By Eddie Kantar

Bridge tournaments come in many sizes, shapes, and locations, offering a variety of skill levels and prizes. One day you may find yourself ascending in the tournament world. But when you first begin to play bridge, you may want to attend the tournaments to meet other players and watch some of the best players in action. All the tournaments are ACBL affiliated, and anyone can play in most of them (although some events may require a minimum number of masterpoints to enter).

How can you find out when and where these tournaments are so you can do a little planning? Join the ACBL. Joining is your second good move. After you join the ACBL, you get the league’s monthly magazine (“It’s great — I write two articles each month,” he added modestly), which gives you all the details on tournaments, instructional material, and much, much more.

Getting started: Club tournaments

When you screw together your last ounce of courage and charge off to play in your first club tournament, there’s no turning back. You’ll soon be contacting the club, asking for the latest tournament information. Of course, you can also check the ACBL website for all sanctioned events.

Working up to the next level: Sectional tournaments

You may see many of the same people from your club tournaments when you enter a sectional tournament. Sectionals mostly draw their competitors from the immediate area. Card fees (the fees for entering the tournament) are a little higher at sectional tournaments because you’re playing in a larger venue and somebody has to pay the rent. The higher card fees may be worth your while if you’re trying to accrue masterpoints: You receive more masterpoints for placing in sectional tournaments than in club tournaments.

Sectional tournaments usually last three days: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Most tournaments offer events for everyone, including novices, and you can play as much or as little as you like.

Really testing your stuff: Regional tournaments

You’re moving up in the world when you enter a regional event. Regional tournaments usually take place in a classy hotel or a convention center (the extra space is necessary because of the larger number of participants). Regionals offer the players an opportunity to win a substantial number of gold and red points, awards that are necessary to achieve the rank of Life Master. Experts often come out of the woodwork from other states to play in regional tournaments. Masterpoints flow like champagne at these events.

Regional tournaments generally last one week, sometimes longer. Anyone can play, and often the tournaments offer special events for players with any number of masterpoints – from 0 to 80,000!

Playing in the big leagues: National Championship tournaments

The Nationals take place three times a year in the United States or Canada, and thousands of people descend from nowhere and everywhere to attend. If you get a chance to attend a National Championship, by all means do it.

National tournaments are 11 days of fun and/or hard work, depending which way you want to go. Although the Nationals do feature some big-time players doing what they do best, the tournaments also boast novice events every morning, afternoon, and evening.

If you don’t feel quite up to playing at that level, you can kibitz (that is, watch for free!) some of the best players in the world, not to mention celebrities such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two real bridge aficionados. International stars are now coming in droves to the National Championships and earning a living by playing on sponsored teams. Certain important national events decide qualification for the United States in both team and pair events in the next World Championship.

Nothing matches the feeling of winning a national tournament. True, you don’t play for money, but the glory and ego gratification can’t be discounted!

Going global: International tournaments

International tournaments are glamorous affairs, usually held in phenomenal locales such as on the French or Italian Riviera. The tournaments often take place in lush casinos, with large cash prizes going to the top finishers. The casino owners hope that after you win in the tournament you’ll want to play some of your prize money in the casino slot machines or at the baccarat tables.

International tournaments differ from the United States National Championships in several ways:

  • They often award cash prizes rather than masterpoints. You win only glory and masterpoints when you play in U.S. sanctioned tournaments.
  • You get to play in exotic locales such as Monaco (Monte Carlo) and France (Juan Les Pins, Paris, Deauville, and Biarritz).
  • These competitions are usually big-money tournaments where you play one session a day, approximately 3:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (The French like to sleep in and eat late dinners). In England, they play two sessions a day as tournaments do in the United States.
  • You have a better chance of meeting and playing against many international stars.