In­trigu­ing, chal­leng­ing, ‘good for the brain’

Bridge tour­na­ment in­tended to ad­dict more play­ers to game

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PROFILES - BECCA MARTIN-BROWN Becca Martin-Brown can be reached by email at

Bob Gro­matka is a very en­thu­si­as­tic man. He is de­ter­mined that “if you build it, they will come” — or in this case, if he can in­tro­duce po­ten­tial play­ers to bridge, he can keep them com­ing back.

That’s why the Au­gust Bella Vista Arkansas NLM Re­gional and Sec­tional Bridge Tour­na­ment has op­por­tu­nity writ­ten all over it for Gro­matka. It’s not just a chance for mas­ter-level play­ers to com­pete, it’s a chance for newer, younger, less ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers to dive into the deep end — with a prom­ise there will be plenty of peo­ple will­ing to help them swim.

“I know there are a lot of ‘so­cial bridge’ play­ers out there,” Gro­matka says. “And I want to get them into tour­na­ment play.”


Bridge is played with four peo­ple sit­ting at a card ta­ble us­ing a stan­dard deck of 52 cards (with no jok­ers), ex­plains the Amer­i­can Con­tract Bridge League web­site. The play­ers across from each other form part­ner­ships as North-South and East-West. Each player gets 13 cards, and bid­ding be­gins.

“Bid­ding is the lan­guage of bridge,” the ACBL web­site con­tin­ues. “Its pur­pose is to re­lay in­for­ma­tion about the strengths and weak­nesses of each player’s hand to his part­ner.”

That, says Sharon Jud­son of Bella Vista, is when an ob­server can tell whether this is a game of “kitchen bridge” — also called “so­cial bridge” or “party bridge.” If it is, in be­tween bids, she ex­plains, play­ers are chat­ting about the grand­kids or shar­ing the recipe for one of the af­ter­noon’s fin­ger foods.

“Du­pli­cate, which is what [the Bella Vista Du­pli­cate Bridge Club] is, means se­ri­ous bridge play­ers,” says Jud­son. “When you’re play­ing in a tour­na­ment, you might sit down and in­tro­duce your­self and where you’re from, and that’s about it. Then it’s se­ri­ous. It would look like a se­ri­ous chess match to an out­sider — but if you were a bridge player, it would in­trigue you. I played kitchen bridge for a long time, then in

2003, when I re­tired, a lady took me un­der her wing and in­tro­duced me to du­pli­cate bridge, and I loved it.”

In du­pli­cate bridge, a hand — a “board” — is dealt and played, and then that same hand moves on to be played at an­other ta­ble. And the East-West play­ers also move, while the North­South play­ers stay put.

So, says Jud­son, she’s com­pet­ing not just against the play­ers at her ta­ble but “against all the North-South peo­ple in the room.”


In a tiny sam­pling of Bella Vista Du­pli­cate Bridge Club mem­bers, it ap­pears that play­ers come from all walks of life and all back­grounds. Andy Fritsch, who drives down from Jo­plin, Mo., to play with the group at Rior­dan Hall, is a re­tired physi­cian.

“I tell ev­ery­body, in my re­cre­ation I’m a type A per­son­al­ity, and the rest of the time, I’m a type B,” he says. “[Bridge is] ad­dict­ing, and you can never get per­fect. You only get bet­ter, and the way to play bet­ter is to play with peo­ple who are bet­ter than you are.”

That’s what brought Fritsch to Arkansas when the card group in Jo­plin ceased to ex­ist.

“If we wanted to play du­pli­cate, we had to go out of town,” he ex­plains, and the clos­est games were Pitts­burg, Kan., and Bella Vista, where he was “im­pressed with how nice the peo­ple were, very wel­com­ing, and the qual­ity of bridge is good. We’re friendly, and we talk to each other, but when it’s time to play the cards, we’re se­ri­ous.

“It’s the com­pe­ti­tion,” he says when asked why he plays. “That’s why we en­joy Bella Vista bet­ter than Pitts­burg: The com­pe­ti­tion is bet­ter.”

