Being a professional tournament director for the American Contract Bridge League has its perks. Alan Brooks travels to Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and other popular vacation sites. The 79-year-old Aiken resident also goes on luxury cruises through the Panama Canal and to various exotic ports while overseeing card games.
“If you don't do something as you age, you're just waiting to die; this keeps me busy,” Brooks said. “I also do it because my wife Ginny is a carriage driver, and it helps defray some of the costs for stabling her Dartmoor pony, the farrier and the carriages, which weren't in our retirement budget.”
For working part-time as a tournament director, Brooks said he receives a salary of “maybe” $8,000 each year. His expenses for travel and hotel rooms also are covered.
“Bridge is a very challenging game,” Brooks said. “It requires planning, strategy and a good knowledge of probability. Usually the better players are going to win. Luck a lot of times is minimized, especially in duplicate bridge.”
As a player, Brooks has achieved Life Master status, which is the game's most highly sought level of achievement.
Brooks works as a tournament director at approximately 13 events each year. Nearly all are in the American Contract Bridge League's District 7, which is made up of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Eastern Tennessee.
“Being organized is important,” he said. “You also need to be able to get along with people and have good computer skills because nowadays, everything is on the computer.”
A director's duties include bringing all the necessary supplies, such as cards and score sheets; taking entry fees from players; assigning players their seating positions and deciding how the players move from table to table during a game.
A director also mediates when disputes occur and determines the penalties when rules are broken. In addition, a director scores the games, determines the winners and reports the results to the American Contract Bridge League's headquarters.
“People lose concentration, and they bid out of turn or bid illegally,” Brooks said. “But cheating is minimal because there isn't very much money involved. The people who came in first at the tournament in Aiken got their entry fee of $9 back.”
The biggest incentive for most players is to earn masterpoints, which measure their success.
“I have close to 1,900 masterpoints, but some high-level, world-class championship players have 50,000,” Brooks said.
Brooks is the only American Contract Bridge League tournament director in South Carolina. In all, there are approximately 173 full-time and part-time directors.
At first, Brooks enjoyed lunchtime games at work in Philadelphia. Then his fellow players asked him to manage a club, and he went from playing games to being in charge of them. In the mid-1980s, he became a tournament director.
His most unusual experience involving bridge happened while he still lived in Pennsylvania.
“I was cleaning up after a game at my club, and I saw something strange,” Brooks said. “Someone's glass eye must have been irritating them because they took it out and left it on one of the tables.”
Brooks tracked down the glass eye's owner and returned it to him.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard.