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Player’s Fortune Is Marked by Cards

  by Cyndy Calverley

Fort Lauderdale News & Sun-Sentinel — June, 1974

To be a bridge aficionado, addiction is perhaps too strong a word.
In a game of strategy there’s constant change — a challenge.

Few people can rake in sizable fortunes at the card table. Fewer still can get rich there without a polished repertoire of poker, blackjack or baccarat.

Serious-minded Richard Pavlicek, a former sheet metal salesman, lacks the flamboyance of a Diamond Jim Brady, but he’s charmed Lady Luck enough to make his living from cards.

The name of his game is bridge, and at 28, Pavlicek is one of South Florida’s few bridge professionals who takes his cards from country clubs to convention halls, teaching and playing.

Bridge aficionados pay him fees up to $50 an hour to learn the fine points of the game (he doesn’t take beginners) and up to $400 a day to be his partner and rack up points at tournaments around the country. Currently, there are about 30 clients who pay for his play.

“People outside the bridge world have no idea how large it is,” says Mrs. Pavlicek, who met her husband over a bridge table and now plays the part of his agent. She accompanies her husband to tournaments that take them from their Fort Lauderdale home about two out of every three weekends. “People have him booked for a tournament from one year to the next, sometimes a year in advance,” she said.

The gleam in their eyes is for master points, the rating system for bridge players. These are awarded for winning or placing high in tournament events, based on the level of competition — sectional, regional or national.

The ultimate goal of many players is the rank of Life Master. Pavlicek achieved this in 1968, three years after he learned the game at an Army post in Stuttgart, West Germany.

“When I got to where I was known as a good player, I decided to try and make a living at it,” he said. Struggling for the first few years, his wife brought in most of the family’s income.

His reputation as the winner of at least 50 sectional, eight regional, and a national competition has since made bridge a lucrative career.

What kind of passion drives a bridge player to hop from table to table racking up points? The tournaments usually offer nothing more than a trophy and trivial prizes like 12 books of green stamps.

“It’s nothing to rave about,” Pavlicek agreed. “It’s mostly just the pride of winning.”

A wrong bid or misunderstanding stirs strong emotions in some players, who hop to their feet on the verge of a fistfight. “I’ve seen a case where a lady threw her pocketbook across the table at her husband,” Pavlicek recalled.

“Any bridge players who yell at their partners, calling them idiots in front of everybody, are not going to be around long,” said the professional, shaking his head.

The competition is grueling, with a tournament stretching over 10 days, two sessions a day, with as many as 2,000 tables in play at the same time.

In addition to teaching in the carpeted cardrooms of the Coral Ridge and Sailfish Yacht Clubs, and giving private lessons in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Pavlicek plays to enhance his own reputation at the three annual national tournaments.

Last year, Pavlicek and his partner, James Beery, won the Grand National Team Championship. Later they vied with three other teams in a playoff to determine who would represent the United States in international competition. They lost to a team who’ll be heading for Venice to play in the world championship.

“Building up a partnership where one player can understand another takes time before they can share a common language of bidding.” Pavlicek said.

He has developed his own system of bidding, mysteriously called the “Indigo Club,” which he has set down in a 59-page booklet.

“It’s much too complicated to teach in standard bridge lessons,” he said. Since his partner has moved to New Orleans, Pavlicek is on the lookout for a top-notch player who can learn the intricacies of his system.

“Sure I feel bad,” said Pavlicek, when the cards turn against him, “especially when a client only needs a few points for Life Master. But everyone knows the best players don’t necessarily win. I would say it’s 75 percent skill and 25 percent luck.”

[When this article was published, its perhaps ill-chosen title spurred a lot of kidding by my friends,
invariable to the tune of “Sure! Anyone could make a fortune playing with marked cards.” -RP]

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© 1974 Cyndy Calverley