Thursday, July 9, 2020
From a Japanese Spa to Sun Valley Bridge
Dave Gwinn, Bill Cassell, Karen Pederson and Patty Nelson are regular players at Sun Valley Bridge.
Saturday, January 4, 2020

A few weeks ago, Hailey’s Gary Kuchcinski was at a spa on an island off the coast of Japan. But he wasn’t there for relaxation. He was on an assignment as a consulting engineering at a coal gasification plant with carbon dioxide capture, considered the most efficient and clean way to turn coal into energy. The spa had the only hotel rooms available.

Before that he was spending an estimated 60 hours at a less glamorous task -- studying the 93 laws of duplicate bridge before taking the test to become a certified director at Sun Valley Bridge at the Wood River YMCA.

The  group offers games for newer bridge players, as well as long-time players who are new to duplicate-style games. Almost 400 people participate in the bridge games at the YMCA each year.

Duplicate bridge differs from other forms of the card game. The same deal (the arrangement of a deck of 52 cards into four hands) is played at each table. Scoring is based on how each partnership does relative to other partnerships with the same cards. Duplicate heightens the element of skill while reducing the element of luck.

Gary Kuchcinski and Jim Churchill prepare to set up a duplicate bridge game, which requires a computer scoring system.

People who win duplicate games earn “masterpoints,” which are essentially much-prized bragging rights. Masterpoints can only be awarded only when a director certified by the American Contract Bridge League is present to run the game.

So why would a chemical engineer spend an estimated 60 hours preparing for three-hour test to become a certified bridge director?

“Bridge is a major social outlet for me and my wife,” Kuchcinski said. “We enjoy playing a competitive game in a pleasant social atmosphere. My primary reason for becoming a director is service. If you have a skill and you can give back to group, you get to know more people If other people do the same thing, the world becomes a better place.”

Kuchcinski has followed that philosophy in a variety of activities. When he lived in Houston, he was the volunteer president of a ski club and also president of a local crime watch organization. After retiring from full-time work as a chemical engineer, he also was a scuba diving instructor in Aruba. He and his wife, Susan Larson, worked together several summers as tour bus drivers in Glacier National Park.

Sylvia and Nick Miller wait for their opponents to arrive.

Like many people, Kuchcinski started playing bridge in college or shortly thereafter.  He took a 40-year break until 2015 when he and Larson decided they would like an activity they could enjoy together.

A fellow director at Sun Valley Bridge at the YMCA, Jim Churchill, previously taught everything from fourth grade to high school math in the Seattle area.

Churchill also played bridge occasionally in his younger years. “It wasn’t until I retired and moved here nine years ago that I got serious about it,” he said. “I needed something to occupy my time in retirement, and I took a class from Chuck Abramo and Jo Murray to learn modern bidding. I like the competitive aspect of duplicate bridge.”

Churchill said he was so flattered when Chuck asked if he would become a director that he never considered saying no.

“After getting over my nervousness, I realized it would be a lot like teaching-- resolving disputes and trying to explain some of the common infractions, such as when someone plays a card when it’s not their turn. I like being able to look back on a game and being able to say that it went smoothly and everyone had a good time. It’s a great mental exercise in a  fun social setting. When you play duplicate bridge, you can be as competitive as you want, and it’s a constant learning situation.”

Sun Valley Bridge at the YMCA formed a partnership with the Y last September as part of the Y’s efforts to strengthen its programs for active, older adults.

“Sun Valley Bridge at the YMCA prides itself on offering a fun, friendly game,” Abramo, the club manager, said. “Our goal is to create a sense of community, and Gary and Jim are instrumental in helping us achieve that. We expect Gary’s wife, Susan, to join the ranks of directors soon.

“We have regular potlucks, and many players have dinner together at a local restaurant after each Wednesday game,” Abramo added. “We practice ‘zero tolerance,’ which is a bridge term for saying that players must be nice to each other at all times. Bad behavior is not allowed.”

Sun Valley Bridge at the YMCA duplicate bridge games are sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League, and masterpoints are awarded. Reservations are required, and partners are usually available.

Private and online bridge lessons are available year-round, and group lessons will resume soon. Sun Valley Bridge at the YMCA has two teachers certified by the American Contract Bridge League, Abramo and Jo Murray. Abramo also holds the rank of life master, and Murray is a silver life master.  Both are also directors.

Additional information is on the web at or at (208) 720-1501.

What Sort of Rules Do Directors Learn?

One rule is that it’s illegal for a player to make a bid without looking at his cards. Just why would anyone do that?

Well, there was at least one occasion—not in Sun Valley--when a player got mad at his partner and tried to spite him by making an impossible bid without ever looking at the cards.



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