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UNC Bridge Team won 2012 bridge national championship

Karen Copeland participates against UNC students at the Triangle Bridge Club in Durham.
Karen Copeland participates against UNC students at the Triangle Bridge Club in Durham.

The UNC Bridge Team, made up of four students, is coming off a second-place finish in the National Collegiate Bridge Championship in Las Vegas in July. This year, the team is hoping to win it all, including a $20,000 prize.

Sponsored by UNC physics professor Hugon Karwowski, the team started in 2011. They won the national championship the next year and have attended the national championship tournament every year since.

Bridge is a partnership game with a total of four people on one team. It is played using a standard deck of cards, with each player holding 13 cards.

Often, one game can take up to three hours.

“Bridge is a very challenging game. It has a lot of strategy — for example, you tell your partner what you have in your hand by what you do bid and what you don’t bid,” said Darleen Bates, director of the Triangle Bridge Club in Durham, where the team played Monday.

Junior Parker Xie said the team faced tough competition during this summer’s tournament.

“The trip to Las Vegas for last year’s championship lasted 12 to 13 days and was a lot of fun,” Xie said. “We ended up in second place and played against tens of hundreds of tables with some really good teams from UC-Berkeley and University of Chicago.”

“Bridge is a very intricate game full of probability and psychology. UNC has a pretty good base environment for learning bridge because we already have a pretty good team, and we have Dr. Karwowski actively supporting us,” Xie said.

In order to play in the 2015 national competition in Chicago, UNC’s bridge team must go through a qualifying round.

“More teams are allowed to participate in the qualifying rounds, but now only four teams will move on to the finals, which is less than last year’s eight teams,” Xie said.

The North American College Bridge Team Championship has also increased the prize money from $2,000 to $20,000 in the past year and provides other teams with travel expenses.

“Even though runner-up doesn’t get any scholarship money, we still get a free trip to Las Vegas with $250 for food and a general allowance,” said the team’s captain, sophomore Ben Kompa.

Kompa said the bridge team will open up to beginners this year in the hopes that they can teach more people about this game.

“I’ve been playing bridge for less than a year. I saw a flyer last October, and I knew the rules before, but I really started learning here on campus,” Kompa said.

No one on the team has played for more than five years, he said.

“I started playing bridge during undergrad in Singapore,” said Zheqi Zhang, a graduate student in statistics and operations research.

“Our club had at least 30 people, and I was told it’s pretty popular in America. However, it’s kind of disappointing that there are such few people.”

Now, the team has an unprecedented 22 interested new players ranging from students who have a general interest to those with more experience, Kompa said.

“This can be just a game, but there are also professional bridge players out there,” Bates said. “It’s their job to go to tournaments, and that could last a week.”

For those people who aren’t employed as professional bridge players, they can earn points that result in different levels of merit.

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“If you compare it to karate, a black belt is similar to being a life master, and there are levels that go beyond life master such as silver or gold life master,” Bates said.

Zhang humbly summed up the team’s accomplishments.

“My teammates are pretty good.”