France; and Josef Piekarek and Alexander Smirnov from Germany.

The Marsha May Sternberg Women’s Board-a-Match Teams was captured by Phyllis Fireman of Chestnut Hill, Mass.; Shannon Cappelletti of Delray Beach, Fla.; Benedicte Cronier and Sylvie Willard from France; and Marion Michielsen and Meike Wortel from the Netherlands.

And the Super Senior Pairs for players aged 70 or older was taken by Mark Laken of Glyndon, Md., and Ed Lazarus of Baltimore.

On Tuesday, the Senior Knockout Teams was won by Vinita Gupta of Woodside, Calif.; Billy Miller of Las Vegas; Bart Bramley of Dallas; Lew Stansby of Dublin, Calif.; and Jeff Meckstroth and Eric Rodwell of Clearwater Beach, Fla. In the final, they defeated Carolyn Lynch of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Mike Passell of Las Vegas; Garey Hayden of Tucson, Ariz.; and Cezary Balicki and Adam Zmudzinski from Poland by 156 international match points to 81.

The Lynch team started the 64-board match well, gaining 19 imps in the first quarter. But Gupta took the lead in the second session and iced the match with a third quarter of 57 imps to 1. The last set was quiet.

The diagramed deal occurred early in the second session.

In the given auction, Miller (South) sort of compromised with his three-club rebid. That would typically have denied four hearts, but his hand was a tad weak for a two-heart reverse and too strong for a two-club rebid.

Then it was easy for Gupta (North) to rebid three diamonds, and three no-trump was reached.

Balicki (West) led a diamond. Declarer won with dummy’s ace and played a club to his queen. When the jack dropped from West, South continued clubs from the top and eventually took 10 tricks: two spades, one heart, two diamonds and five clubs.

At the other table, Passell (South) opened two clubs, showing six-plus clubs and 11 to 15 high-card points. (Yes, he might have upgraded and begun with one club, promising 16 or more points.) Lynch (North) responded two spades, forcing for one round and denying four hearts. After South rebid three clubs (fewer than three spades and at best a stopper in only one red suit), North passed. This was cautious, especially with two clubs and one heart, rather than the other way round.

Meckstroth (West) led the diamond jack. South took 12 tricks: two spades, one heart, two diamonds, five clubs and two heart ruffs in the dummy. But the Gupta team gained 10 imps on the board.

Looking Back at Last Year’s Reisinger Board-a-Match Teams

The premier event at the Fall North American Championships being held in Phoenix is the Reisinger Board-a-Match Teams, which take place over the last three days, beginning on Friday. It is generally considered the hardest of the Big Three (Spingold Knockout Teams, Vanderbilt Knockout Teams and Reisinger) to win.

The defending champions are Pierre Zimmermann, Franck Multon, Fulvio Fantoni, Claudio Nunes, Geir Helgemo and Tor Helness, who represent Monaco.

The diagramed deal from the final day of last year’s Reisinger featured an unusual bidding sequence and interesting declarer play.

Note that South bid a minimum number of clubs on all five rounds of the auction.

North’s initial two-diamond response showed hearts; three spades was a game-forcing cue-bid; four diamonds was Roman Key Card Blackwood for clubs (five clubs indicated two key cards — one ace and the trump king or two aces — and the club queen); and five diamonds was a grand-slam try.

West led the spade king.

Declarer seemed to have ten top tricks: one spade, two hearts, one diamond and six clubs. Presumably, the diamond finesse was working, based on West’s exuberant bidding, and a spade ruff in the dummy would generate an extra trick. But East clearly had only a singleton spade and would be threatening to overruff.

South won with his spade ace and led back a spade. West shifted to a diamond. Declarer confidently finessed dummy’s queen, cashed the diamond ace (discarding a spade from his hand), trumped a diamond and ruffed a spade with dummy’s club king.

Now South, expecting West to be very short in trumps, played a club to his nine. When West followed suit with the six, declarer claimed his slam.

That looks well done, but South risked West’s having a singleton or doubleton club ten. Instead, declarer, after ruffing his spade with dummy’s club king, should have trumped another diamond in his hand. Then he would have cashed his ace and queen of clubs.

