Catty-corner from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in the cavernous conference rooms of the Marriott in North Bethesda, 4,000 people of all ages are gathering this week to play a card game that, for some, borders on an addiction: bridge.

A regional tournament of the Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference began Monday and continues through Sunday, said Bryan Geer, one the tournament’s organizers. There are three games played each day, at 9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Geer said.

The tournament also features presentations by internationally-renowned players and booths selling books and bridge paraphernalia.

Elaine Conway, a Baltimore native who now lives in Silver Spring, learned bridge in 1971 on a military base in Colorado Springs, Colo., and now plays at least two games a day, five days a week.

Each two-on-two game lasts about three hours, Conway said. That’s 30 hours of bridge per week, at a minimum.

“It’s a constant learning experience,” said Conway, explaining the game’s allure.

Conway has a few steady partners and enjoys being matched against new competitors each game because the endless variety of personalities creates new challenges.

Playing bridge also makes socializing easier, Conway said. While her husband was in the service they moved constantly -- Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Kentucky and Europe -- and at each destination she had an instant social circle by playing “kitchen bridge” with other officers’ wives.

Conway and her tournament partner, Sue Floyd, who learned to play bridge while she was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are of an average age for bridge players.

The median age of Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference players is mid-60s, Geer said. But some players at the tournament are far younger.

Hakan Berk, 13, of Potomac, and David Soukup, 12, of Arlington, are playing six days of the tournament, 2 or 3 games per day.

The two met at a weekly metro-area bridge game sponsored by the American Contract Bridge League, David said.  

Hakan learned bridge from his father and David, after noticing the bridge column in the newspaper, taught himself to play.

Each time Hakan and David sit down to play a game, their opponents ask the same questions: How old are you? Where are you from? Who taught you to play?

              The two seem tired of these questions.

After all, Hakan has 40 master points and David has 110 of these points, which are awarded by bridge organizations around the world for winning in official tournaments. Master points accumulate over a lifetime and Hakan and David both have more points than many adults who are new to the game.

Prasad Karkhanis, 27, of Columbia, and his bridge partner Steven Cockerill, 31, of Washington, learned to play during their lunch breaks at Antenna Research Associates, Inc., in Beltsville, and are playing two days of the week-long tournament, Karkhanis said.

Karkhanis and Cockerill play bridge together on Thursday nights with a group of about 48 players, Karkhanis said. The pair’s twenty- and thirty-something friends give them a hard time about going off to play cards on a popular happy hour night.

“The older ladies keep telling us to bring our friends next week,” Karkhanis said.  

The Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference is hosting a one-day bridge class for beginners on Sunday, August 15, 2010. Anyone interested in taking part can contact Bryan Geer or Lois Geer through the Conference’s website, linked below.

For more information about the tournament, visit the Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference website:

Visit the American Contract Bridge League website: