Q&A: Burton Mandrell, competing in the 2012 North American Collegiate Bridge Team Championships

University of Tennessee students Burton Mandrell, Jenny Dabbs, Alex Happ, and Tim Michaels make up one of four teams qualified for the 2012 North American Collegiate Bridge Team Championships July 14 in Philadelphia.

Wait, isn't bridge just for old people?

Most people only know bridge as that game their grandparents play once a month, but bridge has an up-and-coming and active youth presence. The American Contract Bridge League pours a lot of support towards advocating youth tournaments and games. There are two divisions in the ACBL of youth (U19) and juniors (U25). Junior bridge is more well known and active.

When did you start playing?

When I was 16. Jenny learned to play with me when we were both in high school at Bearden, so we have been long time bridge partners. The UT team was started up in fall 2011 when Jeremy Fournier came back to UT to pursue his MBA and was interested in starting a college team. Jeremy was my soccer coach in high school, but he is also one of the best junior players in the country and has represented the U.S. in multiple international competitions. Tim lived next to me in the dorms my freshman year, and I found out he played bridge with Alex, which gave us the four we needed to play in a team setting.

How did you qualify for this championship?

We played online in the qualifiers for the collegiate tournament and the ACBL junior tournament, which is international. For the international qualifier we played Hong Kong, India, and Australia university teams. Unfortunately we did not do well enough to move up. The collegiate tournament mostly consisted of Ivy League schools such as Caltech, UPenn, and Yale. Most of the time, UT is never thrown in with those schools, but they were the main competition in the qualifying round. At nationals, we'll play against seven teams, including Harvard and Stanford.

Is it fun to play or more like, say, a math class?

I would say the best bridge players (like Jeremy) really approach bridge as a numbers game, but I think of it less a math class and more just as a game. You can apply more statistical reasoning in the game to help you win with some of the probabilities, but the most important skill is just counting to see where the cards are. I like to think of it as a more elementary school skill than collegiate statistics.

Do you play locally, too?

Yes, we play at the bridge club in Deane Hill Recreation Center, but because of scheduling conflicts, we mostly play online so that we can play whenever for as long as we want.

Are you going to play again next year?

Bridge is a type of game that you can pretty much play for the rest of your life, and there is always something else to improve your game and to learn. Every deal really is a unique play. We'll still have a team next year though a couple of our players graduated; junior players can contact me at bmandre1@utk.edu if they have an interest to play competitively.

What if someone is brand new?

The game has a serious learning curve, but Deane Hill usually has bridge learning sessions that start up once or twice a year. I would recommend checking out the Knoxville bridge website at discoveret.org/bridge to learn more.