Jack Feagin chairs the host committee for the North American Bridge Championship in Atlanta this month.
Jack Feagin chairs the host committee for the North American Bridge Championship in Atlanta this month.

When he was young, Jack Feagin had no use for bridge. It was the card game his parents played. Back then, in the 1960s, he thought the game “ridiculous.”

But after he went off to college, things changed. One night, when he thinks he probably should have been studying for exams, somebody got up a bridge game in his dorm and convinced Feagin to play a few hands. He suddenly realized he needed to know how to play this game.

“It became an obsession,” the Sandy Springs lawyer said. “You can get addicted to bridge. Each hand is different. It’s so challenging. Then there’s the competition of it. You meet lots of interesting people…”

He wasn’t the only one who got hooked on bridge. When Patty Tucker was growing up a few years later, she had quite a different feeling about the card game she watched her parents play with their friends. She thought it looked cool.

“I’d hear them talking about hands at breakfast the next morning… how they should have played differently, how the opening lead changed the hand,” she said. “It just seemed so complex, with so many parts to it, so many intricacies.”

She took to the game early, when she was just 11. “I’ve played bridge ever since. I love it,” said Tucker, who now lives in Dunwoody. “Everyone should play bridge.”

During the first 11 days of this month, there were parts of metro Atlanta where it may have seemed everyone does play bridge, or at least wants to. Thousands of players from around the world planned to gather at a downtown hotel during the period from Aug. 1 through 11 for the North American Bridge Championship, one of the top competitions in the bridge world.

Feagin and Tucker, now rated as life masters of the complicated card game, were in the thick of things during planning for the international gathering.

Patty Tucker

Feagin chaired the local host committee for the event, the fourth time he has headed the committee for the national competition, which comes to Atlanta about once a decade. Tucker ran a portion of the tournament for players aged 19 and younger, the Youth North American Bridge Championship. She also taught a course in how to learn bridge in a day.

Both, of course, planned to play in the tournament. “I like the game too much [not to play],” Feagin said recently during a chat over coffee at a Sandy Springs restaurant.

Tucker, too. Now she teaches others the card game she learned to love as a child. She wants to see bridge survive the sea changes in how people spend their leisure time.

“Think about how our culture has changed in the last 30 years,” she said. “It used to be, when bridge was in its heyday, you didn’t have hundreds of stations on TV. There was, I think, a lot more social interaction by having people over to your house.”

After all, when visitors came, hosts had to find some way to entertain them. Bridge offered a natural answer. “There’s only so much time you can spend talking,” Tucker said. “It’s good to have a buffer, like a bridge game.”

Decades after Feagin and Tucker watched their parents socialize over bridge tables, the game stilll plays a big part in their lives. They play often. Both married people they met playing bridge.

“Seeing people playing bridge tells you a lot about them. It’s the same as tennis. [It shows] the way they handle themselves …,” Tucker said. “Bridge is going to make you look stupid. If you’re a smart person, you don’t want to be laughed at. The way you handle that says a lot about you.”

In fact, she says she and her husband worried that getting married might break up a perfectly good bridge partnership. “I think that’s why we waited so long to get married,” she said one recent morning at a Dunwoody coffee shop. “We had a good bridge partnership.”

Still do. Like Jack Feagin and his wife, they’re still partners playing bridge.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.