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— Here's the setup... I played duplicate bridge in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1966. Games were played in the Tiki Cove, otherwise known as the basement of the Mecca Bar.

There were 20 to 30 regulars seething, drinking, lashing out at their partners. Picture a roomful of smart, middle-aged neurotics sitting around card tables, swilling booze, egos steadily inflating until they reached the size of a male peacock in rutting season. And then there was me and my partner, Todd Mehner, jellybean youths. I was there on the strength of Todd's enthusiasm; he was a killer bridge player and needed his fix. I played for a season, picked up 2.5 masterpoints, and went on to other things.

Forty-one years later, Todd and I are standing in the Yerba Buena Ballroom underneath the San Francisco Marriott. There are 14,000-plus bridge players here to compete in the North American Bridge Championships. We've been talking to a pair from San Diego County.

I should stop and say something about duplicate bridge. Ignoring exceptions, complications, and details, players sit at table with a bridge board in front of them. Players bid as per usual, but when playing a hand, players place their cards on the table directly in front of them. After the hand is played, every hand is returned to its bridge board. One pair of players is North-South, the other pair is East-West. Over the course of the session, pairs will move, but the bridge boards remain at the same table. In this way, the same hands are played by each North-South and East-West team, score is kept, best score wins. The idea is to reward skill and eliminate chance.

Meet Judy Last-Name-I-Can't-Spell from Santee and her partner, Marty Last-Name-Withheld, from La Mesa. Judy is 50, maybe a little older, wears a yellow sweater and brown slacks. Marty, a little younger, is wearing an orange bowling shirt, black slacks, and brown shoes.

They both play out of "Adventures in Bridge, down in San Diego off Mission Gorge. It's a huge group," Marty says.

I want to know how the game has changed. I say, "Back in the Tiki Cove, the first question asked of another player was, 'What convention do you play?' What's the first question now?"

Judy says, "'What do you play?'"

Marty adds, "Standard American with some toys, depending on who I'm playing with."

Standard American was the default back in the day. "The second question was, 'How many masterpoints do you have?'"

Marty: "I have 250ish."

Eight presidents, three wars, 13 foreign interventions later, and bridge conventions remain the same, as does lust for masterpoints. Reader, you mock out of ignorance. People have died for less. But, the real point, the only point that needs be dealt with, is, where in the hell are my masterpoints?

I must retrieve my 2.5 masterpoints fairly earned in the Tiki Cove. I'm discussing this with Jon Brewer of Chula Vista. He tells me, "If you're not a Life Master, your points get purged."

"WHAT!"

"You can reinstate yourself. You can get them out of hock by paying all of your past dues."

That's better. "How much are dues?"

"Thirty-five dollars each year."

I calculate $1400. "Seems reasonable."

The next morning I telephone American Contract Bridge League headquarters in Memphis and, after being passed on just once, hear, "Yes, sir, this is Cindy. I understand you have a question about points."

"Yes, points earned in 1966. I want them."

"Well, sir, unless you were a member at that time..."

"I was."

"Your points would be in your total," Cindy says, "but we would not have a record of those particular points."

I explain that my total points would equal my Fairbanks points. Cindy says, "We might could find your total from back then. It would be by name and address. Is there a phone number where I can call you back in a few minutes?"

I give her my stats. Hang up and forget.

Fifteen minutes pass, the telephone rings. It's Cindy. She's out of breath. "Sorry for the delay. I kept getting people's voice mail," Cindy says. "I didn't find it. If I had and you wanted to rejoin, we would add those old points to your new records for a one-year renewal fee of $35."

A much, much better number than $1400. We chit. We chat. "Have you been there a long time?"

"Twenty-five years."

"Must be a good job." Are these people always this friendly? I can't remember the last time an organization treated me this well. "Tell me about the strangest call you've had."

"Well," Cindy says, "we did get a letter from a lady asking if she could come live with us. She didn't have anywhere to go. It was really sad."

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