When the bad break came to light, South would have taken dummy’s two top hearts, discarding his last spade. It would have been Trick 12. When declarer led a heart from the dummy, he would have had the jack-nine of clubs over East’s ten-eight. It would have been a textbook trump coup.

Defying Conventional Wisdom at a Florida Regional

The axioms of the game are intended to guide less experienced players, although a primary reason bridge retains its worldwide appeal is that there are so many exceptions to these “rules.”

Even so, many players sitting West in the diagramed deal would have let three no-trump make by producing a reflex reaction.

The deal occurred during a knockout team match at the Naples, Fla., regional in September.

When South bid for a second time, North pushed his partner into three no-trump.

Reese Milner of Los Angeles (West) led his highest heart to deny an honor in the suit.

Hemant Lall of Dallas (East) could see that hearts would not be fruitful for the defense. He could have dropped the deuce to deny interest in the suit. But he tried a different tack, playing his jack. Since this in principle denied the ten, East hoped his partner would now steer away from hearts.

South, who had eight top tricks (three hearts and five clubs), won with his queen and immediately tried for a ninth by leading a spade from his hand.

Many defenders would have played “second hand low” and let the contract make.

Milner, though, saw the danger. He won with his ace and shifted to a low diamond. The defenders then took four tricks in that suit for down one.

At the other table, Gigi Simpson of Sarasota, Fla., and Ralph Katz of Burr Ridge, Ill., had defeated two hearts by one trick. So the Milner team gained 3 international match points on the board. But if three no-trump had made, the team would have lost 8 imps.

Try not to play by rote. Analyze each deal on its merits and trust your partner’s cards.

The Lederer Memorial Trophy in London

All top players like to receive an invitation to the Lederer Memorial Trophy in London. It is a most enjoyable weekend, with a social atmosphere and top-level bridge.

This year the location was new: the elegant Royal Automobile Club.

There were 10 teams playing a round robin of 10-board matches. The winners were the sentimental favorites, the President’s team, which contained three senior statesmen of British bridge: Bernard Teltscher, Victor Silverstone and Willie Coyle. Tony Priday, a nonagenarian, was also scheduled to play, but had to withdraw at the last minute because of ill health. His place was taken by Phil King. Stelio Di Bello and Tom Townsend were the third pair.

They finished nearly one match ahead of the English women’s team: Heather Dhondy, Nevena Senior, Fiona Brown, Susan Stockdale, Sally Brock and Barry Myers (substituting for Nicola Smith).

The diagramed deal featured a gain for the winners that was nothing earth-shattering, but highlighted taking a calculated risk.

In the given auction, Di Bello (South) opened one no-trump in the fourth position. Townsend (North) responded three spades, showing a three no-trump response with four hearts and fewer than four spades. (The theory is that if the opener rebids three no-trump, the defenders do not know whether he has four spades or not, which they would know after a normal Stayman sequence.)

Against four hearts, if West had led his singleton club, declarer would have had to play a heart to dummy’s ace and a heart, not taken a first-round finesse — a tall order. After West chose to start with the diamond jack, South won with his ace and played a heart to dummy’s eight. East took the trick with his queen and shifted to the club eight. When West dropped the queen under South’s ace, declarer unblocked dummy’s nine.

Declarer ran his heart jack. East won and led another club. South won with the king, breathed a sigh of relief when West discarded a spade, and unblocked dummy’s club seven. Declarer played a heart to dummy’s ace, overtook the club five with his six, and claimed an overtrick, dummy’s spade disappearing on a club.

At the other table, Silverstone (East) opened one spade in the third position. This might have backfired, but was a gamble that many experts would have taken. South doubled, Teltscher (West) raised to four spades, North doubled to show some values, and all passed.

The defenders took one trick in each suit for down one. It was the best they could do, given that it was impossible to reach four no-trump, the last making contract for North-South.

Plus 650 and minus 200 gained the President’s team 10 international match points on the board.

