Card players seek permanent home

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The mental gymnastics required to be a good bridge player have drawn both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to the game, and the East End’s bridge scene is filled with people who share a similar love.

Kathryn McLauchlen runs the Water Mill Bridge Club, which meets in churches, synagogues and libraries throughout the South Fork. In the winter, she says, only 40 or 50 players show up for weekly games. But in the summer, that number often doubles.

The club now plans to open its own headquarters in Water Mill this year, in a one-story 2,784-square-foot masonry building on the north side of Montauk Highway that is owned by Ms. McLauchlen’s husband, Jim McLauchlen.

Those plans could be trumped, though, because the renovation would result in the elimination of eight studio apartments in the building, all of which are old and in need of extensive repair.

The Southampton Town Planning Board has asked if the McLauchlens would consider renovating the apartments or including them in the 11,000-square-foot contractor building they intend to build behind the club.

“They’re not big apartments where families live,” said Ms. McLauchlen, adding that many of the people who live in the current apartments are single men who work as plumbers and electricians who deserve to have better apartments than the ones she can offer.

Though she believes that it would be difficult to provide housing in the contractor building, the Planning Board is receptive to discussions with the McLauchlens about providing affordable housing credits to replace the missing apartments.

Ms. McLauchlen said that her bridge games are not a major revenue generator, but provide many members of the community with social activities that keep them going.

An average bridge game takes three hours, which means that most of the people who attend the club’s Tuesday games at Southampton’s United Methodist Church, which are sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League, are retired.

At the new location she hopes to also hold “mini-bridge” games that teach families and children the skills of a game whose heyday passed two generations ago.

If anyone can make this project fly, regular attendees at Ms. McLauchlen’s games say that she is the most qualified.

Mary Lou Cappelli first took a bridge class with Ms. McLauchlen at the Southampton Library six years ago. Her husband was ill and she rarely got out of the house. She wanted to play bridge but was intimidated by the rules.

“She was so kind,” said Ms. Cappelli, who was sitting down to play at the church Tuesday afternoon. “I feel sometimes it’s hard to get up the courage to play, but with her I know it’s going to be safe.”

One table over, 1958 U.S. bridge champion Len Harmon was looking at his cards as two newcomers to the club who’d sat down to play learned that they were playing with a master.

They looked intimidated for a moment, before Ms. McLauchlen assured them that Mr. Harmon would go easy on them.

Ms. McLauchlen pointed to a table where professional bridge player Richie Baumer was explaining his hand to his partner. There were nearly 40 people intently examining their cards in the hall.

Ms. McLauchlen shrugged.

“There was a regional at the Sheridan. A lot of the regulars didn’t come,” she said, then told the tale of a trip home from Ireland that she’d recently taken on the Queen Mary, where she met many new friends while playing bridge.

“You can go anywhere in the world and play bridge,” she said.

Geoffrey O’Connor is an attorney in Southampton who’s been playing bridge since he was hospitalized after a sledding accident when he was 11.

“There are endless variations. Every hand is different. It involves mathematics, memory, concentration, deception and guile,” he said as he sat down to play on Tuesday. “It’s the best indoor game ever.”

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