Scarsdale resident Sara Kober, who lives on Lincoln Road, has been chosen for a Masters Bridge Team that will compete in the 15th European Maccabiah games in Budapest in July.
The Maccabiah Games, also known as the Maccabi Games, is an international Jewish and Israeli multisport event held every four years in Israel, usually the year following the Olympic games. In the years between the games in Israel, the Maccabi Games are held in Europe or South America.
The games recognize all 28 Olympic sports and have also added cricket, netball, chess and karate. This year, the USA team will have more than 200 athletes participating in various games against 2,000 other Jewish athletes from 29 countries.
The bridge tournament is one of the more uncommon events in the Maccabi Games. Eight countries will be competing in the games, including the United States team, which has its roots in Westchester County.
Bridge is played with a standard 52-card deck, with each player holding 13 cards. Partners face each other and compete against another set of partners or teams. The highest cards, the ace, king, queen and jack, are called honor cards while the lower cards are called spot cards. Each player takes a turn picking a card from their hand, and the other players at the table follow suit. When all four cards are on the table it is called a trick. Players bid on how many tricks they think they’re going to win. The more tricks they bid, the more points the team will collect.
Kober teammates are Marty Bloom of New York, Jill Marshall of Port Chester, Gail Schargel of Larchmont, Arthur Seelenfreund of Rye, Daniel Silver of Rye and H. Jay Sloofman of New York City. While practicing with her team at Beach Point Country Club on June 8, with kids screaming and splashing in the pool nearby, Kober concentrated fully on the game and her partner, Schargel. Eight players sat silent at two tables while trying to figure out their next play. Horizontal and vertical cards littered the table; vertical cards indicated that the cards won.
“This is like the chess of cards,” said Marshall.
“Every hand is a possible puzzle,” said Sloofman, Marshall’s partner.
The challenge of bridge is what drew in Kober. When she first wanted to play in high school, she took out a book on bridge from the library but returned it almost immediately, she said, since it looked so complicated. She still wanted to learn after high school, however, and she finally got the chance when her kids became more independent and she had more time to herself. Kober signed up for a bridge class at the Scarsdale Adult School with a friend who quit after two classes. The instructor then paired her up with Schargel, and the two have been a bridge pair for “a lot of years,” as Kober put it. Even though Kober has been playing for many years, and has played at tournaments in Hawaii, Philadelphia and Memphis, she said she feels like there is always something to learn, such as adding conventions to better communicate with a partner.
“This is a language, and you must be fluent,” said Marshall.
Kober never plays for money, only for points of prestige. “My goal was to become a life master within five years and I did that,” said Kober. “I am currently a bronze life master.” Players can become life masters by placing high at events that are sanctioned by the National Bridge Organization, which includes club games, sectional tournaments or regional tournaments.
The Maccabi Games are the third largest international sporting event in the world, after the Olympics and the World Cup. Two of the 2019 bridge team members have participated in the games in the past. Bloom, who is captain of the team and the Maccabi USA bridge chairman, had been competing in the Maccabi chess tournament for 10 years before getting bridge on the Maccabi Games roster. Seelenfreund played four years ago in Berlin and said he had “the experience of a lifetime.”
This will be Kober’s first year playing in the games and she is very excited. While she’s in Budapest for the Maccabi Games, she said, she hopes to also have the opportunity to do some sightseeing.
“I live to travel and I have never been to Budapest, so I am excited to see it. It’s right next to Romania where my grandparents were from,” said Kober. “I am most looking forward to meeting the other competitors — I don’t think there will be much of a language barrier. We have all played in national tournaments so I’m not nervous about that.”
Though she’s not sure the bridge competition will get many spectators, Kober said she and her teammates hope there will be time to watch other events, and “It will be fun to cheer on team USA.”