Bridge Books for Declarers and Duplicate Players

Among the popular bridge books reprinted this year are two updated classics: “The Secrets of Winning Bridge,” by Jeff Rubens (Bridge World Books), and “Treasury of Bidding Tips,” by Eddie Kantar (Master Point Press).

The Rubens book is particularly useful for duplicate players. And Kantar has added some tips to a book originally published in 2002.

From across the Atlantic come “Card Play Technique, or the Art of Being Lucky,” by Victor Mollo and Nico Gardener (Master Point Press); “Playing to Win at Bridge,” by Ron Klinger; “The Rabbi and the Weaker Sex,” by David Bird and Ron Klinger; and “Bridge for the Connoisseur,” by Hugh Kelsey (all Weidenfeld & Nicolson).

Mollo and Gardener’s work has been the textbook for declarer play and defense in Britain since it first appeared in 1955. Mollo died in 1987, Gardener in 1989. The editor Mark Horton has brought the auctions into the 21st century.

Klinger, an Australian expert player and teacher, discusses 90 deals, all in a question-and-answer format, that grow tougher from start to finish.

“The Rabbi,” originally published under the title “Kosher Bridge 2,” contains instructive deals mixed with humorous prose.

Kelsey, who died in 1995 and had lived in Scotland, discusses 58 interesting deals from tournaments that are on the advanced side. The diagramed deal is from “Bridge for the Connoisseur.” South drove into six diamonds and received a spade lead. What should declarer have done?

North used a game-invitational limit raise, preferring not to show his weak spade suit. South plunged into Blackwood and settled for the small slam.

The original South won with his spade ace, drew trumps ending in the dummy and played a heart to the queen, king and ace. West returned a heart, and the slam failed.

The heart finesse is a mirage, because if East has the heart ace, South will still need the club finesse to work to eliminate his spade loser. But if West has the club king, South has another chance.

He should have cashed the diamond ace at Trick 2, taken the club finesse, discarded the spade deuce on the club ace, played a spade to his king, returned to dummy with a trump and ruffed a spade. When they broke 3-3, South could have led a diamond to dummy and pitched a heart on the established spade eight. Declarer’s 12 tricks would have been three spades, seven diamonds and two clubs.

Finally, if spades had been 4-2, South could have still tried a heart to his king.

If you bid ’em up, you must play ’em up.

Married Couple Win Loeb Cup Tournament

The annual Arthur L. Loeb Cup Bridge Tournament raises money for the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This year’s event, which attracted 200 players, including most of the top New York area experts, was held at the Neighborhood House on Oct. 8.

The pair with the highest score was a married couple from Manhattan, Anna and Erik Caspersen. When asked for a deal, they said that the one in the diagram was the most memorable, although it was littered with errors.

Anna (North) opened one spade. East then made a highly debatable takeout double with only two low hearts. (She should have overcalled two clubs, if unwilling to pass.) Now Erik (South) was in a quandary. A two-heart response would have been nonforcing. And to redouble with such a pronounced two-suiter did not appeal. So he gambled with a jump to four hearts, thinking the heart finesse would be working and uncertain how his opponents would do in diamonds.

But when West promptly doubled, South ran to four no-trump, relieved that no one doubled. Strangely, West led the heart jack instead of a diamond. When South saw the dummy, he was confident that East had the missing honors outside hearts for her double.

At double-dummy (everyone knows where each card lies), declarer would have done best to win with the heart queen, cash the heart ace (discarding two diamonds from the dummy) and take the diamond finesse. East could not have stopped declarer from winning nine tricks to go down only one.

At the table, though, declarer discarded a spade from the dummy and won with his queen. Then he ran the diamond ten. East took the trick with her king. (Ducking would have been better on general principles, although at double-dummy it did not matter.) East then made the fatal shift to the club king.

West’s diamond discard was a surprise to South. But now he correctly surmised East’s distribution. Declarer won with dummy’s ace and ran the diamonds. East threw a spade and a heart, South pitched hearts, and West parted with spades.

Declarer played a spade to his ace, cashed the heart ace and led a club to dummy’s ten. East won with her queen and cashed the spade king, but, at Trick 12, had to lead from the nine-five of clubs into South’s jack-eight.

Four no-trump bid and made for a complete top.