Phyllis Allmacher, 77, remembers hard times Americans experienced in years past: the oil embargo and gasoline shortage of 1973; the double-digit inflation and interest rates of the late 1970s and early ’80s; and the Great Recession that began in 2008.

By comparison, the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has been even more difficult for Americans – at least socially, the Powell resident said.

During the earlier crises, she said, “You could still meet with your friends and go to restaurants. Now you can’t. ... You have to stay at home.”

Allmacher, who walks 4 miles every day for exercise, missed what would have been a significant socializing experience that had been scheduled March 19.

She would have been among an estimated 5,000 card players gathering at the Greater Columbus Convention Center for the spring North American Bridge Championships organized by the American Contract Bridge League.

Like countless other central Ohio events, the tourney was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s sad,” Allmacher said. “Columbus has never hosted a national tournament, and we’ve looked forward to it for a long time.”

The competitors would have included players from central Ohio bridge clubs, including Delaware Bridge, the Columbus Bridge Center, Bexley Bridge Club and Aloha Bridge Club, said Lori Pope, the league’s public-relations coordinator.

Another avid bridge player, Sheryl Langner of Dublin, said such annual national tournaments typically draw players from China, India, Italy, Poland and other overseas nations.

Because card games were a more popular activity in the past, many tournament participants are in their late 70s or 80s – a demographic particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, Langner said.

Pope said the league routinely holds national tournaments in the spring, summer and fall.

The canceled Columbus tournament is certain to involve a financial loss for the league, she said March 27, but the group’s office was closing because of the pandemic and not enough data was available to estimate that loss.

Langner said bridge is a demanding and fiercely competitive game – a main attraction for its devotees.

“It’s a game of intense concentration,” she said. “If you can’t concentrate, you’re never going to be a good bridge player. It’s serious, like chess.”

Allmacher said she has played bridge in 48 states and has more than 6,000 master points – awarded for success in competitive tournaments – putting her in the top 5% of U.S. players.

It is not a game for the weak of heart, she said.

“You have no friends at the bridge table. ... You have them after the game ends,” she said.

The most competent players, she said, started at a young age.

The game is so intricate, Allmacher said, that those who begin playing as adults “won’t get halfway” to the capability of highly proficient players.

“You never master it,” she said. “You always keep learning.”

In addition to the national tournaments, American Contract Bridge League members play many games at the local club level, Allmacher said.

Langner said the league plays what’s called contract bridge. Four players compete, each with a partner, using a standard 52-card deck. After the cards are dealt, a bidding process begins.

Those bidding say how many tricks – four cards played at a time – will be taken. The highest bid, called a contract, determines the succeeding play. The partner of the player with the winning contract lays his or her cards on the table face up, with other partner playing both hands.

The opposition’s goal, Langner said, is to prevent the other players from taking enough tricks to meet the contract.

Fulfilling the contract, she said, takes brain power.

“Every single card has significance. ... It’s not easy,” Langner said. “There are way too many possibilities. You need a plan and a backup plan.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Pope said, the league is making a move to online games.

“We’ll see if we can get up a group and treat it like a club game,” Langner said.

“We have put together a webpage listing all of the online learning opportunities for people who are sheltering in place, and we are working with BridgeBase Online, a bridge-gaming site, on providing players with more opportunities to play and earn ACBL master points,” Pope said. “These games also support their local club, so if a game costs $5 to play online, $4 goes to the member’s regular club to help support them during this time.”

For more information, including how to find a local bridge club, go to acbl.org.

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