Bridge tournament draws thousands

Kunal Vohra, 13, watches his partner as they play during the Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 at the North Charleston Convention Center. Paul Zoeller/Staff

They say it can be addicting. Whether they're 16 years old or 60, there's always something new to learn.

The Regional Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference returned to the Charleston Area Convention Center last week and brought with it roughly 1,500 players from across the country who shared a devotion to the popular card game. The week-long tournament came Sunday and was attended by beginners and world-class players alike.

Despite being packed with hundreds at a time, one of the center's ballrooms remained nearly silent as mostly gray-haired teams of two fixed their attention on each other and the cards before them.

The game has an outdated reputation for being played only by the elderly as a means of maintaining sharp minds years into retirement, one of the tournament's local organizers Steve Donaldson said.

"This isn't just your mother's game," he said.

Several of this year's participants were younger - some too young even to apply for a driver's license.

Kunal Vohra, 13, traveled to the Charleston tournament with friends and other community members from a small town outside of Atlanta. Don't let his youth fool you. Vohra has been playing for nearly seven years, he said, having decided early on to follow in the footsteps of his father and older brother who too took up the game.

"I was probably three or four years in before I started understanding it," Vohra joked.

The draw, he said, had mostly to do with his love of mathematics. Successfully playing a match requires strategy, technique and a keen understanding of probability and statistics, he said.

"If you like that sort of thing, then you should probably give it a try," he said.

The tournament's attendees were playing for points, not money. But that isn't to say a serious player can't make a killing in other ways.

Andrew Hurd, 33, of Charleston, graduated from college with a business degree before trying his hand at playing Bridge professionally. He earned enough to make a living, he said. The truly gifted can pull six figures a year.

Hurd eventually gave up the life of constant travel choosing instead to teach the game to others in Charleston.

"It's a lot more fun than sitting in a cubicle all day, that's for sure," Hurd said.

Hurd partnered with his father, retired Citadel professor Spencer Hurd, during this week's games.

The elder Hurd taught the game to his two sons during their teenage years. Both went on to play professionally.

"The hard part is getting (teens) to sit down long enough to even try," he said, "but once they do they often find something about it that they like. ... Bridge has quite a large following in Charleston. A lot of doctors and lawyers play this game. It has some mass appeal."

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