The World’s Best Bridge Player Is — Get This — 41 and Lives in Wynnewood
Bridge is an old person’s game. In 2005, for example, the average age of an American Contract Bridge League member was 67. But it is a 41-year-old — Wynnewood’s Eric Greco — who was recently named the Bridge Player of the Year.
Because it’s 2016, the accolade did not come without controversy. Though bridge is a two-person team game, individual players earn “master points” based on how they finish in select tournaments. Most elite tournaments have several events, with different levels of prestige, going at once. As part of an ACBL trial program this year, certain players were allowed to “drop in” to the semifinals of certain events if they played high enough in earlier events — but they could only earn master points in one event per tournament.
“The compromise they came up with was: Whichever master point total from the two events was greater, that’s what they’d get,” says Adam Parrish, one of the partners at enthusiast site Bridge Winners. “This was stupid, but that was the rule that they tried.”
As Bridge Winners writes, it originally seemed that Clearwater Beach’s Jeff Meckstroth would be the 2016 POY. But Meckstroth wasn’t able to get master points from the two events at the Fall North American Bridge Championships, and so Greco and regular partner Geoff Hampson’s second-place finish in the Reisinger Trophy event was enough to give Greco the title.
Philadelphia magazine talked with Greco to ask him about the game, how he learned it, and what it feels like to be Player of the Year — as well as the purported controversy surrounding his victory.
How did you get into bridge?
My parents taught me when I was quite young, five years old. I just started playing tournaments. I was about 13.
What was the attraction to the game for you?
It’s a game of logic. if you’re good with math and logic, you’ll be good in bridge. It’s much more complicated than a game like chess. It’s just a great game, and a consuming game with endless possibilities. It’s entertaining. There’s always something new and entertaining — you’re always learning. It certainly helps keep the mind sharp.
You’re originally from Virginia. How did you end up in the Philadelphia area?
I moved here ever since college, since 1997. A guy I knew from bridge offered me a job trading stock options. Bridge has been great for me — not only from the card game, but I’ve met a lot of amazing people. And it got me my job. I’m still an options trader, still a member of what was once called the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.
Bridge is seen as an old-person’s game. How did you fit in, especially at first?
When I started playing, I was really the youngest. Now there’s some younger players. But tournament bridge in some ways is a dying game. It’s mostly older. No one’s getting any younger. Bridge back in the ’70s was very popular on college campuses — and there’s a whole generation of players who are playing now. And somewhere around the line, there’s obviously a bit of a stigma attached to it, and people stopped playing it in college. It started dying out a little.
How does it feel to win the Player of the Year award?
It’s a great honor. There’s a number of great bridge players throughout the world that play in these national tournaments. I was actually second last year — a guy beat me out on the last weekend in the fall national tournament last year.
You played with your regular partner, Geoff Hampson, for all but one tournament this year — and in that tournament, you finished ahead of him. Is that basically how you finished ahead of him?
Yes. I won just because I played with one partner in one event. He certainly deserves as much credit as I do for the award. [Editor’s note: Hampson finished fourth in the player of the year standings.]
When did you start playing with Hampson?
I met him at a tournament about 20 years ago in New Orleans. Actually, one of the experts at the time recommended we play together. We were both young and good players and he thought we would do well.
Can you speak about the rule changes this year and what happened that led to your Player of the Year win?
They added a rule this year where they allowed what’s called drop-ins. Sometimes at these national tournaments, there are multiple events going at once. It’d be like if, in the World Series of Poker, you could play in one event and if you lost early, you could drop in the middle of another event and start with an average number of chips. Everyone else in the field would say: That’s ridiculous.
There was a tryout this year: They allowed people to drop in to two or three events if they got knocked out early in the previous events. The person who was second benefitted from this rule. But they threw in a caveat to this rule where you could only get master points for one of the two events. The drop-in rule has never been in place in the past. Hopefully it won’t be a rule again.
The rules are the rules. I don’t think there was any kind of controversy.
If someone is interested in bridge and wants to play it, how do they get into it?
You can get a book, or you can do it online, or go to a bridge club. Obviously there’s a huge community online. There’s certainly a local bridge scene here. They have club games, they have lessons. There’s a club out in West Philly on City Avenue, Raffles. In these tournaments they have all these levels of games: novices, complete beginners, immediate beginners, et cetera. You can play with other people your level, or you can try to play against the best players.