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The National Collegiate Bridge Tournament (NCBT) qualifying rounds folded up last weekend with a disappointment for the Harvard Bridge Club (HBC), which came in second place after losing on a technicality.
But after the judges awarded them a prize despite their loss, the heartbreaking events of last weekend may be water under the bridge.
The road south to the bridge tournament began freshman year when Uchenna N. Aguoji ’05 and Vijay A. Bal ’05 first met. The two did not realize it at the time, but they would become a pair of bridge captains, founding the club in their sophomore year.
The club now boasts an e-mail list of more than 100 people, and attendance at their weekly meetings frequently trumps around 12 players, according to Bal. In just its first year, the club sent four players to the national competition, grabbing second place and a free trip to Long Beach, California.
This year, the HBC successfully ushered in a new suit of strong players with Bal return to this year’s tournament, flanked by Aguoji, Michael F. Gensheimer ’05 and Andrew C. Campbell ’06.
The tournament offers an opportunity to perform before thousands of bridge fans, according to American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) spokesperson Robin A. Monsky. Participants also benefit from having their playing style assessed by experts at the tournament.
The competition pits 18 teams—six in each of three geographic regions—against one another for six spots in New York. Harvard faced off against MIT, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale and the University of Toronto.
As part of the growing trend for online Bridge games throughout the world, the ACBL now gives colleges the ability to compete for positions in the national competition online, making the game more accessible for the largely unfinanced teams.
This approach has seen a rise in the number of participating colleges over the past three years and the national body expects another increase for next year’s competition.
Coming into the final round the HCB team looked out of contention. Harvard needed a perfect win against Princeton in the final match, as well as a favorable result in the Toronto-Dartmouth game.
Somehow, Harvard pulled off the near-impossible. In their match against Princeton the HCB team managed to come away with all 20 points—known as a “blitz”—placing themselves in the best possible position.
Toronto and Dartmouth both walked away from their match with 56 points—not enough to trump Harvard’s 57, placing HCB behind MIT (64). They were headed for New York—and victory.
But the team postponed its celebrations when Dartmouth called for a review of a hand.
According to Monsky, the computer system running the competition had suffered a timing glitch when recording the disputed game. It appeared that the mainframe had not registered the correct points for the hand, so the two teams traded a point: Dartmouth 57, Harvard 56.
When Chief Tournament Director Richard Beye and his officials reconsidered the hand, they were forced to alter the standings from the previous day.
“Software glitches are rare in real life,” Beye said. He added that the problem related to a mistake in the settings rather than in the programming code.
Suddenly, it seemed the Harvard team was due to walk away empty handed.
After confirming that no foul play was involved, the ACBL decided to compromise, according to Beye.
“We didn’t want them to leave with a bitter taste,” said Monsky. “It’s hard for college kids to deal with that sort of disappointment.”
So the tournament administrators decided to send the Harvard competitors to New York after all, offering them an opportunity to participate in either of two events—the Junior Scholarship Pairs or the World Junior Individual events—at the North American Bridge Championships in July. Like the NCBT, both events offer the chance for prize money.
“We thought it was a fair compromise,” said Beye. He added that the new decision should hopefully “put some balm on the disappointment.”
But according to Monsky, the decision was also supposed to reward the good-natured response by the Harvard team.
“It is a recognition that they handled it the way we like to see people behave,” she said.
The Harvard team members have not informed the ACBL of their choice. In either category (pairs or individual), the team will be forced to split up and compete against one another.
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