The Times West Virginian

My Hobby

March 20, 2013

Quite the master

Dora Grubb likes mental exercise she finds in bridge

FAIRMONT — Everybody knows Dora Grubb as the master of Marion County history.

But you may not know that she has this competitive side, and is really quite the master.

She is a master at duplicate bridge.

Duplicate bridge is the most widely used variation of contract bridge in club and tournament play. It is called duplicate because the same bridge deal (the specific arrangement of the 52 cards into the four hands) is played at each table and scoring is based on relative performance.

In this way, every hand, whether strong or weak, is played in competition with others playing the identical cards, and the element of skill is heightened while that of chance is reduced. Duplicate bridge stands in contrast to rubber bridge, in which each hand is freshly dealt and scores may be more affected by chance in the short run.

That’s what she likes about the game. It’s all up to you. No chance. Just your skill.

She’s been playing cards since she can remember.

“That’s how I was brought brought up,” she said. Pinochle, hearts, spades, two or three times a week, her family would cut the cards.

“That’s what my family did.”

And when they were short a fourth in bridge, “They’d drag me in,” she said.

When she got to Fairmont State, she heard there were bridge teams. “How hard could it be?” she wondered.

For her, it was a natural.

“I played so much, my dad used to joke I was majoring in bridge,” she said.

Her favorite form of bridge is duplicate bridge, called that because all players play the same cards at the same time.

“You score against everybody else in the room, not just with the cards,” she said.

She’s one of few master bridge players in the state.

She likes the mental exercise she finds in bridge.

One professor said bridge “gives you talents you didn’t think you had.”

“It keeps your mind alert,” she said. “Some people are still playing bridge into their 90s.”

She’d go to the house of one neighbor, into her 80s, and play bridge until late at night.

She likes the camaraderie she finds in bridge.

“When I play on BBO (Bridge Base Online), there are up to 14,000 pairs at one time.”

She can play against friends from all over the country and the world.

She likes the thrill of winning at tournaments in the U.S., Canada and even Ireland.

Her team tied for third and fourth in Ireland.

At tournaments, she can play against the top players in the world.

She likes the precision in bridge.

“With golf, for example, there’s just one way to play.”

But you can play contract bridge, rubber bridge, duplicate bridge, Chicago or Four-Deal bridge, Honeymoon bridge and minibridge.

She likes the competition.

“You do your best against other players. You don’t have to play outside your rank.”

You never know who will be at your table at one of these tournaments.

She likes the tournaments.

“Some can last for days, sometimes more than a week,” she said. “And they involve thousands of players. The national tournament had more than 10,000 players.”

Duplicate is a form of bridge in which there’s no luck. Only your skill at bidding and play counts. There’s no luck in duplicate because everyone plays the same cards.

You score points by bidding and making contracts or setting your opponents, but the whole point in duplicate is to score more points than your competition on each hand.

These kinds of hands are the heart of duplicate: Every hand, no matter how weak or strong, is an equal contest. There’s never a “dull hand” in duplicate.

Competitive bridge is a social game. The more people in a game or tournament, the better it is. At national tournaments there may be 25,000 tables of bridge played over a 12-day period. At a small club or private game, there will be two or three tables of play.

The bigger the game, the more players you can beat and the more points you can earn toward becoming a Life Master. The measure of skill in duplicate is the number of Master Points you accumulate. The only way to get them is to earn them in organized competitive play at clubs or tournaments.

Grubb holds platinum Master Points, awarded in national-rated events with no upper Master Point limit. These points are given out by the American Contract Bridge League at clubs and tournaments, and are earned in sanctioned play against worthwhile opponents.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at

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