BOARDMAN Bridge champs, hands down

More than 13,000 players participated in the worldwide bridge game.
BOARDMAN -- It was a tale of teens: 15 tables, the 15th contest and an 18th ranking.
It's the 18th ranking that makes Paul Neidlinger and James Wheeler stand out.
The two Mahoning Valley men play bridge together a few times a year, but on June 2, they were partners in the 15th annual worldwide duplicate-bridge tournament.
Neidlinger and Wheeler were among thousands of bridge players who took part in the competition, sponsored by the World Bridge Federation. Although only 15 tables were set up at the South Side Duplicate Bridge Club in Boardman for the tournament, through scoring over the Internet, they competed against thousands. The partners ranked 18th in a field of 13,248 players from bridge clubs all over the world.
"It's the first worldwide contest we've played in," said Neidlinger, a retired Youngstown engineer.
Setup: Duplicate-bridge players from 48 countries played a total of 26 hands. The American Contract Bridge League established the hands and bridge club directors worldwide set them up at the various tournament locations, making it possible for everyone to play the same distribution of cards at the same time, Neidlinger explained.
At each table at the bridge club, partners played the North and South or East and West positions. Two hands were played in each round of the game; after people at one table played a hand, it moved to the next table, he explained. A computer kept track of all scores.
Competitors played 13 rounds altogether, Neidlinger said, adding that North-South and East-West pairs could earn up to 12 points per hand. Neidlinger and Wheeler got 71 percent of the possible points from the total number of hands they played, giving them the high ranking, Neidlinger said. Fifty percent is an average score.
Neidlinger also said the ACBL sent him a letter after the game, informing Neidlinger of his and Wheeler's ranking.
Play lasted almost four hours, he added.
Staying online: Wheeler, a New Castle dentist and 40-year bridge player, said he plans to continue using the Internet to play competitively. Wheeler recently played someone in Yugoslavia; another opponent lives in India, he added.
"Friends introduced me to the game, and I just picked it up," Wheeler said.
Neidlinger said he comes from a card-playing family and developed an interest in bridge while watching his co-workers play on their lunch break. He and another engineer became partners, and Neidlinger won his first bridge tournament in 1962, he said.
"I plan to continue playing," he said. "I enjoy it too much to quit."
A party was held last Saturday at the South Side Duplicate Bridge Club to honor their accomplishment, said Mary Al Baluck, secretary. Neidlinger and Wheeler received a $25 gift certificate from the ACBL.
The club has about 180 members, Baluck said.

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