Redding, Wilton men to compete in bridge championship

Redding resident Gary Miyashiro will compete in the Summer North American Bridge Championship in Toronto.

Redding resident Gary Miyashiro will compete in the Summer North American Bridge Championship in Toronto.

Wilton resident Michael Hess will compete in the Summer North American Bridge Championship in Toronto.

Wilton resident Michael Hess will compete in the Summer North American Bridge Championship in Toronto.

With a vocabulary of its own, bridge can seem like a foreign language to the amateur. But people like Michael Hess and Gary Miyashiro can turn 13 playing cards into a statement of victory.

Hess, a Wilton resident who is a gold life master of the game, will get a chance to match wits with the best of the best when he and his partner, Gary Miyashiro, a silver life master from West Redding, compete in the Summer North American Bridge Championship July 19 in Toronto.

Hess and Miyashiro will compete in a team of four that also includes Barry Bragin of Prospect and Weiling Zhao of Brookfield. They  will represent District 25 — the New England Bridge Conference — of the American Contract Bridge League.

For Hess and Miyashiro, this won’t be their first trip to the championships. They played together in the summer of 1981, where one of their competitors was U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

“We did OK,” Hess said during an interview at the Wilton Senior Center last week. Stevens wasn’t the only celebrity at that event. “A few seats away was Omar Sharif,” Hess said, adding they did not get to play against the actor.

To get to Toronto, Hess’s team won a two-day regional tournament in April in Sturbridge, Mass. An analysis of the 28 hands they played in the finals round may be found at nebridge.org/pages/287/.

Hess has been playing the game for more than 40 years. A pinochle and poker player while at Loyola University, he picked up bridge while studying for a master’s degree in psychology at Columbia University.

“I glommed onto it right away,” he said.

Hess met Miyashiro when they were both students at Wharton where Hess was studying for an MBA.

In 1977 they won their first ACBL masterpoints in a non-masters pairs competition in Cherry Hill, N.J.

As with many avocations, life took over and Hess worked to balance family, work and bridge throughout his career in advertising. While living in the Chicago area, he played regularly on the commuter train.

When he semi-retired in 2015, there was more time for bridge, so he and Miyashiro began playing again. They play with the Newtown League, where Miyashiro is a member.

Miyashiro, 65, has lived in Redding for 35 years. He’s retired from his job as manager of financial planning at Pitney Bowes.  

Over the past few decades, Miyashiro played bridge on and off, while taking time out to have a family. He and his wife, Rose Tamura, have two grown sons.

He now plays bridge as a hobby about five times a week, and competes in national tournaments across the United States.

Miyashiro said that he’s looking forward to the competition, but is trying to remain calm about it.

He will be going to Toronto with his whole family. Aside from sightseeing, his sons will be competing in a tournament in Toronto at the same time as their father — in a game called Magic.

Miyashiro said he enjoys bridge because it’s mentally challenging.

“It’s a combination of chess and poker. It  involves a lot of strategy. You have to be able to think ahead, read your opponents and understand strategy,” he said.

Part of the fun of the game for Miyashiro is the suspense surrounding it.

“I have always believed that every hand is an adventure because every hand is different,” he said.

However, he pointed out that bridge differs from both chess and poker in that, while the other two games are individual, bridge is a partnership.

“You not only have to be able to play well yourself, you have to be able to communicate and play well with your partner,” he said. “It’s a great social game.”

When Hess and his teammates begin to play in Toronto next week, they will be one of 32 teams to start. That number will be reduced to 16, then eight, then four — with the two final teams playing Sunday, July 23.

To reduce the luck factor with the draw of the cards, each team will play the same hands. The cards are pre-dealt and kept in a device called a board, with a slot for each seat. After a hand has been played, all four players put their cards back into the board, ready to be played by the next team.

What makes Hess and Miyashiro a good team?

“We’re both analytical, we both love the game, and we both care about all the aspects of the game from bidding to play,” Hess said.

“Some players don’t care for defense, but Gary and I both really like defense,” he added, which is important since it is half the game.

“What’s really important is we go easy on each other’s mistakes,” he added. “It’s a tough game, you inevitably make mistakes.”

After each game in Newtown, they spend half an hour or so analyzing their play.

“We take responsibility for our errors. We’re both even keel,” he said.

That last quality is evident from one of the comments on the District 25 analysis of their play in Sturbridge which read, “Gary and Mike don’t jostle easily.”

One of the advantages of playing so long, Hess said, is there are a lot of card combinations he and Miyashiro may have seen before. But he is realistic about their chances in Toronto, noting all the other players are also at the top of their games.

“Once you reach the Major Leagues, everyone can play baseball,” he said, and their basic strategy is to play well.

The grand prize is not money but masterpoints. Hess received 36 gold points for winning the regional tournament to add to his total of more than 2,500. To become a sapphire life master he needs 3,500 points.

For Hess, the prize is “recognition in the bridge community and satisfaction.” The lack of a monetary prize is not a problem, since for him, “bridge is an art form.”

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