Jud­son, who moved to Bella Vista from Okoboji, Iowa, two years ago, played bridge with her par­ents.

“I lived on a farm, and the win­ters were quite bru­tal in Iowa,” she re­mem­bers. “They needed four peo­ple to play bridge, and I had one older brother. I started play­ing bridge when I was 14 — and be­lieve me, it was ba­sic bridge.”

But as Jud­son moved around as an adult, she dis­cov­ered play­ing bridge was a great way to meet peo­ple. “You be­come very good friends,” she says of her card-play­ing co­horts. “And at age 72, it’s good for my brain. It’s in­trigu­ing, chal­leng­ing — you can’t wait to see what that next hand is go­ing to bring you!”

Jo Bain, who re­tired to Bella Vista in 1984 “all the way from Prairie Grove,” says bridge be­came more im­por­tant to her when her hus­band died five years ago. She too started as a teenager sit­ting in on her mother’s bridge groups and played off and on through­out her life, “but now I go at least twice and usu­ally three times a week, twice in Bella Vista and once at the Well­ness Cen­ter in Rogers. It is re­ally a re­mark­able game.”


Bain ad­mits that her hus­band — “a great player” — “was not fond of du­pli­cate bridge be­cause he thought peo­ple took it too se­ri­ously.” And even Gro­matka ad­mits that the game wasn’t al­ways known as wel­com­ing.

“If we’re go­ing to build the game of bridge, we have to be friendly,” he says adamantly. “And we prom­ise new play­ers their ex­pe­ri­ence will be pleas­ant.”

The tour­na­ment, set for Aug. 4-6 at Rior­dan Hall, will in­clude a hos­pi­tal­ity ta­ble, a ta­ble where those who need part­ners can find them, a new play­ers’ ta­ble and even a half-hour ori­en­ta­tion be­fore play starts. “We in­tend to treat them right when they come in,” he says. And come they will, from a multi-state re­gion that in­cludes Mis­souri, Kansas, Texas, Ok­la­homa and Arkansas.

“We are not just a lo­cal tour­na­ment. We might as well be called the North­west Arkansas or Ben­tonville-Rogers Bridge Tour­na­ment since we draw many of our play­ers from the metro area,” Gro­matka says. “Last year, we set a record with 209 ta­bles, and we’re hop­ing to beat that this year.”

“Bridge got a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a game mainly for se­nior ci­ti­zens,” he adds, “and right now, the tar­get group we’re fo­cus­ing on are

[Baby] Boomers, 50-plus. But­big it ex­tracur­ric­u­lar­gives into push re­cent­lyy­oungthe made schools peo­ple there’sto ac­tiv­ity. in­tro­duceas some­beenan It a life other lessons peo­ple, — shar­ing work­ing in­for­ma­tion, with solv­ing prob­lems.

“The main ob­sta­cle is there’s no in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion at bridge,” Gro­matka con­tin­ues. “You can’t just sit down and be good at it. You have to keep at it and take your hard knocks and pick your­self up and try again. Over time, you’ll de­velop the skills to be a good player — but it doesn’t hap­pen overnight.”

“I think maybe it’s like any­thing else you do as a group,” says player Eric Olsen of Bella Vista about the lure of the game. “You form re­la­tion­ships. I think of our bridge group al­most like a sec­ond fam­ily. And I like learn­ing new things.

There’s so many de­tails you can learn in bridge. It’s in­ter­est­ing, it’s chal­leng­ing, and you’re al­ways try­ing to do bet­ter than you did last time.”

Cour­tesy Bob Gro­matka

The Bella Vista Arkansas NLM Re­gional and Sec­tional Bridge Tour­na­ment had 209 ta­bles in play in 2016 — which set a record. The pre­vi­ous record was 204.5 in 2012.

Cour­tesy Bob Gro­matka

In “so­cial bridge” or “party bridge,” play­ers might be chat­ting be­tween bids about the grand­kids. Du­pli­cate bridge is much more se­ri­ous.

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