By JAMES HART - The
Kansas City Star
Date: 03/17/01 22:15
Don Stack looks more like a grandpa than a threat.
The 61-year-old chemist wears comfortable clothes, glasses and a genial smile so big it makes him squint.
He is the most dangerous bridge player in the city.
Not that Stack would call himself that. Not even his co-workers know what a card master the Overland Park man is. "It seems like bragging to me," he said.
But facts are facts: Nobody in town matches the 12,000 points that Stack has earned in games sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League. The league is having its 11-day spring national championships at the Westin Crown Center hotel and the Hyatt Regency Crown Center hotel. About 5,000 players from the United States and overseas are expected.
Games started in force Thursday.
At stake? No fabulous cash prizes. The players simply cherish meeting people who enjoy bridge as much as they do -- and then beating them.
The game itself is the reward, local players say.
Multiple sclerosis keeps Susan Winkfield from almost everything she did for fun. No more bowling or reading because she cannot lift the ball, cannot hold the book. Six days a week, though, she plays bridge at a club in Overland Park.
Her cards rest in a holder, she sits in a wheelchair and another person turns over cards at her direction.
Winkfield once competed in the big tournaments. That is harder now, but she intends to play at least one day at the Kansas City championships.
"It keeps the mind working, and it's an activity that I can do," she said.
Bridge helped Annie Yuratovich find her true love -- who was living on a different continent.
Yuratovich was living in Australia when she met her husband, John, by playing bridge over the Internet in 1998. He lived in Missouri.
Their styles clicked, and soon they were e-mailing, calling and visiting each other. Once, John traveled from Kansas City to Sydney for a monthlong vacation and stayed seven months.
Trans-Pacific flights lost their appeal, though. They got married in August 1999 and reside in Lee's Summit. Bridge games and trips to the national championships are still one of their favorite activities, Yuratovich says.
"We have moments when we play brilliantly and moments when we should go and play croquet," she said.
She calls herself and her husband "baby bridge players," not like the player elites jockeying around the computer printouts taped to the wall, scanning for scores and competition.
In a hotel lobby, these bridge gods chat about strategy, the newsletter, other players they know. Ask them who Don Stack is, and more than a few can point him out in the crowd.
The American Contract Bridge League has almost 170,000 members. Among them, about 250 have scored more than 10,000 points. Stack is one of them.
Stack wants a No. 1 finish in a national contest. If he gets that, he claims the highest ranking available from the bridge league -- Grand Life Master. (He already has scored more than 10,000 points, the other qualification.)
His best performance nationally has been a third place. So Stack sharpens his skills against top players at big tournaments. He pores over bridge books and magazines. Twice a week, he practices with a crew of card partners that includes his ex-wife.
Stack smiles a pleasant smile. He is hopeful about the next few days. He might grab hold of something he has chased since 1963, the year a co-worker hooked him on the game. They challenged two other guys from their lab and won.
Stack stuck with it. He earned 300 points and became a Life Master. He has played his way up the chain, making friends and aiming for accomplishment at the same time.
"It's always kind of been at the back of my mind that I would like to be a national champion," he said.
"And if I don't,"
he adds, "it's no big deal."
To reach James Hart,
call (816) 234-4902 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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